Sunday Times

Electoral reform can save us from ANC decay and its threat to the nation


Almost a decade ago, while delivering a memorial lecture on Oliver Tambo, the ANC’s longest-serving president, Joel Netshitenz­he, made the following observatio­n: “A defective leadership not only holds back the attainment of national objectives. It also presents a difficult conundrum for the movement … [To] rationalis­e its bad choices, the ANC has to lower itself to embrace those defects of the leaders it has chosen as its own defects. Steadily, these defects of the individual leaders become, by default, the collective property of the organisati­on, its own blind spots and its subliminal attributes in the public imaginatio­n.”

Netshitenz­he made these remarks at the height of Jacob Zuma’s reign as both ANC leader and head of state. It was a time when the scandal-prone president lurched the governing party from one crisis to another on a regular basis.

Although it has been three years since Zuma was unceremoni­ously forced out of the Union Buildings, Netshitenz­he’s statement remains apt, not only in terms of where the ANC currently finds itself, but also with regard to the state of our nation.

At a time when the country’s preoccupat­ion should be on a massive rollout of

Covid-19 vaccines as a way to save lives and speed up the end of the lockdown period, it is the ANC’s internal leadership feuds that are taking centre stage.

Instead of energies being devoted to formulatin­g a plan that ensures that once the economy fully reopens, SA will be on a growth trajectory that is inclusive and helps with reducing inequality and the rate of unemployme­nt, too much attention is on the ANC’s internal “step-aside” quarrel and the future of the now suspended party secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Ordinarily, the internal battles of a political party, especially when they relate to a leader who is not elected to any government position, should be amusing but not of great concern to the broader public.

But such has been the dominance of the ANC over our body politic for the past three decades that the fortunes of a man whose only significan­ce is that he was elected secretary-general by a couple of thousand delegates at a members-only conference assume great national importance. His success in fighting off his suspension could easily bring down the government, and it would almost certainly be followed by the removal of the president.

Of course this is unlikely to happen any time soon, as the events of the past couple of weeks have shown that President Cyril Ramaphosa has the backing of the majority of the party’s national executive committee and other structures in his push to have Magashule suspended from the ANC.

But Magashule’s defeat will in no way mean the end of the ANC’s factional wars. If anything, they are likely to intensify as the date for the next party national conference draws closer.

The prepondera­nce of “defective” leaders occupying top positions in the ANC means that factionali­sm has become a permanent feature of our country’s dominant party.

And, judging by the results of recent by-elections and projection­s for the next local government elections, none of the opposition parties has made serious enough inroads to threaten the ANC’s dominance.

But as citizens we do not have to “lower ourselves to embrace those defects”.

Instead, we should be agitating for the accelerati­on of the process to reform the electoral system and allow for individual­s to run for parliament­ary seats as individual­s.

That way the dominance of the National Assembly by one political party — leading to its defects holding the entire country back — would be a thing of the past.

Such reforms are urgent if we are to save ourselves from the decay that is eating into the dominant party and threatenin­g the stability of the country.

Factionali­sm has become a permanent feature of the dominant party

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