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ANC: A self-destructing path to power

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/ African News Agency (ANA)

By Bheki Mngomezulu

As the ANC prepares for its 55th elective conference in December, plans are already under way. The party announced that the nomination process would start on September 7 and end on September 30.

However, another announcement was made that the process would not start until the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) convened in a special session on Sunday, September 11. At this meeting, the NEC endorsed the “step aside” resolution and also approved the decision about the membership audit of both individual members and branches. This was an important exercise meant to ensure that the possibility of litigation after the nomination process has been concluded could be averted.

The experience derived from regional and provincial conferences became the reference point. The ANC did not want a repeat of some of the challenges experienced earlier. Failure by the organisation to draw lessons from these experiences would have been negligent at best and foolhardy at worst.

But, apart from this very sound reason, there are other important reasons why this exercise was critical. Firstly, the ANC has lost support in recent elections. During the 2019 national and provincial election, the ANC still emerged victorious, but its number of seats declined by 7 seats to 230, while the DA declined from 89 seats to 84.

During the 2021 Local Government Election, the ANC was the leading party in many municipalities but could not meet the required threshold that would have allowed it to constitute municipal councils. In the process, other political parties, such as the DA and the IFP, grabbed the opportunity and took control of several municipalities that were previously controlled by the ANC.

Picture: EPA – Activists demonstrated support for a third term for Thabo Mbeki as ANC president, at the 52nd ANC National Conference in Polokwane in December 2007. The seeds for the current catastrophe in the ruling party were sown in the build-up to its 2007 elective conference, says the writer.

They did this either on their own or through coalitions. The ANC lost all three Gauteng metros (Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni) to the DA. Therefore, the ANC can no longer afford to be complacent when preparing for an election.

Gone are the days when it was a given that the ANC would win with an outright majority even if it had made several mistakes in the build-up to the election. Secondly, the performance of the current leadership that was elected at the 54th conference in Nasrec in 2017 is under serious scrutiny.

The best way to assess a leadership is to take stock of the resolutions taken at the previous conference and check how many resolutions have been successfully implemented. If many or some have not been implemented, the justification for their re-election becomes hard to defend.

NEC members like Tony Yengeni have already made this point. Thirdly, the leadership prowess of certain leaders has been the subject of debate. Some have been found wanting in terms of respecting party processes. During the January 8 Statement, Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha pronounced that his province supported the return of Cyril Ramaphosa. This was unwarranted.

The NEC had not opened the nomination process. Other leaders repeated the same mistake in different forums, and no action was taken against them. Fourthly, the cloud hanging over Ramaphosa regarding the Phala Phala matter calls for astute leadership.

Thus far, this issue has placed the ANC in an awkward position. Opposition political parties correctly want the president to come clean on this issue in the National Assembly. The president argues that other state institutions should be allowed to conduct their investigations. This issue comes down to the interpretation of the law.

While some argue that the issue is sub judice, others hold the view that Parliament deserves direct answers from the president. The possibility of invoking Section 89 of the Constitution and recall of the president and the possibility of invoking Section 102 of the Constitution to pass a vote of no confidence in the president both remain on the cards.

Here, too, the ANC has to tread carefully, not just for the sake of the president but also for the sake of the party. Fifthly and lastly, the implementation of the 2017 step-aside resolution has become a hot potato for the ANC. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the resolution cannot be activated because the National Prosecuting Authority has not yet formally charged the president.

On the other hand, a counterargument is that the president faces serious allegations. Given the fact that he has been vocal about fighting corruption, this group argues that it would serve him and the party well to voluntarily step aside so that the general public could take him seriously when he says that he is anti-corruption.

Yet another view is that everyone is equal before the law. As such, those who hold this view advance the argument that the president should be treated like everyone else and should be subjected to the same rules of the ANC.

On these grounds, they oppose the view that the president should voluntarily step aside. Two more issues undoubtedly pose a serious threat to the ANC. The first one concerns Paul Mashatile, who currently holds three positions.

He is the treasurer-general of the ANC, acting secretary-general and acting deputy secretary-general. This has created confusion in the party, with some arguing that according to the ANC constitution, Gwede Mantashe should be the one acting in his capacity as chairperson of the ANC.

Fears that Mashatile could use these positions for his self-interest going to the party’s elective conference are mounting. Here, too, the ANC has to tread carefully when handling this matter. The second issue is the availability of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to challenge Ramaphosa again. Given what happened in 2017 and the cloud hanging over Ramaphosa, this development has generated interest even beyond the ANC.

Will people still associate Dlamini Zuma with Jacob Zuma or will they judge her fairly in her own right? The entrance of Dr Zweli Mkhize into the leadership battle further compounds an already divisive situation. Can KZN afford to field two candidates? What would be the implication of such a decision?

The contestation for other top six positions, including deputy president and secretary-general, further complicates an already toxic environment. These very important issues force the ANC to tread carefully.

It is now a well-documented fact that seeds for the current catastrophe within the ruling party were sown in the build-up to its 2007 Polokwane elective conference. The party has failed to learn any lessons from Polokwane. Given the current state of affairs, the 2022 elective conference will, in all likelihood, make Polokwane look like a Sunday school picnic.

Any hope of renewal and healing the divisions will remain a pipe dream and has disastrous consequences for Africa’s oldest liberation movement as it approaches the crucial 2024 national and provincial elections.

Mngomezulu is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Western Cape.