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ANC justified in treading carefully with its nomination process

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Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA) – Contenders for the throne, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. NEC member Tony Yengeni argues that with a number of resolutions from the 2017 conference that have not been implemented, there is no reason Cyril Ramaphosa and his team should be re-elected, the writer says.

As the ANC prepares for its 55th elective conference scheduled for December 2022, plans are already under way to ensure that potential challenges experienced during the Branch General Meetings (BGMs), regional, as well as provincial conferences are eliminated.

Initially, the party had announced that the nomination process would start on September 7 until September 30, 2022. However, another announcement was subsequently made. The second statement indicated 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 special meeting, the NEC endorsed the “step aside” resolution and also approved the decision about the urgent need to conduct membership audits of both individual members and branches of the organisation.

This was undoubtedly 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 in this regard. 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 for being extra cautious with its nomination process, there are other important reasons this exercise is indeed critical.

Firstly, it is irrefutable that the ANC has lost support in recent elections. The reasons for this range from the increase in the number of political parties, the emergence of independent candidates, the age factor in the profile of the electorate, lack of service delivery, failure by leaders to visit constituencies to derive a fresh mandate, as well as internal squabbles within the ANC and its Alliance partners.

During the 2019 national and provincial elections, the ANC still emerged victorious but its number of seats declined by seven seats to stand at 230, while the DA declined from 89 seats to 84. During the 2021 Local Government Election (LGE), 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 as it has done in the past.

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. They did this either on their own by winning an outright majority or through coalitions with other smaller political parties. In the process, the ANC lost all three Gauteng metros (Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni) to the DA. Had the ANC been careful while in office, this situation could have been avoided.

Therefore, what is clear is that the ANC can no longer afford to be complacent when preparing for an election at whatever level. Gone are the days when it was a given that the ANC would win the election 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 from within and from outside the organisation. 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 and how many have not been attended to and why. If many or some of the resolutions have not been implemented, the justification for the re-election of political incumbents becomes too hard to defend.

NEC members like Tony Yengeni have already made this point. Yengeni has been arguing that there are a number of resolutions from the 2017 conference that have not been implemented. He then espouses the view that there is no reason Cyril Ramaphosa and his team should be re-elected. Surely, the collective decision will prevail. However, Yengeni’s comments confirm the need for the ANC to be cautious when deciding who will lead the ANC after the December conference.

Thirdly, the leadership prowess of certain leaders has been the subject for debate. Some of the leaders of the ANC have been found wanting by critics with regards to respecting party processes as well as the Constitution of the ANC.

During the January 8 Statement, Limpopo’s Premier Stanley Mathabatha pronounced that his province supported the return of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC. This was unwarranted on many fronts. Firstly, the NEC (which Mathabatha is part of) had not opened the nomination process. Secondly, neither the BGM nor the province had convened a meeting to decide who their preferred candidate would be. If that is the case, where did Mathabatha derive his mandate from?

Sadly, other leaders from other provinces repeated the same mistake in different forums and yet no action was taken against them. This is one mistake the ANC cannot afford to repeat if it wants to regain the trust of its members and that of the general electorate. It has to tread carefully.

Fourthly, the cloud that is still hanging over President 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 when he attends the mandatory question and answer session prescribed by the national Constitution.

Defending himself, the President argues that it would be inappropriate for him to address this matter in Parliament. His contention is that other state institutions are dealing with this matter and should thus be allowed to conduct their investigations uninterrupted.

This issue comes down to the interpretation of the law. While some argue that the issue is at this point sub judice, others refute this view. They argue that Parliament deserves direct answers from the President. Expounding this point, they contend that the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) has not yet laid any formal charges against the President. As such, there is no court case which would be jeopardised by him responding to questions on this matter in Parliament.

Given the general public interest in this matter, it is prudent for the ANC to handle this issue carefully. In the event that Ramaphosa is nominated and subsequently re-elected as President of the ANC, this Phala Phala cloud should have been removed. Failure to do so would paint the entire ANC in a bad light.

The possibility of invoking section 89 of the Constitution with the view to recall the President, and the possibility of invoking section 102 of the Constitution to pass a vote of no confidence on the President both remain on the cards. Here, too, the ANC has to tread carefully, not just for the sake of the President and his political future, 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. Subsequent amendments to this resolution have tried to provide some clarity. However, the reality is that this resolution has divided the organisation. The feeling that it is being used to purge others remains real. As the nomination process continues, the ANC has to remain vigilant and ensure that this resolution is not used unfairly to prevent other members from joining the race.

Regarding the implementation of the “step aside” resolution on Ramaphosa, there are two divergent points of view. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the “step aside” resolution cannot be activated because the NPA has not yet formally charged the President.

A counter argument 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 even 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 before any charge has been formally laid against him.

In a nutshell, as the ANC embarks on its nomination process, it is acutely aware of the challenges outlined above. The onus is on it to address all the issues that have the potential to derail its plans to have a smooth election in December and to do well in the 2024 election.

Any mistake that the ANC could make in its elective conference will come back to haunt it in 2024. It is correct, therefore, for the ANC to be extra careful as it embarks on this nomination process. Addressing the issues now will save the ANC.

Mngomezulu is Professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape

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