Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA) – The ANC election rules should be seen as the party’s attempt to manage public perceptions, says the writer.
By Professor Sipho Seepe
When faced with seemingly intractable political challenges the ANC’s approach is to adopt a two-pronged strategy. The first part involves burying its head in the sand and trusting that whatever political storm it faces will eventually subside. This is the strategy that the party adopted when former President Thabo Mbeki flirted with discredited ideas on HIV/Aids.
In the absence of a strong opposition to dislodge it from power, this is a risk the ANC can manage. This worked some of the time. In the end the ANC buckled under political pressure, though at a political cost locally and internationally. The second part of the strategy is to adopt the posture of pretending to do something about its internal contradictions. To this end, politically seductive catch phrases such as new dawn, renewal, rebuild, and reconstruction of the soul are quickly minted to bolster this pretence.
The recently announced electoral rules crafted to “manage the selection of candidates for ANC public representatives, as well as for leadership positions in ANC structures” represents the latest instalment of the party’s charade of wanting to be seen to be doing something about its organisational challenges.
First, there is nothing new about the internal political challenges that the rules seek to address. They have been long in the making. Neither is the party’s seeming commitment to address them anew. Arguably, the party has always had the capacity to identify its challenges. In his 2007 organisational report, the current Electoral Committee, chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe, acknowledged as much. Quoting Vladimir Lenin, Kgalema Motlanthe pointed out that “no profound and popular movement in all history has taken place without its share of filth, without adventurers and rogues, without boastful and noisy elements … A ruling party inevitably attracts careerists”.
Accordingly, the party was asked to “expose and fight factionalism” and “any rumour-mongering that seeks to undermine the unity and cohesion of the movement.”
Second, the recently unveiled rules are thus not new. They are part and parcel of the usual pretence. The ANC rarely resolves its internal political contradictions. It has found a way of merely managing them. As a result, its challenges do not go away. The whole staged drama around the new rules is also a cover not to address the elephant in the room. For instance, as far back as 2012 the ANC Constitution has prohibited the “giving, collecting or raising of funds for campaigning activities within the ANC aimed at influencing the outcome of a conference or meeting.”
The Electoral Committee should have at least indicated that the current President Cyril Ramaphosa had long violated the party’s constitution. This is what the whole CR17 funding scandal is all about. Had all things been above board, Ramaphosa would not have rushed to the courts to ensure that the CR17 funding records are sealed. The notion that the CR17 funding should not be pursued because others are equally guilty is just plain nonsense. We may as well allow thieves to make the same argument when caught red-handed.
Accordingly, Ramaphosa has long disqualified himself to lecture anyone about political morality. The fact that he is allowed to get away with murder simply points out to the extent of financial and ideological investment that is linked to his presidency. Holding the country hostage is a small fish to fry. The rule disallowing members from “organising for factions and predetermined slates of preferred candidates” is a bit too late. This is wishful thinking.
Besides, Luthuli House has tacitly endorsed outcomes of provincial conferences that were run on factional basis. The rule that allows “social media, emails, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, as well as press releases and free interviews for newspaper, radio and TV” to be used for campaigning is in keeping with what is expected of an open and democratic society. It does not, however, address the bias that pollutes mainstream media, which has invested in projecting certain individuals as paragons of virtue while damning the rest.
Nothing prevents the mainstream media from using its muscle to launch a negative campaign against those it has declared to be enemies of the people. The stakes are too high for owners of the media to allow the process to unfold without intervention. In a proper functioning democracy, the exclusion of “members who have been charged with any criminal offences in cases that are still being heard, or where a judgment or sentence is being appealed’ would be understandable and welcomed.
The challenge arises, however, when state organs and apparatus are used to settle political scores. For instance, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been quick to pursue frivolous cases against certain individuals yet has shown great reluctance to track down individuals implicated in serious crimes. In this regard it is worth restating that the NPA was quick to open a case against Carl Niehaus for what at worst would be considered a misdemeanour but has thus far been unable to charge Ramaphosa on the Phala Phala saga.
As we have come to expect, the mainstream media has done its best to underplay the seriousness of this clear unconstitutional escapade. The Electoral Committee has conveniently overlooked this glaringly obvious inconsistent application of the rule of law. Ramaphosa’s acolytes have since invested enormous amounts of space to try to minimise the seriousness of the misconduct and violation of law attended to the Phala Phala adventure.
They have sought to redirect the focus on the character of Arthur Fraser. Others have sought to emphasise that the opposition does not have numbers to mount a successful motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa as if this undermines the gravity of the case against him. The facts involved in the Phala Phala escapade are inexorable.
Ramaphosa has confessed that he is engaged in the breeding and selling of cows. This alone puts him in breach of the Constitution and his oath of Office. Section 96 of the Constitution is unambiguous that he is not expected to “undertake any other paid work” or “act in any way that is inconsistent with their office or expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and private interests”.
In dealing with a similar matter in a case involving the former President Jacob Zuma the Constitutional Court was blunt. It argued that the “mere fact of the president allowing non-security features, about whose construction he was reportedly aware, to be built at his private residence at government expense, exposed him to a ‘situation involving the risk of a conflict between (his) official responsibilities and private interests’ … the president has the duty to ensure that state resources are used only for the advancement of state interests … To find oneself on the wrong side of section 96, all that needs to be proven is a risk. It does not even have to materialise”.
While pretending to correct organisational challenges and promote good government, the Electoral Committee, led by a former president and deputy president, has chosen to turn a blind eye to the most obvious constitutional violation by a sitting president. One wonders what type of public representative the Electoral Committee has in mind.
The fact that the president has not been charged for defeating the ends of justice, or possible violation of the SARS Act or the Reserve Bank Act has little to do with the absence of enough evidence to bring charges against him. It has more to do with the fact that our law enforcement agencies have become embroiled in the ANC’s factional politics.
The ANC election rules should be seen as the party’s attempt to manage public perceptions. The party is too factionalised for the rules to carry any weight.
Seepe is deputy vice-chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand