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Reclaiming people’s power a defining moment for ANC branches

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

By Professor Sipho Seepe

Recent developments in our body politic such as the never ending inter and intra party political mudslinging, distrusts of the judiciary, widespread incidents of corruption, the abuse of state apparatus in the furtherance of personal and political ambition, and unfulfilled promises have had the effect of forcing us to question almost every assumption that we have made about the country’s democratic dispensation.

Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is both relevant and liberatory. To paraphrase Kuhn, in resolving social, economic, political and scientific challenges, communities of practice rely on shared frameworks and understanding. Undergirding these frameworks are assumptions. These assumptions spawn theories that remain unquestioned. Within the scientific enterprise, anomalies are “resolved either by incremental changes to the paradigm or by uncovering the observational or experimental error.” There are times when anomalies are so frequent that they cannot easily be resolved by an orderly inquiry. This calls for a paradigm shift or a new paradigm.

Arguably this was historically inevitable. The country naively embraced misguided concepts such as miracle nation and wallowed under the illusion of South African exceptionalism.

Gradually the country is foregoing the misleading assumptions that the judiciary is comprised of “all knowing and wise” individuals. Judge President of Gauteng, Justin Mlambo was blunt in insinuating that the legal profession is made up by individuals who are petty, jealous, and backstabbing. I could not agree more with Professor Jonathan Jansen for arguing that: “Our morbid fascination with judges must end…The quick recourse to judicial rescue is an act of intellectual laziness, an attempt to give a veneer of objectivity to a problem that could have been resolved through other types of expertise.”

The hypocritical silence of so-called civil society groupings when it comes to the Phala Phala saga has been deafening. However, this should not come as a surprise. Delivering his political report in 1997, then president Nelson Mandela warned us.

“We must also draw attention to the fact that many of our non-governmental organisations are not in fact NGOs, both because they have no popular base and the actuality that they rely on the domestic and foreign governments, rather than the people, for their material sustenance.….we will have to consider the reliability of such NGOs as a vehicle to achieve this objective.”

Developments within the ANC have equally exposed the fallibility of leaders. Society has lowered its expectations. Indeed, there is a sense that politicians’ public performance is driven by what is expedient at each moment. With the national elective conference taking place soon, delegates must ask themselves whether the ANC can continue to claim it is a leader of society. From the look of things, society is fast abandoning the party of liberation.

The conference is expected to assess the performance of the outgoing leadership collective. Paramount to this will be whether this leadership has fulfilled the mandate it was given to ensure that the ANC is strong and united. On this score alone, the party has failed dismally. The conference comes at a time when divisions are palpable on whether to support the party’s president as he faces Parliament relating to his private business affairs. Some of the members have publicly stated that they will support a motion sponsored by opposition parties as Parliament deliberate on whether to impeach the ANC president.

Branch delegates must also reflect on what to do with a leadership that demonstrably ignores conference resolutions of the party. As matters stand, none of the key resolutions that relate to the uplifting of the material conditions of ordinary South Africans has been implemented. Malusi Gigaba speaks for many when he remarks that “you must judge [people] on the basis of their track record. We have had unprecedented load shedding. We have unprecedented [levels of] unemployment. The economy has been stagnant. The country has been undergoing a prolonged period and process of fiscal austerity. The ANC is more divided today than it has ever been. We have had almost four years of interim structures existing, even as we go to conference in December, we do not have an SG (secretary-general). We don’t have a deputy SG (secretary-general). We have three if not four interim structures that are attending conference……surely, that experience should say to us we cannot say that we are not going to disregard all that has happened in the last five years and demand a repeat of the previous years.”

Branch delegates should also reflect on whether they can wait for five years when faced with a leadership that seems to get its orders elsewhere. The notion that people’s power lies with the branches has never faced a real test than is the case now. Branches are the party’s foot soldiers on the ground. They are aware of the general dissatisfaction and frustration that communities are undergoing. African communities have become concentration camps of degrading poverty, unemployment and hopelessness.

Branch delegates should be reminded that they have the authority to reverse any of the self-serving decisions that were taken by the outgoing leadership. The step aside principle remains the most contentious. Perceptions abound that under the pretext of fighting corruption, the state’s repressive apparatus has been weaponised to deal decisively with those that the current leadership considers to be political threats. The future of the ANC hangs in the balance. Unless branches are already bought, they should know that returning the current leadership would serve as a ringing endorsement of its past performance. In Ramaphosa is re-elected, so what? (Sunday Times, 16/10/2022) columnist and former editor Peter Bruce could not have been more blunt in his remarks.

“Ramaphosa re-elected means broadly that nothing will change. Sure, he would have new party colleagues to whom he would need to extend patronage in the form of cabinet jobs and the like. But we would still be stuck with a leader who cannot seem to join up talk and action, who simply cannot make things happen. . .. Cyril reborn is pie in the sky. Just not going to happen.”

Branches face the enormous task of having to reclaim the ANC. For now, the party is led by individuals who are seen to be agents of foreign interests.

Professor Sipho Seepe is an independent analyst.