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The ghost of patriarchy haunts South Africa’s ruling party

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA) Pictures: Itumeleng English/ African News Agency (ANA), Reuters – Since its founding on January 8, 1912, the African National Congress (ANC) has been led by men. In subsequent elections following its unbanning in 1990, the election of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa entrenched this trend. At the ANC’s 2017 elective conference, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (left) and Lindiwe Sisulu (right) contested the party’s top post with Dlamini Zuma narrowly losing the elections, amid allegations of vote rigging and corruption, to lead Africa’s oldest liberation movement. In yet another attempt to smash through the ANC’s glass ceiling, Dlamini Zuma and Sisulu are challenging Ramaphosa for the top post at this year’s elective conference.

By Professor Sipho Seepe

Fighting corruption and organisational renewal rank among the most abused phrases in the ANC post its last conference at Nasrec. The phrases are abused to explain away and gloss over organisational cracks. State apparatuses have been deployed against comrades under the pretext of fighting corruption. And comrades are routinely suspended and expelled under the pretext of organisational renewal.

The inconsistent application of the infamous step-aside rule has come under condemnation from within the party ranks. Presidential hopefuls such as ministers Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Lindiwe Sisulu have publicly raised similar concerns.

There are various ways in which calls for organisational renewals can be understood. The first, which is unproblematic, is what every organisation worth its salt undergoes. The second is when such calls are invoked to hoodwink all and sundry that the party is doing something to respond to what has become a demonstrable monumental failure.

The 2021 Afro-barometer survey found that 73% of South Africans see the country going in the wrong direction. A measly 9.4% of South Africans describe the country’s economic conditions as being very good.

Calls for organisational renewal can also be read as an honest admission of failure. President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged as much in stating that the ANC is accused number one when it comes to corruption. This admission was one of those public relations exercises that have gone wrong. Voters were not amused. They expressed their displeasure in the ballot.

For the opposition parties, this was an unsolicited gift. They are having a field day. Playing at the gallery can go so far and no further.

The attempt to hoodwink the public to think that the current leadership is doing something about failures was exposed to be just another smoke-and-mirrors ploy. Nomvula Mokonyane, a member of the party’s power structures, the National Working Committee, and the National Executive Committee, reserved scathing remarks for the current ANC leadership collective.

Exposing the pretence of the calls for renewal, Mokonyane remarked that “under our (NEC) leadership, led by (Ramaphosa), we’ve done the worst. We have no leagues. All the provinces that we disbanded we’ve not rebuilt. We just saved North West. The Free State is difficult. Western Cape will not work out. The Youth League has not met; we disbanded it. We disbanded the Women’s League. Just a week ago we disbanded even the Veteran’s League, a body of elders. Who are we?” (Sunday Times 6/11/2022).

Chillingly, Mokonyane concludes that “many among us couldn’t hold back a factional approach to any problem we encountered… we have reached a point where we are scared of each other.”

One does not need to go far to expose that the calls for organisational renewal are deceptive. A simple definition reveals different aspects and facets that the renewal process entails.

First, renewal refers to the “process of making changes to something to improve it so that it becomes more successful”. The current leadership of the ANC has displayed gross incapacity in this regard. As Mokonyane points out “it is the weakest … we’ve had.”

This is a serious indictment. This on its own is not surprising. That is what happens when a country is led by someone who is seemingly obsessed with public relations exercises. Ramaphosa never misses any photo opportunity. Unfortunately, almost every such opportunity comes with a cost to the future of this country. Flippant remarks that every time Ramaphosa goes abroad, “he either sells or borrows” have become commonplace.

While other countries are doing their darndest to ensure energy security, South Africa’s president sheepishly accepts loans whose effect is to plunge the country into rolling blackouts and the destruction of jobs.

Second, renewal in a business or commercial sense means “the action of extending the period of validity of a license, subscription, or contract”. In political terms, this refers to the renewal of a contract between the party and the voters. The recent local government elections are a testament that the party has failed dismally in this regard. The Phala Phala saga has only added insult to injury. The nationwide protests are a daily reminder that the public has lost confidence in the ruling party. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) whose leadership had betrayed workers by endorsing Ramaphosa has since turned its back on Ramaphosa. Instead of trying to win the confidence of the voters and some of its traditional allies, the current leadership has focused all its energies on internecine political battles.

Third, renewal refers to the process of replacing or repairing something. The coming national elective conference provides the ANC with an opportunity to do so. If current nominations are anything to go by, then the country can expect to be subjected to more of the same. The rejection of Ramaphosa by workers and voters has not deterred the party’s branches and provincial structures from endorsing him to serve another term. Disbanding internal structures was deliberately calibrated to achieve this outcome.

The ANC Women’s League national task team (NTT) has also endorsed Ramaphosa to serve another term as party president. This decision, in the face of monumental and demonstrable failure by Ramaphosa, is embarrassing especially coming from a structure that is supposed to champion the cause of women. The ghost of patriarchy haunts the league. The Women’s League has undermined efforts aimed at stemming the tide of patriarchy. Women and young girls are being advised to accept their role as second-class citizens. The preference for men over women would have been arguably acceptable if men were doing a stellar job. This is not the case in this instance.

At a different level, this endorsement of Ramaphosa is another indication that the party is incapable of renewing itself. There is little doubt that the above developments, as demonstrated by the last local government elections will come at a major cost to the ruling party. For those that have been baying for the blood of the glorious liberation movement, this development could not have come sooner. They can see and smell the blood of defeat. The outcomes of the last municipal elections have exposed the vulnerability of the once glorious movement.

It is precisely for all the above that the ANC’s elective conference is punted as a watershed moment in South Africa’s political history. The prospect of the ANC suffering an electoral defeat at the national level has never been more real. The re-election of Ramaphosa is manna from heaven for the opposition. A lot of money has been invested in Ramaphosa. He is expected to deliver the carcass of the ANC. And he is doing a fantastic job!

Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.