Threat to the ANC

2009-12-21 00:00

CALL me naïve, but the one area in our political landscape that I fail to understand is why public servants like mayors, deputy mayors, councillors and municipal managers need bodyguards. After all, their functions are to take care of such everyday matters as ensuring that sewerage and water systems work and that the areas under their jurisdiction are kept clean. They collect rates and ensure that households get basic services such as electricity, water and rubbish collection. There is a role in planning for their areas and attracting economic development.

We know, especially in the case of Msunduzi Municipality, that the opposition parties hardly pose a security threat; so who are they afraid of?

Without much evidence to the contrary, the one conclusion that can be drawn from all the talk of in-fighting within the municipality is that ANC members could well be afraid of each other.

This issue of comrades being at each other’s throats is not new. The ANC’s former secretary-general, Kgalema Motlanthe, in his report at the party’s national conference in Polokwane two years ago, warned against factionalism that had taken root within the ANC. He said that if this was not dealt with decisively then the party could well find itself sliding down a greasy slope from which there could be no return.

Yet the run-up to the 2009 elections gave Motlanthe’s words a hollow ring. There was great unity within the party as members from all quarters rallied around the common purpose of getting Jacob Zuma elected as president of the country.

However, analysts warned that cracks would begin to appear in this broad church of supporters once Zuma was in office. Who would have expected it to happen so soon, as the recent public spats between the ANC Youth League and the SA Communist Party have indicated?

Barely months ago, right here in Pietermaritzburg, the SACP’s Blade Nzimande and Youth League president Julius Malema were joyously dancing together on a stage. Today they are trading insults that cut deep.

However, solving the rift between the alliance partners may prove to be child’s play compared to the factionalism that has taken root at branch and local government level. Motlanthe warned that nothing short of a return to organisational democracy and revolutionary discipline will save the party from sliding down a slippery slope.

Former president Nelson Mandela addressed this issue when he opened the 50th ANC national conference in 1997. It shows just how long the problem has been around.

Mandela spoke of the negative feature of “careerism” that had emerged within the party.

He said: “Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions, to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification …”

All of this indicates that going into 2010, an area in our political arena worth watching will be how the factionalism within the ANC plays out. Perhaps President Zuma may have his finest hour yet by showing leadership in dealing decisively with the disunity within his ranks.

Some commentators do not hold out much hope. Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi believes the infighting will be worse under Zuma. He says the president does not have the cunning, dexterity and the backbone of his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.

So far Zuma has proved the master of surprises. Since becoming president, he has won reluctant approval from some of his most critical detractors. Let’s hope he will be able to pull off one of his surprises in dealing with narrow selfish interests and the rifts that are threatening to tear his party apart. The problem is not Zuma’s alone, it also needs party leaders at provincial and branch level to show their mettle.

For ordinary South Africans, the issue is not just about the unity of the ruling party. It is also about living in functioning cities and towns. We can’t have our mayors, councillors and municipal managers surrounded by phalanxes of bodyguards and so busy watching their backs that they barely pay attention to the needs of their citizens. There is also the issue of how much of our hard-earned cash is going to pay for these bodyguards instead of being invested in service delivery.

Next year is going to prove momentous. Yes, there is the Fifa World Cup, but there are also the deepening cracks appearing within the ANC. Will the centre hold or will things fall apart?

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