BOOK EXTRACT: How did we get here?

2017-06-15 10:26
(The People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre, by Charles Nqakula.)

(The People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre, by Charles Nqakula.)

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The People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre by Charles Nqakula

Mutlaotse Arts Heritage Trust

384 pages

The question reverberates around the room like an explosion. It is asked whenever small groups of serious ANC members meet and try to assess the political damage that has been caused to the movement over more than 20 years of freedom.

Baleka Mbete, Lindiwe Sisulu, Tony Yengeni, Thabang Makwetla, Nosiviwe and I used to sit together and discuss political developments in South Africa, especially those relating to the ANC. Our views would sometimes find their way into the discussions of the NEC, of which we were members.

Lindiwe first asked the question after Thabo Mbeki sacked Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s deputy president, and disunity took root in ANC ranks. It was about the political milieu that some of the actions or decisions of the ANC leadership had catapulted us into. It was 2006 and Lindi, Nosiviwe and I were sitting in a corner at Lindi’s home in Cape Town. The question was intended to interrogate the divisions that were threatening to tear the ANC asunder. The gathering storm was ominous. Fast-forward to 2017: the political tsunami has grown exponentially and threatens to break the formidable bonds that kept the ANC together for many years.

Members of the ANC, celebrating 105 years of the movement’s establishment in 2012, defied the inclement weather on the Sunday January 8 2017 to fill Orlando Stadium in Soweto to capacity – latecomers had to be shuttled into a designated overflow areas outside the stadium. It was a big show of force and an attempt to silence the movement’s detractors, who had been crowing about the loss of support for the oldest political formation in Africa. They were gloating because the ANC presented an image of a wounded lion that could be killed off by political predators.

Of course, the ANC has been wounded – not fatally, but wounded nonetheless. Its wounds are self-inflicted – a consequence of self-injury of the worst kind.

President Zuma, charged with delivering the NEC celebration address on the day, painted the following picture:

‘The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs. Our own research and interactions with members of the ANC demonstrate clearly that the people abhor the apparent preoccupation with personal gain…We must commit to the unity of the ANC and the only noble fight that we must engage in is a fight to serve the people and not ourselves.
‘We must learn from President OR and continue to demonstrate to the people, in word and in deed, that the ANC remains the organisation most capable of leading South Africa. The ANC must unite so that we are able to unite the people against our common enemies – unemployment, poverty and inequality.’

It would seem, though, that none of the leaders of the movement has the necessary political will or authority to bring everybody into line and enforce the ANC’s core values. Instead they complain, like some of the junior leaders in the branches and provinces, about the presence in the organisation’s structures of ‘negative forces’.

The wayward tendencies have been known for some time and condemned by all the members of movement’s Top six, who know who the troublesome members are. They have received reports ad nauseum from sources who point an accusing finger at certain perpetrators. The leaders know about the factions and the drivers of those tendencies.

There have been many complaints across the country about how ANC processes were subverted leading to the general elections in 2009 and 2014, as well as the local government polls in 2011 and 2016.

The factionalists substituted members of their own groupings, who who had not been selected, on the candidate lists for members whose names came through the proper processes. They wanted their own people to occupy public office, and the changes had nothing to do with merit. Those smuggled onto the lists were assigned the responsibility of raiding the public purse after being elected, on the faction’s behalf. Part of their task was to farm out tenders to identified beneficiaries.   

From time to time the ANC has appointed senior comrades to investigate the problems. After the 2009 elections Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was asked to lead a commission to investigate allegations that ANC processes had been manipulated by some of the organisation’s provincial and branch leaders to favour cronies whom the branches had rejected. This was corruption – what Zuma at Orlando Stadium called ‘divisive tendencies such as factionalism, gatekeeping and manipulation of internal processes’ at various levels of the ANC. Dlamini-Zuma’s findings and recommendations dissipated into thin air.

The current ANC leaders are aware of the clear and present danger of a fissure in the ranks of the organisation brought about by factionalism and influenced by rampant corruption. Their problem is their inability to stop the rot and kick out the perpetrators.

The current Top Six, elected in 2012, comprises Jacob Zuma as president, Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president, Baleka Mbete as national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe as secretary general, Jessie Duarte as deputy secretary general and Zweli Mkhize as treasurer. It is a house divided. The pending December 2017 elective conference of the movement has sharpened their differences and hardened the divisions. At the centre of the problem is the fact that they have different interests that the election outcome will affect.

The NEC anniversary speech placed Tambo at Morogoro and Kabwe and connected his presence at both consultative conferences to the key question of unity between the masses of the motherland and the ANC as the best vehicle to secure the victory of the National Democratic Revolution. Zuma, therefore, declared 2017 ‘the year of Oliver Reginald Tambo, with the sub-theme: ‘Let us deepen unity’.

Tambo’s commitment to the unity of his organisation was unchallengeable. It was because of his reverence for the ideal of a united ANC that he made the following observation in 1971:

‘Today, it is ever more important that we continue to hold in our hands the weapon of unity [which] in the past, we…wielded with such dramatic results in our external work. It is the weapon with which we have built up a volume of international pressure against the racists, such as cannot but give great satisfaction to our colleagues who languish in South African jails. With that weapon of unity, we have stood firm in the face of sustained and powerful enemy attacks – attacks mounted from different points, at different angles and with different methods.
‘With that weapon in our hands we have gone to war, and it inspired the gallants of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the historic battles of Wankie and Sipolilo. They fought and fell; they punished and routed the imperialist agents under the banners of the ANC in the name of a united and suffering people. With that weapon we shall fight and fall, we shall conquer and be free. It is a weapon the enemy sought to take from the oppressed people.’

Tambo believed that there were no battles the ANC would not win if it was united. Problems did surface from time to time under his watch, but the ANC was able to deal with some of the negative energy, including the shenanigans of the Group of Eight. Tambo intervened whenever problems emerged and drove unity as the glue that would keep the ANC together.

If he had survived to the present he would be celebrating his 100th birthday on October 27 2017. Speaking for the ANC NEC on February 8 2017, Zuma said the ANC’s clarion call to its members was to ‘deepen unity’ as OR ‘united [members] by listening and engaging with [their] concerns…by staying true to the core values of the ANC and [by] displaying great integrity and discipline in serving his people’.

The NEC’s political report from the Kabwe Conference included the following:

‘With regard to the issue of unity within our ranks, the Morogoro Conference drew attention among other things to the importance of strengthening the links between the leadership and the membership, the necessity for the leadership to be accountable to the movement as a whole and the need to have clear strategic and tactical perspectives and a programme of work around which the membership would unite in pursuit of common objectives.’

The NEC went on to say that Morogoro had been characterised by a sense of high revolutionary enthusiasm in confronting the ANC’s problems frankly and squarely in the quest for solutions. It added:

‘Out of Morogoro came significant results, the most [important] being the reorientation of our movement towards the prosecution and intensification of our struggle inside South Africa, the restoration and reinforcement of unity within our own ranks and the integration of all revolutionaries within the ranks of the external mission of the ANC.’

Many senior comrades who worked for years with OR can relate stories about him. I want to echo Albie Sachs’s comment on Oliver Reginald Tambo was. In his book Sachs says the following:

‘Oliver Tambo was a great listener, a natural democrat, always diplomatic in speech and demeanour, but never afraid to deal with hard and testing questions. Many other liberation movements in exile fragmented, fractured, formed splinter groups, and expelled and even killed each other. Yet over a period of 30 years in which he led the movement in exile, I can only recall 10 members being expelled from the ANC, eight on one occasion and two…on another. This had a lot to do with [OR’s] style of leadership, a culture that he had helped develop when he had worked under the presidency of Chief Albert Luthuli.’

At this point in its life, the ANC urgently needs leadership of the character of OR Tambo and other former leaders who have headed the organisation since its inception. Such leaders would be able to steer the ANC away from the precipice it is heading for. They would have given clear instructions for all the nonsense to stop and for the movement to return to its core principles and values in the service of the masses.

A former activist and ANC and SACP leader, Rudolf Phala of Limpopo, defined the ANC’s current problems in an article he wrote towards the end of 2016 entitled ‘Is the ANC likely to lose power in the foreseeable future?’ The article uses as a springboard the movement’s disastrous performance in the local government elections of August 2016. Some of the causes for the dip in the ANC’s electoral support, Phala argues, are complacency in the ranks, the failure to act swiftly and decisively against negative tendencies, disunity and rampant factionalism, corruption in the ANC processes and the state, blunders by the state, the failure to address disagreements among members, and the ostentatious display of wealth and possessions by some leaders.

The writer goes on to make the following emphatic observation:

‘Factionalism, particularly in the run-up to elective conferences, causes irreparable damage to the ruling party. It damages its image and reputation irretrievably. The damage done in the run-up to, at and post- the Polokwane conference is unsalvageable…
‘Elements involved in rampant factionalism imagine that the ANC will rule forever no matter what. They think that once they factionally defeat their adversaries inside the ANC they will be ensconced in government positions, tenders and appointments. [But] the ANC may ultimately have no role in government, [and] become a former ruling party, weakened and fatally wounded.’

Zuma told members in Orlando Stadium that the organisation is disunited. The question must be asked: why did the ANC leadership not intervene at the very early stages when factionalism, gatekeeping and other degenerative tendencies began to pollute the structures of the organisation? The truth is that some leaders, from the national level to the branches, benefited from those malpractices, while the factions that support them at branch level strengthen the same groupings at the regional, provincial and national levels.

‘Gatekeeping’ and the manipulation of internal processes are used to buttress the factions, which have been strengthened in a big way in the build-up to the ANC’s December 2017 elective conference. The upshot may well be the further splintering of the movement.

Zuma took the ANC’s celebration of OR to the nation as a whole when he delivered his State of the Nation Address on February 9 this year:

‘An illustrious son of our country, President Oliver Reginald Tambo, would have turned 100 years old this year had he lived. This selfless patriot dedicated his adult life to a tireless pursuit of the liberation of our country and its people. He left a lasting legacy for all South Africans, and not only for his organisation, the ANC. In his honour, we have declared the year 2017, the Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo. It is the year of unity in action by all South Africans as we move South Africa forward together.’

The effect was to make the honouring of OR a national celebration and remind all South Africans of the work that he did with Nelson Mandela to drive South Africa to a negotiated settlement. The masses remember Tambo for his strategic orientation, skilful leadership and political acumen, which enabled him to keep the ANC united over 30 years. He uttered the following words as he handed the baton to new leaders and members at the ANC’s Durban conference in 1991:

‘We have devotedly watched over the organisation all these years. We now hand it back to you, bigger, stronger and intact. Guard our precious movement.’

Let us go back to find yesteryear’s ANC and better appreciate why OR wanted the coming generations of leaders and members to ‘guard our precious movement’. The starting point for me is an article written in 1906 by Pixley ka Isaka Seme under the title ‘The Regeneration of Africa’. In it he said:

‘By this term regeneration I wish to be understood to mean the entrance into a new life (by the African), embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence. The basic fact which assures their regeneration resides in the awakened race-consciousness. This gives them a clear perception of their elemental needs and of their undeveloped powers. It, therefore, must lead them to the attainment of that higher and advanced standard of life…
‘The African people, although not a strictly homogeneous race, possess a common fundamental sentiment which is everywhere manifest, crystallizing itself into one common controlling idea…The ancestral greatness, the unimpaired genius, and the recuperative power of the race, its irrepressibility, which assures its permanence, constitute the African’s source of inspiration…
‘Civilisation resembles an organic being in its development – it is born, it perishes, and it can propagate itself. More particularly, it resembles a plant; it takes root in the teeming earth, and when the seeds fall in other soils new varieties sprout up. The most essential departure (point) of this new civilization is that it shall be thoroughly spiritual and humanistic – indeed, a generation moral and eternal.’

Seme was looking at Africa as virgin soil that had all the elements – albeit scattered and uncoordinated – to give birth to a continent based on a system of higher and more complex existence. He needed a vehicle for such a mammoth project and I believe the idea swirling around his head was that of the organisation that he would later help to found, the African National Congress. Even before the organisation was born, he conceptualised the ANC as an instrument of transformation and a catalyst for the building of a new society based on a system of thoroughgoing spirituality, high morality and deep-seated humanity.

When the founders established the ANC, they never thought it would one day degenerate to the level where it finds itself today – penetrated by members who are bent only on financial gain and ready to use crooked means to get their hands on it. Most of the time the money is needed to bribe comrades for support in elections. None of those who have benefited from corruption will heed Zuma’s call at the ANC’s 105-year celebration:

‘ANC cadres know that we must be united and show unity of purpose to work together for the success of the National Democratic Revolution. Unity is the fundamental prerequisite for ensuring that we achieve our goals and succeed in addressing the challenges facing our society. We must work for this unity in a concrete manner…Our structures must serve as dynamic and living forces for uniting communities…We are clear that we are not calling for unity in defence of corruption or other negative tendencies…’                                                                                                                 

Those tendencies, unfortunately, have grown exponentially in the ANC, and Zuma and the other senior leaders have not intervened to put a stop to them. To weed out corruption and the other negative tendencies, a new commitment is needed among the leaders.
The 2017 elective conference in mid-December has become the biggest threat to the movement’s unity. No less than six ANC members will stand for the position of president, which Zuma is expected to vacate. His supporters in what is called the ‘premier league’ – the leadership structures in three provinces – are working hard behind the scenes to influence the ANC to adopt a resolution which would align the term of the movement’s president with that of the president of the country. If that succeeds, Zuma will continue being ANC president until 2019, when his term as head of state will end after the elections.

If the ANC seeks unity, though, everybody should be seeking consensus around a single candidate. Ability and overall generalship in matters of leadership, loyalty to the cause and honesty in the discharge of the obligations of the mission should be the criteria.
The movement’s past can help to reorientate our thinking. The ANC’s history is replete with many instances where the best minds in the organisation came together to deal with big and complex problems confronting the movement. Those complexities were resolved when those leaders harnessed their collective wisdom to find appropriate answers. 

It is instructive to consider what happened at the very first conference of the ANC in 1912. Using their collective wisdom, the pioneers who gathered at Mangaung early that January appointed a committee of 18 members and asked them to find a person who would be elected president of the new organisation. After deliberating, the committee submitted three names: Sefako Makgatho, Edward Tsewu and Langalibalele Dube. Dube, though absent from the conference, received overwhelming support and became the first president of the ANC (then called the South African Native National Congress).

In his book, The Founders: The Origins of the ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa, Andre Odendaal records:

‘Unlike the election of the president, where the candidates were nominated by a special committee, nominations for the other positions of office in the executive committee came from the open conference. Seven vice-presidents were elected, the positions being distributed as widely as possible on a regional basis. They were Sefako Makgatho, president of the the Transvaal Native Organisation; William Letseleba, president of the Transvaal Native Union; John Mocher, president of the Orange Free State Native Congress; Simeon Kambule, a past president of the Natal Native Congress, who had also been on the first executive of the South African Native Convention; Thomas Zini, president of the Cape Peninsula Native Association; Philip Modise, secretary to Paramount Letsie of Basutoland; and Chief Silas Molema, personal representative of the Rolong paramount Lekoko.’

Uppermost in the minds of the delegates, whom Odendaal describes as ‘a wide cross-section of public opinion’, was the establishment of an organisation that would carry and fulfil the aspirations of the Africans on the continent to be free from slavery, oppression and other negative effects of colonisation. In Seme’s mind the new organisation would carry the injunctions of all Africans to speed up the regeneration of Africa.

In contrast, political discussions at the 2017 ANC conference will be dominated by the election of the new leadership core rather than the mission of a better life for all. Thousands of rands will change hands to buy votes. That, unfortunately, is the level to which the ANC had degenerated – a far cry from the first conference in 1912.

I have supported the move to persuade the ANC leadership to convene a special consultative conference to deal with the challenges confronting the organisation. Alas, the leadership has no appetite for such a consultative process. When they agreed, in the end, to accommodate the request, they allocated two days to it. In two days you simply cannot carry out a thorough assessment of the state of the organisation, discuss it and make proposals for changes to address the crisis.

The ANC’s policies remain solid – if policy changes are required, the national conference can deal with them. In other words, it would serve the ANC to scrap the policy conference, refer questions of policy change to the national conference and use the time set aside for the policy conference to accommodate the consultative process.

The two main consultative conferences of the ANC, at Morogoro and Kabwe, were influenced by specific considerations. Having addressed those, delegates arrived at decisions that united the movement and propelled the struggle forward. Developments in the ANC during the current period require the attention of a consultative process to reorientate the movement towards the mission for a better life for all our people.

Based on the experience of the first ANC conference, it should be possible to prevail on the leadership of the provinces to sit together, in the best interests of the ANC as the primary people’s organisation, to produce a list of capable men and women from across all the provinces to lead the organisation. The operative phrase is, of course, ‘capable men and women’. They would constitute the NEC which, in my view, should not be larger than 50 members.

The other measure could be the Mandela Option – and I do not mean the Indian Option. The ANC Youth League had produced a programme of action whose cornerstone, Madiba explains in Long Walk to Freedom, ‘was a campaign of mass mobilisation…which called for boycotts, strikes, stay-at-homes, passive resistance, protest demonstrations and other forms of mass action’. He adds:

‘Dr Xuma [the ANC president at the time] was adamantly opposed [to the programme of action], claiming that such strategies were premature and would merely give the government an excuse to crush the ANC. Such forms of protest, he said, would eventually take place in South Africa, but at the moment such a step would be fatal. He made it clear that he was a doctor with a wide and prosperous practice that he would not jeopardise by going to prison.’

The Youth League vowed to depose Xuma at the December 1949 conference of the ANC. It supported James Moroka as an alternative, although the Youth Leaguers had some reservations. Madiba explains:

‘Dr Moroka was an unlikely choice. He was a member of the All-African Convention (AAC) which was dominated by Trotskyite elements at that time. When he agreed to stand against Dr Xuma, the Youth League then enrolled him as a member of the ANC. When first approached, he consistently referred to the ANC as the African National ‘Council’. He was not very knowledgeable about the ANC, neither was he an experienced activist, but he was respectable and amenable to our programme.’

The Youth League’s Moroka project was a desperate move – but one demanded by a desperate situation. There is a measure of similarity between the challenge that faced the Youth League League then and the one facing ANC members now. I admit that it would be awkward for today’s ANC to have to face what the Youth League did in 1949. However, the current situation is demands a response that may be awkward to make – even finding someone outside the organisation to lead it out of its turbulence and disunity.

I often wonder what image of the ANC drifts across the mind of African Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe mind when he looks at and listens to its members debate in Parliament, at least since the 2009 election. The ANC’s biggest electoral victory was under Mbeki in 2004, when it scored a 69.69% victory, securing 279 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Meshoe’s refrain from 2004 – maybe a warning – was that the ANC may have become smug and arrogant in the face of that huge victory. He went on to say: ‘You may believe, at this time, that you are like the Titanic. Remember that ship was supposed to be unsinkable but it did sink. You are also going to sink.’

Meshoe is no longer uses the Titanic analogy, but I am certain he believes the ANC is sinking. The 2009 election saw the ANC lose 33 of the 279 seats it won in 2004. Its tally dropped again in the 2014 election, when it scored 62.15%, losing a further 15 seats.
Then came the movement’s worst performance – in the 2016 local government elections, when it lost the major metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay to a coalition of opposition parties. The loss threw the national leadership of the party into a cauldron of confusion and nonsensical statements. The most obvious nonsense was the view that the ANC had lost nothing.

Meshoe may be reserving his judgment, but he must be secretly praying, as a minister of religion, for another dose of divine intervention in the 2019 elections to ensure that an opposition coalition takes power from the ANC. He surely wants the Titanic that is the African National Congress to sink. 

The current captain and crew of ANC Titanic do not know how to steer the ship away from the icebergs in its path. They cannot get rid of the corruption in the ranks of the movement, nor deal with the negative tendencies that have sown disunity. They have been immobilised by their own culpability for the wrongs that have become almost second nature at every level of leadership.

Lindiwe Sisulu’s question stands: ‘How did we get here?’ I have an answer: we walked away when wrongdoing took root and its putrid smell permeated all our endeavours. We wanted to keep our hands and noses clean. We are to blame as much as the current leaders are.  

My last point is a personal plea to President Zuma. At the end of the December 2017 conference the ANC will have a corps of new leaders, including a newly elected president. Zuma must not agree to the suggestion that his term be extended to align it with his current term as president of the country, which would change history by influencing the terms of future presidents. Such a move would have to be thoroughly discussed to determine whether it carries advantages for the ANC.

The members of the movement, including the delegates that the various structures will send to conference, may have many tactical differences on how to move forward, but wherever they stand on the conflicts over positions in the movement they all agree the ANC must be united. That unity of purpose will help the organisation to reoccupy its position as the tried and tested leader of South Africa’s masses. It will also ensure that the ANC retains power for as long as possible. Whatever their position on the conflicts of the day, no member of the ANC wants to lose power.

The masses must see and be convinced that the new ANC president has what it takes to lead the whole country after the 2019 elections. For that to happen, the newly elected president must be given space to project him or herself as leadership material. To that extent, Zuma should resign his presidency of the country soon after the ANC has chosen its leaders. The party would then pilot through Parliament the new ANC leader as South Africa’s president.

Such an arrangement would allow the president to do two important things for the ANC. The first would be to discharge all the functions of state in the best way possible to show the entire population he or she is fit to continue as president after the 2019 elections. The second advantage would be that to such a person would fall the task of uniting the ANC, both as president of the organisation and head of state. One of the tasks would be to deal with problems at local government level, where some of the corruption takes place.

Zuma owes it to the founders of the ANC and the leaders who preceded him over many years to give the next president an opportunity to present themselves in the highest office in the land and exert authority over everybody, thus leading the organisation’s forces and the other South Africans towards ‘a new life, embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence’, as Seme put it. That is what the ANC calls a better life for all of South Africa’s people – black and white.

The ball is in Zuma’s court. His conscience should tell him what to do and, knowing him to be a revolutionary democrat, I am convinced he will do what is right. I believe he still possesses the right revolutionary orientation, and that this will make him understand that he must yield power in order to gain respect and save the movement he leads.

- Charles Nqakula is former minister of defence and currently serves as an ANC MP who chairs the standing committee on intelligence.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  charles nqakula  |  anc leadership race  |  anc

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