Please ANC, let us in

2012-11-03 13:06

One woman brought her knitting while another was studying an Avbob funeral policy pamphlet. A few chairs away, a well-known Greek businessman was mutedly caucusing with a friend.

This is how it went at an ANC branch meeting last weekend while those present were waiting for their names to be ticked off an attendance register.

This was to determine if there were enough branch members to nominate candidates to lead the party come the national elective congress in Mangaung in December.

It’s an important matter. Nowadays, the party leader not only serves the million or so members of the party, but he or she is also president of a country of 51 million people.

Last Sunday’s was a cosy meeting in the small hall of the Field & Study Centre in Sandton, and many of the 80 or so attendees made us feel welcome.

An old acquaintance said she’s so happy to see us, and we made a new Twitter friend. ANC and non-ANC members followed our tweets with interest.

Outside, old Toyota Tazzes stood next to fancy Jaguars and black Mercedes-Benzes.

The meeting was an interesting mix of black and white, domestic workers and business tycoons.

There were some tensions and fears that the meeting wouldn’t reach a 50% quorum.

During a debate on whether to adjourn the meeting or wait, things turned sour for myself and my colleague when we were asked to leave.

Non-members were unwelcome, we were told. There was also unhappiness about our tweeting.

A national executive committee (NEC) member, who we know very well and respect greatly, spotted us exiting.

She followed us outside and we were gobsmacked as she scolded us like kids, and then gradually broke down in front of us, angry that we had accepted the invite of a branch member.

Non-members need written permission from the branch leadership and invitations from “sell-outs” and “Mickey Mouse” members (who weren’t branch leaders) don’t fly, we were told.

Many in the party want the nominations about our future president to be a strictly internal ANC matter.

Of course, some would prefer the outside world not to see the wranglings in those branches, where deep divisions exist
over who to nominate.

The furious NEC member fumed that we reminded her of spies in the bad old days who used to sneak into ANC meetings to gather intelligence that would lead to activists being killed or caught.

When she saw us there, she felt “exposed”.

But a bright leader like herself should know that 2012 is unlike the time of OR Tambo, when the party operated underground.

These branch meetings are part of a legitimate process and our aim is to understand it better.

We want to avoid the ANC sneeringly telling journalists again, like it did in 2007 after Jacob Zuma’s election, that we don’t know the party.

As things stand now, a Zuma victory in December looks likely, and key to the explanation for this is likely to be in the branches.

It seems, however, that the middle classes could end up baffled again that someone like Zuma could get re-elected despite revelations that R250 million of state money was pumped into his Nkandla home.

The middle-class appetite is waning for bankrolling presidents they feel are “foisted” upon them by ANC members.

They’re feeling increasingly disengaged and don’t necessarily want to join the party.

If there ever is a middle class Marikana, it’s likely to start here.

Last year, the ANC – forced in part by escalating hostility in communities – allowed non-members into its branch nominations process.

It wasn’t an easy or flawless process, but it was a step in the right direction.

The party realised its power but also its vulnerability, and wanted to share it with the people.

This is probably also why in the past few weeks, branches in the DA-governed Western Cape have welcomed journalists. In contrast, the ANC in Gauteng has asked journalists to stay out.

Non-members need not be allowed to nominate ANC leaders, but it would do our governing party good to put out a few extra chairs for guests.

It’s bound to find itself with a few more friends.

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