Guest Column

ANC manifesto: Legitimate or PR stunt?

2018-10-21 07:00
Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's national conference at Nasrec in December 2017. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla

Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's national conference at Nasrec in December 2017. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla (Felix Dlangamandla)

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Omgama Mtimka

The African National Congress (ANC) has announced a plan to craft its manifesto by soliciting input from the wider public. It intends to launch the resultant manifesto at its annual birthday bash in January 2019, accommodating the preferences of South Africans at large.

The party is making an important step towards becoming a "learning organisation" if it is being genuine. But the credibility of the process will be negatively affected by loss of public trust in the brand itself.

The participation by the wider public signals a fundamental shift in how the ANC has approached crafting national priorities and focus areas before. The party has for many years overemphasised its autonomy when it comes to setting priorities based on a belief that its members, privy to internal policy making processes at national conferences, branches and regions, were the most legitimate contributors in the processes.

One good example of this overemphasis on exclusive autonomy was seen in the party's response to former president Thabo Mbeki's recent article about an alleged departure from the party's understanding of the national and land questions. It was mostly about how bad it was to have engaged in the debate public rather than through internal party structures. It was only later that former minister and ANC NEC member Pallo Jordan addressed the issues Mbeki had raised rather than the method used.

From a systems view of life, the ANC's emphasis on autonomy made it appear more like a closed system, even though it acknowledged that the party was affected by its external environment as evident in its strategy and tactics document.

Contrary to this tendency, open systems embrace the influence of the environment and deliberately seek to get such input or influence as it is seen to be vital for survival. The tension between autonomy and co-dependence is only natural but the ANC's attitude to the views of the wider public was so negative that it called genuine expressions of public disapproval of what it was doing under former President Jacob Zuma as a counter revolutionary movement, agitators for regime change, or a colour revolution. Even one step towards openness should be celebrated in that context but there is a catch.

The ANC is either genuinely transformed in its views about the role that the wider public and not merely its members, who are far less than its voters, should play or it is employing Machiavellian tactics of appearing to be caring while not intending to transform genuinely in a way that places society above the ANC.

Herein lies the way in which the public is likely going to interpret the motives of the ANC about this process. The party has lost so much credibility that it is likely to be seen as attempting to manipulate the public through a public relations exercise not one that is aimed at genuinely factoring in the needs and priorities of "the people".

Many would concur with the view raised by political analyst Lukhona Mnguni recently that the ANC should simply have a one-line manifesto where they say they apologise to the country. Perhaps people expect the ANC to acknowledge that it failed South Africa when it allowed the country to be turned into a personal fiefdom of the party's self-indulgent leaders in the past five years.

The party leadership are being bold when they adopt an approach to crafting their manifesto which does not derive exclusively from its resolutions at its last conference and can be criticised internally for that. Notwithstanding the persistent failure of the ANC to "self-correct" and aggregate the preferences of warring camps within the party, idealists within the party may still believe in the pre-eminence of internal process and autonomy rather than this open approach being pursued.

As mentioned, the reputational damages it has suffered over the years make it difficult for them to be trusted in this process.

But as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It may be that this process works towards regaining some positive feelings about the party no matter how marginal. They should brace themselves for both acclaim and backlash.

- Ongama Mtimka lectures South African Politics, political theory, international relations, and security, peace, and reconstruction at Nelson Mandela University. He writes on his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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