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YOU ANC NOTHING YET The ANC’s 105th anniversary celebrations kicked off in Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where President Jacob Zuma addressed the community and shared cake with them as part of the celebrations. Picture: Leon Sadiki
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Each year the ANC delivers its traditional January 8th statement in which the party reflects upon the year that has passed and also highlights some priorities for the new year. This is when the ANC celebrates its birthday, usually by demonstrating that the party still has support among ordinary people.
This year’s celebration was themed ‘Unity in Action’. The party’s message, delivered by President Jacob Zuma, was nearly a sober reflection on where the party finds itself.
Zuma’s address highlighted the point that members of the party should stop fighting one another and focus on serving the nation. Zuma berated increasing factionalism and how the seemingly entrenched practice continues to tear the party apart.
Factionalism has contaminated the succession battle within the party and Zuma pointed out that the branches of the ANC should be vigilant regarding who they elect to lead the party.
This all sounds good until one considers that the solution being suggested is at best unimaginative and stale. Quite often, ANC members recount the glorious history of the party as a way to remind members that they should aspire to the leadership that was provided by the likes of Oliver Tambo during the anti-apartheid struggle.
While this is a good call, it does not amount to a tangible strategy for the party to address the increasing levels of corruption and greed among its top members and how that affects the process of electing leadership within the organisation. If you’re in trouble, it makes no sense to keep saying that “I used to be great and smart”.
What needs to be done by the ANC is to find ways to deal with the challenges of governing a modern democracy. These challenges are not specific to the ANC, but typical to any post-liberation party.
The intensity of the problem in the context of South Africa might be caused by the fact that it is a relatively rich country and that the ANC is in charge of a very big budget in government. It would serve them well to be practical and stop resorting to an attitude of exceptionalism as if corruption within the party is something that has never been seen in any political party before.
To resolve the intensity of factionalism and how it compromises the process of electing leadership within the party, the ANC simply has to open the process and allow everyone within the party to openly contest leadership positions.
The truth is that ANC members are influenced by the reality of living in a market society and are consequently motivated to accumulate resources. That means that members of the ANC will naturally be interested in leadership positions. They should therefore be allowed to openly contest who claims them. It makes no sense to say it has never been the tradition of the ANC for candidates to openly declare their availability.
This tradition made sense during the anti-apartheid movement. During that time, resources or money was not part of the equation when it came to leadership positions within the party. Those who were elected to lead the ANC back then could not be corrupted on the scale currently seen simply because the ANC was not in power. There were no incentives to corrupt leaders of the party.
Currently however, the fact that the ANC is in power means that there would be more incentive to corrupt party leaders. Consequently, members of the ANC have incentives to engage in contest for leadership as this guarantees influence.
This does not mean that leaders in a market society are always concerned with influence and access to resources. The reality is that in any open democracy, people would be interested in accessing leadership positions. ANC members are no exception. Instead of denying this fact of life, the ANC should rather adjust its internal processes to fit the current challenges. It requires that the party adopt transparent processes through which every Tom, Dick and Harry within the party can state their availability for leadership position and openly lobby for support.
There are those who are already engaging in this process although they do it secretly while preaching unity and discipline in public. It is important for the ANC to open the leadership contest and ensure that it is done in a transparent manner. In that way, the ANC would be able to fit into changing circumstances instead of denying the reality on the ground.
- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.
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