ANC members should be able to directly elect leaders

Delegates singing before the announcement of the new ANC leadership at the party’s Nasrec conference in December 2017. The writer says the format of the branch elective conferences allows enormous scope for corrupted and captured branch delegates. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24
Delegates singing before the announcement of the new ANC leadership at the party’s Nasrec conference in December 2017. The writer says the format of the branch elective conferences allows enormous scope for corrupted and captured branch delegates. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

Is Cyril Ramaphosa able to restore the founding principles of the ANC, with individual accountability of politicians to the people?

Only time will tell.

We need to see ourselves today, in terms of history.

The ANC was formed as a parliament of the African people after the Union of South Africa in 1910 excluded black people from voting.

The Union was constituted by the two former British colonies of the Cape and Natal, together with the former Afrikaner-ruled republics of Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

The Union empowered all the whites in SA (though men only at that time) with the right to vote directly for their individual Members of Parliament, accountable at the next election to voters organised in constituencies.

It was under this background of the exclusion of blacks that the founding fathers of the ANC convened the conference to establish the party in January 1912 after the clarion call of Pixley kaIsaka Seme.

This was an answer to the exclusion of black Africans; also to show that as black Africans we deserve the same rights to directly elect our own Members of Parliament.

At its foundation, the ANC made no criticism of the direct election of individual MPs to Parliament.

It demanded the same right for the black majority as enjoyed already by the white minority.

It must be noted that Dr WB Rubusana, as founding member of the ANC at the 1912 conference, had already been elected as member for East Tembuland to the Cape provincial council in 1909 before blacks were excluded.

At that time in the Cape, the franchise was not divided by race (as well as gender).

It was divided by criteria relating to income and education. Many whites as well as the great majority of blacks were excluded because they did not have enough property or education.

The black male voters of East Tembuland chose Dr Rubusana to represent them as their individual candidate, accountable to themselves.

Dr Rubusana understood the significance of the relations between voters and the Members of Parliament who they choose to represent them.

Alas, the ANC in power since 1994 has relegated this relationship to the bottom of their priorities!

The goals and wishes of the founding fathers are still not realised under this ANC government.

Could this mean that the priorities of the current ANC leadership and government are completely different and opposed to the wishes of the founding fathers?

Internally, the ANC was always run and administered by an elite of teachers, priests and doctors, etc.

These are the people who could afford to attend the elective conferences because of their resources; so the majority of rank and file ANC members have never attended the elective conferences.

They had to rely mostly on the delegates that attended on their behalf.

The ANC of John Dube, Sefako Makgatho, Pixley kaIsaka Seme, Zacharias Mahabane and WB Rubusana was an intelligentsia-run and operated ANC, as only those with the resources could attend conferences.

There was no direct link between ANC leaders and rank and file members except through these delegates.

Members of the ANC relied on the integrity of the delegates to the conferences who had the resources to travel throughout the union of South Africa.

The establishment of the Youth League in 1944 also reinforced continued leadership by the elite, since the Youth League consisted of university and high school students.

Ordinary members could still not afford to attend conferences.

It was the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU), organised in 1919 and 1920 by Clements Kadalie and Henry Selby Msimang (who had attended the ANC founding conference), followed by the influence of the Communist Party after its adoption of the “Black republic” programme in 1928, that started to organise black workers in the factories, farms and mines.

The Communist Party organised political classes training trade union leaders such as shop stewards. As part of the CPSA’s black republic programme, it funded their members who had dual membership in the ANC to attend ANC elective conferences.

It was always thought that as the ANC we are fighting to have the same rights that whites had under apartheid.

Central to this was the right to directly elect our Members of Parliament to serve the people in their constituencies.

But when the ANC was banned in 1960 following the Sharpeville massacre, it had to change radically in order to survive as an illegal organisation. Everything had to be done in secret, especially when together with the Communist Party – which had been banned in 1950 – it formed its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

Members and leaders were sent out of the country to receive military training in China, the Soviet Union, East Germany and other countries.

This required a huge change in operating mode, including changing the elections of delegates to the elective conferences in order to prevent and at least minimise infiltration by apartheid forces.

Under these conditions, delegates were not openly elected; there was thorough screening and most delegates were nominated by the respective Congress Alliance leaders, with the Communist Party in a strong position within the ANC in exile.

In the military camps, under military discipline and hierarchical command, favourite commissars and commanders were appointed as delegates, even when some of those appointed were not trusted by the rank and file soldiers in the camps.

This relationship between ANC leaders and rank and file MK soldiers was accepted because of the underground conditions of our struggle, our military command structure and justified fear of being infiltrated by apartheid forces.

Unfortunately, the underground nature of our struggle had its shortcomings.

Factional struggles between different tendencies were sometimes wrongfully called enemy infiltrations when in reality it was more ideological, such as in the case of the so-called “Gang of 8” who were expelled in 1975 because they mistrusted the communists inside the ANC.

It is important to note that the clashes were taking place in the leadership, and most rank and file depended on what they were told in the camps.

They did not really understand the sources or causes of the conflicts, except to speculate about them. Generally, there was no direct link between the ANC leadership and rank and file except through regular visits by Mzwandile Piliso, Joe Modise, Andrew Masondo and Moses Mabhida to the camps.

Following the banning of the ANC and the establishment of MK, it is not surprising that internal ANC democracy was more elusive than ever.

It was after the Wankie-Sipolilo operations in Zimbabwe in 1967 that MK soldiers demanded to have a conference.

It is said that after Chris Hani and his comrades compiled a memorandum which initiated the call for a conference, they survived a threatened death sentence for their efforts.

The matter is contested, but there is evidence to support this.

Hani and his comrades wrote their memorandum as the last resort following communication breakdown between ANC leadership and MK rank and file. Ultimately the Morogoro conference was convened in 1969 to address the concerns raised in the memorandum, and within MK and the ANC generally.

The underground nature of the military struggle enabled ANC leadership to avoid accountability to the rank and file.

Leaders piled excuses after excuses for not convening elective conferences.

It took another 16 years after the Morogoro conference to convene the Kabwe conference in 1985, even though this was nine years after the “Soweto generation” of young people had filled the ranks of MK way beyond its previous numbers, especially in Angola.

It must be noted also that the Kabwe conference was convened after the Mkatshinga revolt by MK rank and file soldiers in the military camps in Angola in 1984.

Mkatshinga was caused by a breakdown of relations between ANC leaders and MK rank and file.

The Kabwe conference was forced on the ANC leadership, it was not conceived according to plan.

Basically, since the ANC was banned in 1960 the relations between rank and file and leadership have not been ideal.

Rank and file ANC members have not elected leaders since the 1958 conference which elected Chief Albert Luthuli as president, OR Tambo as deputy president and Duma Nokwe as secretary general.

Sixty years later, ANC leaders have not been used to accounting to rank and file, with most having been elected since 1990 through the format of the branch elective conferences, with enormous scope up to today for corrupted and captured branch delegates.

We need to establish direct relations between ANC leaders and rank and file.

The direct relationship between ANC leaders and rank and file members can only be established through ‘One ANC Member, One Vote’ for electing leaders from the president to the branch chairperson.

We need to establish equal rights for all members in the ANC with the right to directly elect our leaders at all levels without exception.

This will be organisational renewal in practice.

A culture change in ANC and in South Africa’s electoral system is now urgently necessary.

Lack of individual accountability of ANC leaders to members in exile has been imported to the lack of accountability of MPs to the voters in South Africa.

The electoral law placed in the new Constitution following the return from exile, based on proportional representation across South Africa and the appointment of all MPs on the basis of party list – with power of party headquarters to sack any MP at any time – reproduced the unaccountability of the ANC in exile.

From the 1958 conference, the trend has been a power shift of the party HQ away from rank and file members, and also from the voters.

As South Africa’s governing party since 1994, ANC leaders have deviated up to today from the initial goals as propounded and exemplified by Dr WB Rubusana, of constituency Members of Parliament, elected directly by the voters.

There has been no place in our National Assembly for a brave, honest, independent-minded MP such as Makhosi Khoza, who represented the wishes of voters.

The noble goals of Dr Rubusana and the ANC’s founding fathers have been relegated in favour of absolute power to party HQ, denying black voters the rights enjoyed by their white counterparts under apartheid.

The current parliamentary electoral system of 100% proportional representation laws was never discussed by the branches before adoption by the ANC and Nationalist Party leaders in 1993; it was imposed top-down.

ANC leaders have assumed they know what is right or good for the voters, which is fundamentally wrong.

The result is South Africa’s systemic corruption spearheaded by the ANC leadership, as the state capture inquiry has demonstrated for all to see.

This is not how to renew South Africa or the ANC.

The country needs democratic reform, as soon as possible, with a return to the ideals of the founding fathers.

Voters must choose their own MPs, not party headquarters.

Makgoale is rank and file member of the ANC. These are his personal views.

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