ANC needs an overhaul, not an early conference

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ANC leaders at the Siyanqoba rally at Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, ahead of elections. From left: Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize, Jacob Zuma. Picture: Thapelo Maphakela
ANC leaders at the Siyanqoba rally at Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, ahead of elections. From left: Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize, Jacob Zuma. Picture: Thapelo Maphakela

The national conversation in South Africa after the recent local government elections is centred on the meaning of their results.

The dominant issue in the conversation is the overall performance of the ANC and its resultant standing in terms of support among people, as well as its image.

The decline in support quickly raises questions about the reasons for this and what needs to be done next.

This conversation evokes deep-felt emotions with members and supporters of the organisation for reasons that are difficult to explain, save to say that it is painful.

History is full of examples on when, why, and how liberation movements decline and finally crash at some point after liberation.

It had been inconceivable to imagine the ANC going down the same path, even by an inch of the imagination, until these recent elections.

The ANC has learnt many lessons from other liberation movements throughout the world.

In addition, it has a rich experience gained over many years, working with South African people of all classes, ages and races.

Many personal journeys and experiences of ANC members who fought for freedom for decades still bring you to tears when you read and think about them.

They remain an inspiration that could have shielded the organisation from the vulgar incumbency that now characterises it.

As the ANC, we have suffered on many fronts.

Revolutionary morality has crumbled and bold corruption has become a culture at all government levels, where arrogance is very much on display.

Worst of all, internal organisational and administrative systems, which had been democratic, have become a battleground for factions to outsmart one another with fraud and manipulation in the desperate clamour for positions
and power.

There are basically two camps in the ANC.

One is thriving on corruption, arrogance, corrosion of values of the organisation and its traditions, internal fraud and manipulation of all systems. It subscribes to personalities who in turn provide “protection” and allow the rot to take root.

It seeks to control the organisation through an internal network from the top to the branch.

The other camp seeks to restore organisational values, traditions and practices that have stood the test of time.

They seek to resist the shift from established internal systems to the current system of leadership.

They are concerned about leadership characterised by scandals and manipulation within the organisation, and in government, to favour friends and family.

Further decline is inevitable, unless far-reaching interventions are made soon. We need to redefine the duties of the national leadership in the organisation.

The ANC is no longer able to carry downward or negative weight; it has reached its limit. The more we try to defend the indefensible, the more ridiculous we sound and the closer we get to the crash.

The leadership and membership of the ANC need to take a stand against the decay in the organisation, regardless of consequences to themselves. Politics of convenience and blind loyalty have proved destructive beyond any doubt.

All comrades who attended the 1997 ANC National Conference in Mahikeng and who witnessed former president Nelson Mandela hand over the leadership baton to former president Thabo Mbeki know the deep feeling that filled that conference room at that moment.

It was the passing of power from a generation of political immortals to a generation of real human beings getting into the complexities of governance.

However, the performance in these recent elections – even though signs of decline were there – has been a complete shock, causing pain and anger.

This was elevated by the loss of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. The loss of these metros should be laid at the feet of all ANC members. These are the financial and political powerhouses of the country.

Our collective responsibility for these election results could be more pronounced once it has been fully analysed.

Opposition parties stole the show at the 2016 local government elections in many respects. In the process, they made many remarkable statements.

The ANC needs to defend itself to the best of its ability, but should also listen carefully to some of the issues that the opposition is raising.

Even more attention should be given to the issues raised by ordinary people and analysts.

This, however, is only important in so far as it clears the way for making interventions that will change the path the organisation is currently following.

The ANC is governing South Africa not just for itself. Every citizen should be certain of their future based on the decisions the organisation and government take daily.

If people are shocked, angry, frustrated or uncertain as a result of what they see and hear daily, or if they despair, they will have only themselves to blame when the crash comes.

We need to look one another in the eye and tell the truth – that there is indeed a big elephant in the room.

All comrades, activists, party structures and the whole ANC family should discuss and debate the current crisis, regardless of the prevailing lack of gravity and spark in the current national executive committee.

Instead of calling for an early conference, we should be calling for an extensive analysis of where we are as an organisation as part of the preparations for the national conference next year.

While the conference is meant to change leadership, we should commission major papers that will chart a new course and trajectory for the ANC.

Preparations should be under way as we speak.

It would consequently be pointless to have an early conference.

Mchunu is the former premier of KwaZulu-Natal and former ANC provincial chairperson

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