OPINION | Khaye Nkwanyana: The greatest danger is that the ANC is at war with itself

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ANC leaders are currently elected based popularity, self-entitlement, glorious struggle credentials and as a product of self-funded grassroots electoral machinery, argues the writer. Photo: Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images
ANC leaders are currently elected based popularity, self-entitlement, glorious struggle credentials and as a product of self-funded grassroots electoral machinery, argues the writer. Photo: Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images

An ANC that is at war with itself tends to suffer from strategic paralysis where it struggles to capitalise against the opposition, when there is an opening, writes Khaye Nkwanyana.

Chrispin Phiri wrote an impassioned opinion piece on News24 under the rhetorical heading: 'Where have all the good comrades gone?'

The main focus of his article gyrated around the "Through the eye of the Needle" document as a strategic guide of the movement since its adoption in 2001. He correctly argues that over time we have seen a decline of quality leaders in the movement despite this important guideline, and he poses another rhetorical question: 

Have we reached a point where the African National Congress exists for its own sake? Have we reached a stage where members use the organisation for their own enrichment and advantage, thus negating the importance of the party itself? Are people in it for themselves or in it to further the ANC and the National Democratic Revolution?

I say, it is rhetorical a question because the current state of affairs has unfortunately mutated to become an actual reality for our movement.

Back in the day, we grew up in an ANC where one's fitness for political leadership was always foregrounded by being tried and tested, and one's political praxis mattered as another consideration to avoid later surprises once a person is elected to the executive. The political paradigm or a political conjuncture was and should be the basis upon which a cohort of leadership from the region, province and to national level of the ANC is built. This approach is an antithesis of comrades being elected to leadership based on popularity, self-entitlement, glorious struggle credentials and as a product of self-funded grassroots electoral machinery.

READ | Cadre deployment was a 'disaster', says ANC veteran

In addition to the salient factors that Phiri outlined, as reasons for this overall decline of cadres quality, here are other reasons to consider:  

  • The high rates of corruption in the state over the past 15 years and its toxic nexuses of those in political power has created an appetite from those on the outside to gravitate towards contesting for leadership in conferences, to access the largesse. In this context, there has been a direct correlation between the desires for state resources and ANC being made a vehicle towards that end, whether at municipal level or at higher levels. 
  • The rise of regions as centres of power-broking towards conferences on which a slate of leaders must win to form the provincial executive committee. This power-broking is replicated by the provinces towards elective conferences for the national executive. The flipside of this outlandish horse-trading is feebleness of the provincial and national executives towards conferences in that they become desperate and surrender themselves (in unprincipled ways) to the whims of lower levels power-brokers in order to be elected, at all costs. This is where many of them degenerate themselves by selling their soul to be elected, by circulating dirty money to oil the campaigning machinery. With this practice entrenched, leaders are beholden to these power brokers to return the favour, either through the facilitation of state contracts or through other patronage enterprise systems.
  • Related to the above, during conference season, is the deal-making schemes of bartering between regions or provinces about who should be supported without any effort put in to interrogate their strength and morality. Candidates are put forward for leadership on the basis that others will also return the same favour. This is where weak and those still wet behind ears find their way to the executive committees, including those with questionable integrity and lack of moral uprightness. These are but signs of the wheels coming off, requiring the immediate application of brakes and fixing.
  • A 52nd conference resolution was passed in Polokwane which sort to pursue one million membership growth before the centenary just for the sake of it. There was no scorch-earthed cadre development (not just political education alone) to convert that amorphous quantity into a quality cadres, grounded on ANC values and culture. This is not to discount the fantastic work currently done by the OR Tambo School, after the Nasrec conference. 
  • The last point, is that there has been a wanton and systematic destruction of the ANCYL purely on the basis of taking stances and programmes that are irritable to the ANC. The intolerance of resorting to dissolutions has robbed the ANC of the ascendency and infusion of well-moulded young leaders to the party. 

The greatest dangers of the movement that is at war with itself, is that it becomes incapable of advancing a sustained revolutionary mission, in a revolutionary cause against the enemy; and it gets debased against the tasks of setting the national agenda. A movement that is caught up in this tends to suffer from strategic paralysis where it struggles to capitalise against the opposition, when there is an opening.  

READ | ANC proposes party constitution overhaul to filter out questionable members

The intensity of the internal strife, shaking the very foundations of our glorious movement, requires a fresh new cohort of cadre with new thinking, and the one that will internalise the dictates of the "Through eye of the Needle" document.

We hope delegates will go to the upcoming policy and December conferences, conscious of the enormity of task to save this liberation movement from the current state of flux.

Uppermost in our minds must be the obsession with electing leaders on the basis of meritocracy, the kind of cadre befitting the capacity to solve South Africa's existential problems and ensure the party is successful in 2024.

- Khaye Nkwanyana is an ANC cadre and served in the KZN Communication Subcommittee. He is also a former YCL Deputy National Secretary.

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