Oscar van Heerden | 'Amasela' must go: The great ANC purge awaits

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Cyril Ramaphosa is flanked by high-ranking ANC members as the party's top 7 is announced on Monday.
Cyril Ramaphosa is flanked by high-ranking ANC members as the party's top 7 is announced on Monday.
Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi

Those in the ANC who have expressed in no uncertain terms their lack of confidence in Cyril Ramaphosa must be principled and go, writes Oscar van Heerden.  


While events unfolded at the 55th National Conference of the ANC, I found myself reminiscing about a similar conference in Mafikeng during my student activism days. I recalled in 1996 when we entered a bruising election battle in the student movement, we had developed a practice of openly and transparently motivating or demotivating candidates in the plenary of the Annual Congress.

And in 1996, I was given the unenviable task of demotivating one of the candidates who had thrown his name in the hat for president of the South African Student Congress. I say unenviable because it is no easy matter to reveal mainly obvious character flaws of someone you refer to as a comrade, but to do this formally and in front of an entire Congress was disarming to say the least.

After witnessing the ANC 55th Conference at Nasrec, I have to admit that maybe, it could serve the ANC better that the candidates that are put up for the leadership are also subject to formal scrutiny of their character.

Overwhelming support

Indeed, maybe even the Polokwane Conference (2007) would have been better served had the conference dissected the characters and records of the candidate leaders. These matters are not new. They are as old as our society. And these ghosts cannot be exorcised unless we place them in the shining light of the sun for everyone to see. Instead, we hide behind gimmicky slogans like Digital Vibes and Phala Phala, or worse yet, we only express our true feelings about some candidates in corridors and behind closed doors. Enough reminiscing. We have what we have and the top seven officials of the ANC have been voted for.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been handed a second mandate and, this time around, its not a slight marginal win over his opponent. No, it was a resounding mandate. The delegates have spoken, and all eyes on you Mr President. You got the overwhelming support of the outgoing NEC when they decided not to support the independent Parliamentary Panel report and to inform the ANC caucus to follow suit. Parliament diligently followed the party line and closed ranks in support of you, Mr President. Now, the highest decision-making structure in the ANC have equally spoken through the ballot and reaffirmed their support for you.

No one disputes the approach you took these last five years in wanting to unite the party at all costs, but numerous elements in the ANC were just not interested in unity. Instead, they fought you hard to remove the step-aside rule. They actively went against party decisions of the NEC and voted against you in Parliament. They deliberately did not heed the instruction not to elect members who are facing criminal charges of varying sorts. And they actively campaigned against you in the various provinces and regions, inciting recalcitrant and unruly behaviour at every turn. They even dared to impose "no-go areas" in certain parts of the country.

READ | ANALYSIS: End of days - Dead souls and echoes of the Soviet Union's collapse at the ANC conference

All the while you, the officials, NWC and NEC handled them with kid gloves, always pussyfooting around these comrades. Well, it all ends now! If you want to see your party emerging victorious in the next upcoming general elections in 2024, you need to show us what you practically mean with renewal.

History shows us that there are roughly three ways you can proceed from this point onwards. 

First, you can follow the example of the great purge in Russia in 1937/8, or the cultural revolution in China in the 1960s. Meaning, as the leader, you rid the party of these dissenting types, holding the party back from progress while engaging in nefarious activities through the state and party, leading to the party's decline in both membership and electoral support. 

Secondly, you can continue on the current trajectory, which ends with the people losing complete faith and trust in the party and actively disassociating themselves from the party, and either not voting for it or staying away from the polls as they have begun to do already. This scenario is following the trajectory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, which as you know, took the Sandinistas 30 years to return to power and restore the trust and faith of their people. I reiterate that this is the current path the ANC party is on.

The third option is the least likely, which is to have a managed funeral of the ANC. What do I mean by this? The ANC patient has been in the ICU for some time now. The red and white blood cells are no longer able to keep the cancer at bay. The doctor has advised that you get your personal matters in order and resign yourself to the inevitable. Spend your final days with your family and make the necessary arrangements for your send-off. You could still avoid this eventuality, but it is going to require significant lifestyle changes, a new routine of exercise, stopping smoking and drinking, in short, a new you.

What am I rambling on about? The ANC brand has had a good run, 110 years and a glorious history globally and on the continent. It has accomplished its stated mission in SA and will always be remembered for achieving the impossible, universal suffrage and an end to apartheid colonialism. A managed transition towards a new party, a party where we will take the lessons of the last 30 years and avoid the same pitfalls. New stringent membership criteria, proper funding model, and so much more. Perhaps, a Social Democratic Party that redefines the new realities of the National Democratic Revolution is just a thought.

Time to resign

Evidently, I am arguing for the very first option - a purge of some repute.

No, we need not be the bad guys wanting to exact a measure of revenge post this conference. The fact of the matter is that there are those in the ANC that have expressed in no uncertain terms their lack of confidence in you, the President so they must be principled and go. Resign your positions in cabinet, Parliament and the leadership structures in the ANC. 

A cabinet reshuffle must be on the cards early in the year before the opening of Parliament. Rid us of the deadwood, ill-disciplined and the incalcitrant. I say again, those wanting to argue that this is divisive must take an honest look at the behaviour and actions of the persons in question. They are not interested in unity, period. Thereafter, a bout of expulsions must be decided upon. This includes those who, under the guise of fighting for so-called independent thinking, seek to undermine all processes, including party positions, that should enable the party and the State to deal with corruption and all its ills. They seek to prevent the party from effectively dealing with their ills and actively avoid wanting to go to prison. Their transgressions speak for themselves.

READ | ANALYSIS: New ANC leadership glimmer of hope, but should hit road running to ease angst

Be all you can be, Mr President.  Even though the NPA is an independent institution of State you must still exercise oversight as the commander in chief. Meet with Adv. Shamila Batohi and Adv. Rabaji-Rasethaba and encourage them to act with speed with cases on the prosecutorial role. Impress upon them the need to expedite the prosecutions of all those implicated in the Zondo commission report and recommendations.

Instruct former President Jacob Zuma to stay in his corner much the same way that then President Thabo Mbeki told Nelson Mandela to keep his nose out of the affairs of the party and to enjoy his retirement instead. Zuma must just accept that he is no longer relevant on the political spectrum. All political and legal avenues exhausted by him have failed. The fighting must end now, Baba. It's not about you, it's about the party, good sir.

Failure to heed this warning, Mr President will with certainty, result in massive electoral haemorrhaging. With all these recent reassurances and with this new mandate from your party, it will all come to nought if the renewal campaign is not going to now start in earnest.

History will judge you as having missed an opportunity for the ANC to live another 110 years.You know what needs to be done. Now do it.  

- Dr Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular.
 

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