The ANC is a complicated organisation that has an uncanny ability to take its supporters for granted. Its reference to itself as a broad church is an apt description for the multifaceted character of the organisation. What many may regard as common sense is not always regarded as such. What others find complicated and contradictory may be perfectly at home in the party.
The most recent example of the confusing character of the party is the release of the party’s list for the next elections. The general public’s eagerness to embrace the New Dawn has encountered what may be called a sharp rebuke by the party’s branches, which have seen fit to nominate individuals who are currently under a cloud for their alleged part in what has come to be known as State Capture. The top leadership of the party were hamstrung to do anything in that regard, because the branches have spoken, and their will has to be respected and not undermined.
Ministers Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini, as well as their erstwhile colleagues Malusi Gigaba, Mosebenzi Zwane and Faith Muthambi have been nominated to serve as Parliamentary representatives, with a possible track to Cabinet appointments. In fairness, Bathabile Dlamini has not been fingered for any State Capture related malfeasance. Her albatross is sheer incompetence and corrupt intent around the renewal of the SASSA grants payment system with Net1 Cash Paymaster Services contract which required the intervention of the Constitutional Court to cancel. Nomvula Mokonyane featured prominently in the testimony of Angelo Agrizzi for her proximity to African Global Operations. Malusi Gigaba went out of his way to block Nicky Oppenheimer’s Fireblade Aviation from operating a private terminal at OR Tambo International Airport in service to the Guptas who also sought the same for themselves. Mosebenzi Zwane is accused of being more Guptarised than the Guptas themselves and cheating Glencore out of its mine with the collusion of Brian Molefe, then CEO of Eskom Holdings. Faith Muthambi leaked a confidential cabinet memorandum to the Guptas and wreaked havoc in the Communications Department and is partly responsible for the mess the SABC is in currently.
How can this be explained? For starters, Ramaphosa’s hegemony over the party is still not complete. Though he has made progress in stamping his authority and way of doing things, he still faces strong resistance to some of his reformist tendencies. This resistance mostly expresses itself through the backing of ‘compromised’ leaders by structures and high-profile members of the party.
Secondly, the ANC’s character as a mass-based movement means its internal mechanisms of democracy have devolved power into the branches of the party, thus curtailing the ability of national leadership to make balanced and ‘objective’ decisions. Branches hold most of the power in the organisation. They are responsible for setting the party’s direction and nominating leaders to serve in Parliament and government. This is an example of participative internal democracy at its best. However, it is also the seed for the ANC’s destruction.
ANC branches have shown themselves to be prone to manipulation, lack of independence in thought and corruption. We all remember back in 2017 in the run up to the elective conference of the party when branches in Mpumalanga voted for “Comrade Unity” in what was a blatant power play by its then Provincial Chair in a bid to bargain his way to the party’s Deputy Presidency.
Since 2007 the ANC has struggled with the management of its branches and their contribution to the party’s thinking and policy direction. It is widely held that former President Zuma’s ascension into the highest office in the country was built on buying of branches, inflating membership numbers in regions known to favour him, and dismantling/disqualifying branches that were regarded as being hostile to his leadership ambitions from participating in the elective process.
Gerrymandering branches is partly responsible for the disengagement of black professionals from the party. Many such professionals have seemingly distanced themselves from direct participation in the party’s branch processes because of the unseemly way in which internal democratic processes have been handled to confer pre-determined outcomes. Many have stayed away because they do not have the financial means to recruit backing from gullible members of the branch who participate in the party’s processes to access opportunities.
The ANC’s internal democracy has been corrupted by the influence of money. Many local level leaders campaign hard for their preferred leaders based on their perceived chances of advancing their material ambitions to access state resources. Leaders who should have been dumped long ago find themselves being brought back into leadership positions because branches have expressed themselves in favour of such leaders.
Because the branch is the expression of the members’ aspirations, the national leadership of the party does not have the ability to exclude certain of its members from the list of candidates. That would be tantamount to disregarding the directives of the branch, the smallest unit of the party.
It remains to be seen how the ANC will manage this problem. Lack of attention to it will be the undoing of the organisation in the long term. It is in the New Dawn’s best interests to ensure that the branch is modernised and recalibrated to engage more on policy matters and infuse principle into the election of party leaders. This is perhaps the biggest challenge that will face the party when it gears up for the 2021 local government elections.