Factions, not leaders govern

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The much anticipated ANC provincial conference started in earnest yesterday at the ICC in East London, close to the venue at which the ANC’s 2007 provincial conference was dubbed the point of the ‘Polokwanisation’ of the organisation. It marked the heightening of irreconcilable tensions within the organisation once known as a glorious movement.

In the past, the ANC was affectionately referred to as a people’s assembly, embracing the interests of a cross section of people inside and outside its ranks – an organisation vehemently opposed to any form of sectarianism, tribalism, racism, ethnic tendencies, patriarchal gestures, pilfering, and divisive practices. As a result of this, the organisation concerned occupied the moral high ground.

Leadership was selected on the basis of in-depth understanding of the organisation’s  political and ideological perspectives. That understanding enabled the leadership to navigate within a complex global space and a multiplicity of ideological frameworks.

The ideological orientation of any organisation informs its approach to developmental issues. Those with distinctive capabilities were given space to lead. The ability to lead with humility, uniting people from different walks of life, was a vital factor in the selection of leadership. So was the ability to forge strategic and tactical relationships with other critical role players. That’s how the ANC increased its support base across the spectrum.

The departure of a leadership with clarity of purpose has left a void in the ANC and compromised the governing party’s international stature. Strategic political defeats on the ground and within corridors of power have exacerbated the situation.

This has caused panic within the ranks of the ruling dynasty. A well orchestrated purging of  those perceived to be intellectually sound has eroded intra-party democracy. Undemocratic practices have become a driving force behind the manner in which decisions are made.

Undoubtedly, the displacement of “clever blacks” poses a serious menace to the sustainability of the ANC. The recent national policy conference bears testimony to this, in that it failed dismally to generate new knowledge to be added to the existing policy framework. The ANC should note that the “clever blacks” section by its very nature is politically mobile and is not trapped within an environment hostile to them.  If this group of people with rare knowledge, skills and expertise is not used optimally, it may explore other options. If the ANC would like to fit well into the democratic space, it should re-orient itself and acclimatise to the prevailing circumstances. For example, the absence of a succession policy has poisoned the political environment. Leadership succession should be guided by a clear-cut policy.

Leadership succession contestations with serious ramifications cannot be informed by unwritten traditions that don’t stand the test of time. ‘Tradition’ is a grey area open to different interpretations and is used as a proxy in the battle to occupy the pound seats. This has largely contributed to factional battles in the provinces. The constitution of any organisation overrides unwritten traditions.

The ANC’s Eastern Cape leadership contest has set a political precedent by collapsing the organisation into two contending factions. The Manxadanxada (loosely mean “we are busy”), under the leadership of the current chairperson of the province (Phumulo Masualle) and OM17 (loosely mean “Oscar Mabuyane” 2017 chairman hopeful).

Factions have been institutionalised within the theoretical framework of the organisation. The ANC has been split into two factions to pursue an agenda outside the party’s constitutional framework.

This means the organisation has been compromised. Is this done to honour Oliver Tambo, an internationally recognised brand?

Organisations in decline tend to rely on historical factors when they’re in a tight corner. Forgetting that in the post-apartheid society, power is contested around service delivery and the manner in which the country is run.

These factions in the main are controlled from outside the province. The hidden hand is the most powerful political broker in today’s mainstream politics. It’s my considered opinion that whoever wins won’t be able to resuscitate the semi-collapsed structures of the organisation. These problems are sponsored and deeply entrenched to a point of no return. By campaigning for a faction, the expectation is that in turn you’ll be deployed somewhere. People must understand how complex factionalism is.

Those who critique the status quo maybe seen as irritants who must be dealt with accordingly. Yet Constitutional democracy accords people the right to engage in robust and constructive debates.

The main culprits are those who plunder state resources for personal gain – to enrich their families and cronies to the disadvantage of the 30 million trapped in abject poverty. The majority of these people are black in general and Africans in particular. I want to drive this point home, hence I’m repeating it.

Ironically, the ANC was established to liberate Black people in general and Africans in particular within a non-racial and non-sexist philosophical framework. This is a fundamental contradiction that cannot be left unaddressed. South Africans in the past didn’t risk their lives under atrocious circumstances to aid the establishment of a kleptocracy.

Under these trying circumstances, relics of apartheid are exploiting the fragile situation by positioning themselves through the political establishment. Citizens have committed a blunder by outsourcing their right to govern to politicians. We’ve partly ourselves to blame for being complacent and timid.

On many critical fronts, the balance of forces is not in favour of the ANC at the moment and what’s left is its dwindling numerical support base. Even this cannot be relied on because it vacillates.

The non-elective national conference mooted by ANC veterans might have saved the party. The President Zuma factor is too big for the ANC now and has the potential to make the organisation more vulnerable.

For the President, it’s life and death and he’ll fight to the end. The leadership succession should be understood within this context.

The EFF has the ace at its disposal to unleash, to re-direct the political direction of the country. This ace has been used in the context of Johannesburg Unicity Municipality. Watch this space in the build-up to the 2019 elections and after.

This assumption is based on trends and the complexity of South African politics in the post-apartheid era. As analysts, we think beyond political and ideological trappings.

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