No turning back


We are counting the days to the ANC elective conference next weekend. The electoral hype is written on the faces of followers, convinced that their presidential hopefuls will ascend to the coveted position. The main contest revolves around the party’s presidency. It is for the first time in the history of the ANC that no fewer than seven presidential hopefuls are gunning for political power at all costs. Campaigns leading to the “life and death” elective conference are built around individuals.

Presidential hopefuls have gained more prominence than their political party, which has been subordinated to phenomenon of personality cult – a politics with the potential to build an individual bigger than the organisation. In this context, individuals subscribe to an individual leader in the hope that after power has been grabbed, payback time will come.

The support given to each presidential hopeful is informed by this expectation and their electoral campaigns resemble US politics. The ANC’s outgoing national leaders should ask themselves why they allowed party members to group themselves into structured and well funded factional blocs within the context of the organisation. Their inaction gives the  impression that they are powerless to address this problem that has disfigured the party. If they cannot grab this problem by the horns, what power do they have to address growing inequalities, increasing levels of poverty and unemployment? Leaders have become mute on the question of addressing the fundamental problems facing the country. The party was voted to power largely because of promises to the electorate.

Factions thrive on divisions and smear campaigns for self aggrandisement. The NDZ17 and CR17 paradox will continue after the conference. Party list processes for deployment to Parliament and other centres of power will be contested along factional lines as usual.

Whoever wins the presidency, together with his/her collective, won’t be able to unite the party before the 2019 elections. It is a myth to think that a venomous situation will be turned around  in such a very short space of time. The ANC is contested within by competing interests and this extends extrenally: opponents of the ANC wont give it space to reposition itself. Controversial issues attended to in Parliament would have a negative effect on its operations.

This does not mean the party can’t recover. But how it is going to deal with matters that may lead to jail for some? Bear in mind, the execution of the law does not take into account the popularity of individuals. One expects tensions to escalate during and after the conference. People should not read too much into support garnered during the nomination processes. Many variables are used to change the balance of support in politics.

At some point, the Eastern Cape was once a springboard for the advancement of sectarian politics in the name of progressiveness. This development annoyed even Mandela and Sisulu.

Now this phenomenon has been institutionalised and embedded. Young people who have just entered politics through excitement have become victims of this mediocrity that has the potential to stagnate cognitive creativity and innovation.

To save itself from decay, the party should have heeded the call to convene a non-elective conference to dissect the state of the party. The call was ignored because it could have frustrated the self-serving political ambitions of certain individuals.

It could also have dealt with external interests that enjoy hegemony in the country and exoploit the party’s vulnerability through its points of power. Turning down the noble idea of a non-elective conference will haunt the outgoing leadership forever. Without exaggerating the importance of such an intervention, it would have been able to address all facets of the problem.

Leaders propelled to power through factionalism have no choice but to appease their acolytes through incentivised patronage. Failing to do so could lead to silent political sabotage designed to frustrate their programmes.

This time around, I put my head on the block. The outcome of the December elective conference is not going to bring about fundamental change in South Africa. Let’s be fair to whoever wins: the problems are too big to be resolved by a single political party.

The South African situation has become complex because of political missteps left unattended. The elephant in the room that intimidated people in leadership positions has created a conducive climate for the re-alignment of forces. The Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo legacy has been shaken and made vulnerable. People of South Africa across the board should preserve it in their own right.

  • Christian Mxoliswa Mbekela is a strategic work consultant specialising in HR, EE and risk management. A former SAYCO NEC member, he was part of the team that re-established the ANC Youth League. He is currently doing a PhD in the Sociology Department at Rhodes University.
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