Consequences of a winner takes all slate…there are no winners

The ANC will be the ultimate loser if both factions go to the December elective conference with a “winner takes all” slate, writes ZAHIR AMIEN

As the ANC prepares for its 54th elective conference in December 2017 – sometimes sound and sober political debate, as well as sustainable policy proposals, are rejected only because of who the person/s making them are. An example of this has been the emotional, irrational and ahistorical rejection by some ANC leaders and commentators of the policy proposal from the ANC Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) Province which our President has also endorsed i.e.  that the first Deputy President (DP) position not be contested and that the individual who loses the President position automatically becomes the first Deputy President in order to avoid a scenario of a “winner takes all” slate.

An objective analysis of the ANC’s history indicates that the negative practice of a “winner takes all” slate only became prevalent in the mid-2000s.  This practice is contrary to the ANC’s historical inclusive and accommodating culture at elective conferences. Prior to this, the ANC has always ensured that its leadership was inclusive of all factions and caucuses.

At its first National Congress after its unbanning in 1991 (48th Conference), the ANC leadership increased the number of National Executive Committee (NEC) members to reflect the changing dynamics of a recently unbanned organisation returning from exile which was preparing to govern. It did this to ensure maximum unity and inclusivity in respect of the national question (race, ethnicity and gender), the “inziles” and “exiles”, “the islanders”, the Mass Democratic Movement, the SACP, rural, urban, generational, provincial and regional divides. It furthermore created the position of a national chairperson for the outgoing President Oliver Tambo in order to avoid a potential fall out between those supporting the late President Mandela and the late President Tambo. The ANC then had the foresight to amend the Constitution to adapt to the newly emerging conditions of a banned organisation returning from exile to becoming an organisation that was legal and preparing to contest elections and govern.

During the 50th national conference, whilst there was broad consensus with regards to the positions of the President, Deputy President (DP) and Secretary General (SG), the outcome included leaders in the rest of the National Office Bearers (NOB) positions that did not necessarily support the dominant slate. A similar consensus approach was used at Stellenbosch in 2001. As a result of this inclusive approach, the ANC emerged more united and was able to increase its majority nationally in the 1999 and 2004 elections.

Regrettably, the Polokwane Conference was a culmination of the negative “democrazy” culture of a “winner takes all” slate that had emerged in the mid-2000s.  It resulted in the ANC splitting and the formation of COPE. Whilst the ANC won the elections with an overwhelming majority, it was largely due to the massive increase in ANC support in KwaZulu-Natal.  Everywhere else the ANC lost significant support to COPE.

In 2012 at the 52ndelective conference in Mangaung, the President attempted to revert to the politics of inclusivity by offering to include the losing faction in the leadership.  This decision was taken even though the winning faction had a decisive majority. The losing faction rejected the compromise offer of the DP position which further entrenched the negative tendency of a “winner takes all slate”.

At a provincial level, in the 1998 and 2001 provincial conferences of the ANC Western Cape (WC) which was divided broadly along three factions, the outcome of the conference included the leadership of all three major factions. It resulted in the ANC becoming more united after years of division. The impact was that it increased its electoral support from 33% to 42% in the 1999 elections (just one year later) and 46% in 2004.  In Kwazulu-Natal, a similar inclusive compromise was made at its conference in 1998 and 2000. The result of this unified ANC approach ensured that the ANC in KZN went on to win the general elections in 2004 with 45% and over 60% support in 2009 and 2014 elections.

The Western Cape ANC, however, succumbed to the culture of a winner takes all slate in its 2005 elective conference where the winning slate had about 52% support and the losing slate had approximately 48% support.  Within one year of taking this position, the ANC lost the City of Cape Town and numerous other municipalities in the 2006 local government elections.  Three years later the ANC lost the province as well. This practice continued in the 2008, 2011 and 2016 elective conferences and its support dwindled to approximately 25% during the 2016 local government elections. It was only when the ANC in KZN more recently went the “winner takes all” route that it too also begun to see a decline in its support as is evident from the 2016 local government elections and recent by-elections.  Hindsight indicates that when the ANC chooses the “winner takes all slate” it becomes more divided; its electoral support drops and there are no winners for the ANC. 

Noting all the above, the proposal of not contesting the Deputy President position is a modern, innovative and pragmatic compromise based on the ANC’s historical practise to address the current post conference divisions. It strikes a healthy balance between party democracy, maintaining a democratic ethos whilst at the same time creating enabling conditions for unity after a conference by ensuring inclusivity. While it may not be the panacea for ending all the negative tendencies of factionalism it is a good point of departure to create the conditions for the future unity, cohesion and survival of the ANC.

Perhaps, in the interests of unity, the ANC should also begin the debate of building on this proposal to the extent that all Deputy National Office Bearers positions automatically go to the losing/runner up slate/s.

Zahir Amien is a member of the ANC in the Western Cape.

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