Factions are a cancer which, left unchecked, destroys once thriving political organisations, writes YONELA DIKO
In a letter from prison to the Kabwe Consultative Conference in 1985, Nelson Mandela described unity in the ANC as “the bedrock upon which the ANC was founded.” This statement underscored the high premium the ANC has always placed on party unity and internal cohesion and is emphatically reinforced in the Organisational Renewal (2012) document, which states that “the unity of the ANC is sacrosanct.”
All ANC leaders, without exception, have always condemned factional activities as articulated in the timeless assertion by Comrade OR Tambo that “Be vigilant comrades. The enemy is vigilant. Beware the wedge-driver. Men who creep from ear to ear driving wedges among us; who go around creating splits and divisions. Beware the wedge-driver, watch his poisonous tongue” (1969, Morogoro Consultative Conference).
Wedge drivers are today called factionalists. But what is factionalism and what causes it. From the Political Discussion document produced by the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) Political Education Sub-committee, entitled ‘The anatomy of a faction: a negative tendency’ the combined assertion is that factionalism is caused by a conflictual relationship between formal and informal structures of a political party, when an informal structure tries to colonise or undermine the formal structure. This is in direct opposition to the consolidation of the ideological outlook of the ANC over the years which has always been through inclusive, democratic and transparent processes.
The ANC has always been vigilant when it comes to factions, careful to allow lobbying for leaders but to not let those lobby groups take a permanent form and become informal structures hellbent on undermining formal structures.
Why then is the ANC today choking at the altar of factions and risking its cherished hegemony in the eyes of society and public? The interesting developments which happened at the ANC Western Cape Provincial General Council (PGC), three months after their Provincial Elective Conference in June 2015 may provide a window into the evolution of today’s factions which may well be evolving in an unusual manner.
Three months after the new provincial leadership had been elected, it was already becoming clear that some in key positions were battling with the weight of their responsibilities. Those that were on their second terms (re-elected), with experience from the previous leadership collective, who at least had full knowledge of the basic governing and administrative mechanisms, were battling with this new leadership that could not even get even the basics right.
This tussle came to boiling point at the PGC, fuelled by the temptation provided by the ANC constitution, which states that an ANC Provincial General council has the power to replace up to 50% of its provincial leadership structure. The question of lack of capacity was pushing others to look very closely into this constitutional imperative.
With this threat looming large three months into the new seats of the newly elected leadership, the new kids on the block needed to find a way to repackage these accusations of lacking capacity to lead and being incompetent into something that can give them a footing and an existence. What was salient was to accuse those questioning their capacity and competence of not liking the new kids and their leadership style, because they preferred a different leadership collective.
In October 2015, the Western Cape’s new leadership factions were born. One enlightened leader who saw this gamesmanship early stood up at the PGC and said, ‘It will be a sad day in the ANC where we cannot correct each other or rebuke each other or even question each other’s capacity and competence to lead without falling into this mischievous trap of labelling each other as factionalists’.
If you are not performing to the standard of your high office, the ANC leadership collective or even general members must be able to tell you this, without retaliation that invokes factions. Resorting to factions to cover incapacity and incompetence proved a master stroke because it then split a three-month old leadership into two camps.
This had already happened at national level. Capacity and competence, or lack thereof, had been taken away from leadership criteria in 2007 and replaced by disdain and dislike for a person despite their capacity and experience. It had proven successful then and would in October 2015 save the new leadership collective.
Unfortunately, factions are a beast on their own which must be fed daily and must get more pronounced and brutal to be sustainable. The ANC analysis of factions and how they play out had been on point at every turn. Factions are mean-spirited. The manner in which factions deal with members is brutal and merciless as though they are dealing with a deadly enemy.
This ANC analysis has told us that ‘to factionalists, comradeship does not possess any intrinsic revolutionary value to observe. Factions derive extreme pleasure from the pain and suffering of others. When others are in trouble, factionalists see opportunities to advance; the obvious response is intensification of the problems’.
This explains why the calls for unity have been so hollow. We are not dealing with any differences in ideology or leadership styles or policy, we are being asked to excuse lack of capacity and incompetence as a price for unity. In order to support your faction you need resources. Again, the ANC has been clear that factions are corrupt: like people who choose to support murderers and thieves, in order to sustain their cooperation and silence, you must feed their perpetual thirst and insatiable appetite for resources. You must therefore open the public purse’.
The NEC Political Education Sub-committee has warned us using the the Indian Congress Party (Congress Party) example, which lost elections after 30 continuous years in power between independence in 1947 and its first taste of electoral defeat in 1977. During this period, the electoral support of the Congress Party was averaging 73% across several general elections. The primary cause for the 1977 electoral defeat of the Congress Party was attributed to factions. Factions colonised the Congress Party, paralysed its structures and demobilised certain interest groups in the party.
As Fidel Castro’s (1979) said, factions are a “debasement and a blemish to a revolutionary movement” and no self-respecting organisation or cadre can co-exist with factions.
Diko takes a keen interest in current affairs