Unite the ANC now or watch it perish

The winner takes all mentality that has taken hold in the ANC will lead to its premature destruction.  Without unity, the ANC is doomed both as a governing party and a political movement, writes YONELA DIKO 

The consequences of a divided ANC are devastating. A divided ANC leads to a divided electorate which leads to a polarised nation. A divided ANC poses considerable difficulties for both the operations of the party and the government as a whole. It makes fulfilling election promises to our people extremely difficult. Party loyalty may be challenged too in a divided party because individual politicians may begin to align themselves with the faction that will likely advance their careers and be forced to oppose their own party agenda if it will help advance their personal careers. A divided ANC is also a threat to government operations, and the full impact of this is immeasurable and can lead to a government paralysis and destruction of government programmes.

There seems to be very little appreciation of the impact of a divided ANC from those hell-bent on getting their way, whatever the cost, whatever the devastation. The obvious fact is that a divided ANC poses a threat to the very National Democratic Revolution. That this does not seem to conjure the necessary outrage to halt the assault on the unity and integrity of the organisation is troubling.

Maybe critics are right, maybe there is no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter this race to destruction will be futile. Maybe our factionalism has reached a point of no return. We lock ourselves in our chosen factions and cheer our side and boo the other side. If it takes a cheap shot to beat the other team or go all out for blood so be it, for winning is all that matters. The lengths we are willing to go to as comrades to prevent others from assuming their rightful place in the organisation, whether as members to nominate who they so wish or as leaders, to stand for whichever position they so desire, shows a deep erosion of revolutionary ethos, which is always underwritten by a genuine sense of love and support for one another.

This is the reality of Africa’s oldest liberation movement and most powerful political organisation on the continent. The stakes involved are too high. Small differences in perspective are magnified. The demands of factional leaders, loyalty, the amplification of conflict by the media, all contribute to an atmosphere of suspicion. There is a deep preoccupation with winning positions than solving problems. Today, those who disagree with other comrades, are seen as acting in bad faith and are in fact seen as bad people.

This is the new normal of the organisation, of highly divisive contestations, lobbying which stays on long after elections, factionalism. The longer it is allowed to take hold, the faster we actually run on the road to ruin, a liberation organisation predictably destroyed by the very people who built it. It would be a sad day if there were comrades who felt that they would rather see an end to the organisation rather than see it in the hands of a certain group of comrades.

According to a study by political science researchers at the University of Georgia and their co-authors, divided political parties rarely win presidential elections. The study measured party division during their elective congresses and indicated how much the more divided party lost in the general election. National party divisions and divisive provincial structures have a significant influence on general election outcomes.

The ANC is still too big to be completely dominated by divisions. However, 2014 elections, after a very divisive 2012 Mangaung conference and a scandal-ridden 2013, with Nkandla and ‘the Guptas Waterkloof landing’ dominating the political landscape and further polarising the party, 2014 became the first of the toughest elections for the ANC since 1994. And in many ways, the main reason for that was divisions in the ranks of the party and our choice of leader. We lost over 20 Members of Parliament. Still, we had not yet experienced just how big an impact our divisions would have on elections until 2016 local government elections.

So has the cancer spread too deep that it is beyond operation? I don’t think so. They are out there, ordinary members of the ANC in dwindling towns and faded villages, in old townships and new urban settlements, in suburbs and inner cities, who have found a way to work with one another. They are there, supporters of ANC who know what cannot be compromised. What is needed is a broad section of ANC members who are re-energised in the project of organisation renewal, who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interest of others.

How do we turn the different clashes of armies and factions in the organisation into true comrades once more and drive results? Firstly, we must understand why Unity of the organisation is non-negotiable. Unity is the state of many acting as one. That means unity is not one person going rogue and then calling on others to endorse his rogue tendencies. Unity is everyone acting as one.

Unity, however, is more than just many acting as one. Unity is an attribute of highly effective organisations. Without it, progress stops. That’s why creating it and preserving it is so important. It is one of the most fundamental functions of leadership.

The next ANC leader must not, therefore, set a bad example by making all important decisions unilaterally. Anyone who ascends to the throne in December must never mistake acquiescence for unity. A leader must appreciate that other members who disagreed with his/her vision and strategy may not be as confident to speak up and he must be able to discern that and not march alone with people’s silence as consent. It is important for a leader to be highly conscious and sensitive to the collective he/she is leading for no man can achieve much alone.

Without real and genuine unity, nothing much else can be done

Diko is a media strategist and consultant 

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