Will the ANC let the best rise to the top?

The ANC must elect a National Executive Committee that is capable and ready to lead a modern economy, writes YONELA DIKO

On the 16th-20th December 2017, the African National Congress will hold its 54th National Conference which will in the main elect 86 members of the National Executive Committee (NEC), the highest structure of the organisation in between conferences. This is important because the quality of the work of the organisation largely depends on the quality of this 86, more so than the much-paraded contest for ANC Presidency.

Even the ever reshuffled Cabinet should mainly be picked from the NEC and that must remain the case if the ANC retains power in 2019.

Rule 16.1 of the ANC, which outlines the duties of a president among other things says, ‘Under the overall supervision of the NEC, the President shall orient and direct the activities of the ANC. The failure of the ANC must therefore always be put squarely on its National Executive Committee because all officials are supposed to function under its supervision.

Among the powers of the NEC, stated clearly in Rule 12, is the power to supervise and direct the work of the ANC and all its organs, including national, provincial and local government caucuses. That includes ensuring all organs of the ANC at all levels function optimally. The most fundamental question then becomes, at this stage of the country’s development, the continental and global economic dynamics, what kind of an NEC do we want.

There is no denying that the country today, at least for the next five years, needs an ANC leadership that is economically astute and fully understands the economic growth drivers both domestically and internationally.

Without a plan to lift the 30 million of our people living in abject poverty in the next few years the ANC government will lose legitimacy and popular support as government and as a continental force.

We need an NEC that understands new technology and how to harness it for growth. We need an NEC that will understand creative destruction, that some industries will die and we should not fight so hard to keep them as they get replaced by new ones (the issue of ride hail service Uber and traditional metered taxis is a practical case to solve frankly and honestly). We need an NEC that understands new industries of the future where most jobs will come from, with knowledge of how to upskill our people for those jobs.

As one colleague points out, by 2022 a master’s degree must be a minimum requirement for NEC members. Although education is not really a measure of political and economic astuteness, the message is that we have a huge task of governing a modern economy and the NEC plays the overarching role in directing this modern economy. Education at best helps you understand such an economy.

We need an NEC that will speak less rhetoric but will reflect an understanding that businesses need to stay competitive and sometimes they must automate and let go of some of their workers not as a sign of being unpatriotic or not caring about employment but because if they don’t stay competitive, they might go out of business and more people will be unemployed.

We need an NEC that understands just why we had almost a decade of jobless growth, why CEOs of companies like Shoprite get paid tens of millions whilst their workers barely make minimum wage and what mechanisms should be put in place to create more balance between executive and worker wage. NEC members must be able to devise plans for a more labour-intensive economy that will absorb the unemployed youth. How do we solve the skills mismatch, where newspapers daily have job advertisements whilst we have a rising number of unemployed graduates?

Simply put, we need an economy NEC.

Once we answer the question of what kind of NEC we want, it becomes easy to appreciate the kind of government we can build from that NEC. We can no longer afford an NEC that is pulling in different directions on fiscal discipline. We cannot afford an NEC that is not working hand in glove on the Industrial Policy Action Plan, National Development Plan, New Growth Path and all economic policies that have been developed to fast track economic growth.

We can no longer afford lacklustre ministers who have grown fat and lazy and have forgotten our battle. We have a mammoth task of solving the country’s most pressing problems, and we cannot afford deployees to government who don’t know which way is up.

The problem, of course, is that when the economy grows, some people’s greed grows with it. The 2008 economic crisis was followed by an unmatched decade of economic growth both locally and globally and along with it was a creation of fake wealth that would ultimately collapse the entire economic system. We forgot our way; we forgot that at the centre of every decision of the government, of business, of all stakeholders of economies must be one important thing: people.

It, therefore, becomes important that by the time anyone is elected to the NEC, there can be no doubt about their knowledge and commitment to ANC Values. When  Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had saved ANC from itself he was expressing a frustration of an ANC that now depended on outside voices of reason to remember its basic values. We can no longer afford a value-less ANC.

ANC defines its values and principles as follows:

  • Humility and a selfless dedication to the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society,
  • Concern for the will and interests of the people, captured in the principles of Batho Pele – people first,
  • A commitment to implement the policies of the movement and the decisions of the collective

It is these values that have made the ANC a standard-bearer of the nation’s values for 100 years. The reason the ANC, along with other partners, was able to create what the world considers a model constitution is because the ANC had lived those constitutional values for over a century.

OR Tambo moved from Georgetown University to Dar es Salaam and his message was universal, that we must push the frontiers of darkness backward and help our people in all aspects of life. We need that NEC today.

Diko is a media strategist and consultant


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