ANC structures have no faith in the Secretary-General

The office of the Secretary-General has a lot to account for when it comes to the current state of the organisation, writes WESLEY SEALE

The ANC ship is sailing in choppy waters. It is treading these waters not because it will lose the 2019 general election. In actual fact, if it does fare poorer in that election then it is because the perception has been created that it would fare poorly. Who goes into an election thinking that they will lose, especially if you have been winning? Only if you doubt your own brand, will you start losing support.

The ANC ship is in choppy waters because it cannot manage its own internal battles. Throughout its history, it has been able to manage tensions, differences and accommodate various groupings. It is for this reason that the organisation could take pride in itself as a ‘broad church’. Yet it seems that the cancer of patronage politics has been able to infect almost every part of the ANC body, including the ability to manage fallouts.

Limpho Hani, the widow of the people’s hero Chris Thembisile Hani, is currently threatening to take NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu to court based on a well-known story of the Hani Memorandum. Sisulu contends that Hani was expelled from the ANC for the memo but Hani refutes this contention.

Anyone who has taken time to do a cursory study of the ANC in exile and particularly of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) camps would be familiar with names such as Benguela, Novo Catengue, Quibaxe and Pango. They would have read about the Wankie Campaign.

At Benguela, a transitory camp in Angola, the living conditions were awful. Mosquitoes and, because of lack of basic sanitation facilities, flies would rule the roost. Malaria and dysentery were common and often half the camp would be suffering from either malaria or dysentery or both. When UNITA rebels cut the water supply to the camp, guerrillas were given a cup of water per day with which to wash and brush their teeth. The Mitterand, named after the French president, tins of meat from France were called skop (Sheep’s head) because of their obnoxious state.

This is one example of the camps not being a luxury resort. Given these conditions in the camps, the mutinies at Viana and Pango as well as the Hani Memorandum ultimately led to the establishment of the Stuart Commission. Yet even before the commission, the ANC in exile had taken the deliberate decision to ensure that all of its soldiers underwent political training, together with military training, because it did not want to commit the same mistake that it had made with the Luthuli Detachment; often leaders from this detachment being the cause of the tensions in the camps.

The records of ANC history indicate a number of instances of self-correction. The emphasis on political education, after the Luthuli Detachment, lessons from the Stuart Commission as well as the mutinies, allowed for the ANC to self-correct. Even the mutinies at the MK camps in Pango and Viana were different from other liberation movements’ camps.

The mutinies in the camps of Frelimo, ZAPU, ZANU, among others, were said to be of an internal and factional nature; with soldiers fighting each other. In the MK camps though, the mutinies were against the leadership, but soldiers themselves were united. They were united against corruption, patronage and tribalism.

The reality, of course, is that some of those who lead the ANC today, especially organisationally, have no experience of either the ANC in exile or an ANC that had the ability at one stage of its history to self-correct.

The constitution of the ANC is clear that it is the duty of the Secretary-General to resolve organisational matters and the fact that a number of structures, since 2012, for example, have taken the organisation to court indicates the inability of the present Secretary-General to resolve matters internally. Yet we can understand why. There is no experience of the ANC in exile or of an ANC that can self-correct. These are the leaders who know only an unbanned ANC.

The practice where structures of the ANC run to court indicates that they do not have faith in the Secretary-General. The lead up to any conference is a process that is guarded by the Secretary-General’s office. It is the duty of that office to ensure that the audits are passed, which branches are allowed to send delegates to conference and how many, based on that audit.

Yet court battles by ANC members have been primarily about conferences and the processes preceding those conferences. In fact, even the conference itself is supposed to have the sign-off of the Secretary-General’s office.

As a result, the ANC is not united. The precedent of internal battles in the ANC being formalised through court proceedings is not something that is unique to the party’s KwaZulu-Natal structure. Under the present Secretary-General, the structure in the Free State was also challenged in court. As a result, those proceedings set a precedent in the ANC that today allows for anyone to challenge the outcomes of a democratic, but cumbersome process. Those familiar with just quorating an ANC branch general meeting would know what a cumbersome process that is.

It is for this reason that the ANC is in choppy waters. Those who do not know the ship are today its captains. The ANC has seemingly lost its ability to self-correct. Today it is being court-corrected and it is, unfortunately, something that is unique to this ANC leadership. The current leadership must take responsibility that it has allowed for the office of the Secretary-General to be compromised to such an extent that internal fights are taken to outside fora in order to settle.

Yet the inability of the Secretary-General did not only rear its head with court battles. After the current incumbent was elected to the position he failed to manage the breakaway that is today the Congress of the People. In fact, many who eventually returned to the ANC from COPE did so because of the work that was done by President Zuma himself and through his personal intervention, not the SG’s.

It was the SG himself, the custodian of discipline in the ANC and through the likes of Derek Hanekom and Cyril Ramaphosa, who engineered the breakaway that is today the Economic Freedom Fighters. Whereas Julius Malema pleaded that his appeal letter be heard at the 2012 Mangaung Conference, it was the Secretary-General who refused to have that conference hear and debate the matter.

The current state of the ANC is a culmination of what has and has not been done since its unbanning but unfortunately, the current Secretary-General must take particular responsibility because it is he who has given no effect to the “Decade of the Cadre”. Former ANC member Makhosi Khoza today complains about not receiving a membership card, she is not the only one complaining because something as simple as membership cards the SG’s office has not been able to achieve.

Yet one does not want to underestimate the other factors that cause these choppy waters. Other factors include tribalism, racism, patronage and corruption, and thus the serious lack of political education, among others.

As South Africans, we must watch carefully whether the new Provincial Task Team in KwaZulu-Natal will be able to manage the divisions. Given that that province is the largest delegation going to the ANC’s conference, it will determine the level of unity or division in the rest of the ANC.

Hitherto the ANC has played a hegemonic role in the life of South African politics. It has played this role for the last 105-years and it will continue to play a role in the far future. Maybe not hegemonic but it is impossible to see its sudden demise. The National Party, hegemonic in White South Africa for nearly half-a-century, was founded in 1924. Yet even today, some would argue, the National Party lives on in the Democratic Alliance.

Therefore, because the ANC has this hegemonic history, it is important to realise the role it will play in South Africa, whether in government or in opposition. For now, though, it is safe to suggest that given the current hegemony, if the ANC is in choppy waters it is almost certain that South Africa is in choppy waters as well.

Seale Teaches Politics at Rhodes University 

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