Lovemore Ranga Mataire Senior Writer
In the heat of the dramatic November events in Zimbabwe that led to the resignation of the then President Cde Robert Mugabe, none paid attention to equally seismic developments taking place across the Limpopo River in South Africa.
But as the dust begins to settle on the domestic front, it’s probably time that we also cast a concerned eye to developments taking place within the governing ANC in regards to its upcoming elective conference scheduled end of this month.
Never in the history of the ANC has there been such a fierce contest for the top post. Seven senior cadres of the former liberation movement are vying for the president position — a development that has left many observers with lots of questions.
Is the sudden interest for the top post motivated by the belief that it’s an easy passage to assume ultimate authority? Is this an indication of vibrant democratic culture at play?
Is this a hunger for servant leadership? Given the divisive nature of any contest for power, the race to the December conference has inevitably developed into a fully-fledged crisis with candidates literally resorting to all sorts of political skulduggery.
One needs to go back to history to understand the magnitude of the crisis unfolding in the ANC today. History offers enough reference points that prove beyond doubt that post-December ANC will be a different organisation for better or worse. Three if not four historical episodes in the 105 years of ANC existence drastically changed the movement into a new being.
First, the ANC faced a crisis when young Turks who had formed their own youth league started agitating for a change of approach in dealing with the apartheid regime. They had become restless with the ineffectiveness of passive resistance of petitions and negotiations and approached the then president Dr AB Xuma for an audience.
Dr Xuma was unimpressed with the youth’s enthusiasm. In response, the youths convinced Dr J.S Moroka to come into the ANC fold, campaigned for him and he got elected as the new president. ANC changed tact and resorted to strikes, boycott and demonstrations against apartheid.
The move also sowed seeds for the birth of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the militant armed group of the ANC committed to the armed struggle.
The second major crisis faced by ANC was when again its youths were enthused by winds of change blowing across Africa, particularly from Ghana where Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanism became infectious.
A section of the ANC’s youth league objected to the clause in the Freedom Charter adopted at Kliptown in 155 that said, “South Africa belonged to all who live in it, black and white.”
The argument generated an uneasy atmosphere that exploded into a split, leading to the formation of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania. The third crisis occurred in 1969 on the eve of the crucial Morogoro Conference (Tanzania) where a number of members were opposed to the idea of the movement opening its doors to other races. This dispute led to the expulsion of eight prominent members.
Today, the ANC just like some former liberation movements, faces another crisis likely to conflagrate into open irreconcilable factions. This crisis is taking place under new conditions different from those when ANC was a liberation movement.
Today, the ANC is a governing party firmly in charge and expected to deliver on a myriad of electoral promises. It is these electoral promises, particularly in the post-Mbeki presidency, ANC supporters feel these are yet to be fulfilled 23 years into freedom. The situation is further compounded by allegations of corruption levelled against the incumbent President Zuma.
Zuma is accused of an improper association with the Gupta family. Some believe ANC’s poor showing in the 2016 municipal elections can be attributed to the scandals surrounding President Zuma. The ANC of today is thus littered with divisions across all structures with speculation that the planned conference may fail to kick off on scheduled dates.
The unusual number of candidates vying for the President position can partially be attributed to the poor showing of the incumbent. This may be the second time in the history of the ANC that there has been such a big number of people contending for the presidency.
Even the ANC secretary-general expressed concern over the large number of senior cadres vying to the top party position which if won guarantees one to automatically become the state president given the fact that despite its decline in its support base it still commands majority supporters. Mantashe described the state of affairs in the ANC as “abnormal” and “sick”.
“You cannot have a situation in the ANC that after all these sacrifices, we have eight candidates for presidency, and it’s abnormal,” he said. “The last time we had this was in 1952 when they were contesting Lithuli’s presidency. There were 10 candidates. We can’t repeat that in 2017…Something is sick.”
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete, Mathews Phosa, Jeff Radebe and Zweli Mkize have all been campaigning for the top post. Evidence that ANC is facing a crisis can be found in Mantashe’s call for the ANC to “reinstate its values” and choose a leader will not send a message that perpetuating looting has become the norm in the former liberation movement.
Seven candidates vying for the top post is never a sign of democracy at play. One would be forgiven for interpreting the fierce jostling as an expression of the greed to service the gravy train and not to serve. This is different from the struggle days when leadership meant sacrifice, bravery and being prepared to be arrested, tortured or killed.
It’s different today to witness seven candidates stampeding to represent ANC at the highest level. It appears as though almost every senior ANC member is contemptuous of the other’s capacity to lead. How then will such characters reconcile to become one entity in the post-December conference?
Scholar and part-time Professor at Rhodes University and Emeritus Professor at Unisa, Raymond Sutter believes the obsession with positions within the ANC was a new culture born out of greed.
His position is that: “The December ANC conference is described as a “game changer”. Yet the media commentary and political discourse is preoccupied with the “race” to elect a new ANC president and other national office bearers. This was not always the preoccupation of the ANC conferences, where strategic issues dominated discussions.”
The ANC, Sutter argues, had become depoliticised and the reason for preoccupation with positions is that these relate to acquisition of wealth and distribution of favours and that this trend is now well established, is antagonistic to any attempt to recover from the ravages of incumbent’s reign and reset the country on an emancipatory route.
It is thus no longer a matter of conjecture, but an issue rooted in reality that ANC is never going to remain the same. Just like the youth league agitated for the removal of Dr Xuma and also agitated for a more radical approach to the struggle, the ANC is faced with the prospects of a possible split. It is no wonder that southern Africa and indeed the continent is anxiously waiting for the outcome of the elective conference. South Africa is a geopolitical powerhouse on the verge of defining its future political trajectory.