Wednesday, May 25, 2022
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ANC leadership candidates are on trial, but the party is already guilty

If the ANC delegates cared more for the party, the likes of Gumede would not even be in the running

By Makhudu Sefara

While many this weekend will be watching the outcome of the ANC eThekwini region to see if Zandile Gumede or Thabani Nyawose emerge victorious in the chairpersonship contest, the nexus question is why it is even a contest in the first place.

Yes, a Gumede victory will tell a story many of the so-called Radical Economic Transformation (RET) supporters want to hear: those opposed to President Cyril Ramaphosa could still mount a good and credible battle and, importantly, win. Given Ramaphosa’s consolidation elsewhere in the country and his more daring takeover of Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters, formerly the home of the disenchanted lot led by Ace Magashule, a victory in the belly of KwaZulu-Natal against CR will mean there is a base from which to build and consolidate.

But a Nyawose victory will send an important message that Ramaphosa’s party takeover is complete. The consolidation is in force. What remains will be whether Nyawose will have the gumption to spread Ramaphosa’s gospel, ahead of the 2024 general election, across the vast province, much of which believes the president is responsible for the Constitutional Court-sanctioned jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, their beloved son. In other words, Nyawose’s victory this weekend might not be enough. The test of his real victory will come the year after next when our country turns 30.

With all that background out of the way, the question is worth restating: why is it even a contest within the ANC? The ANC is haemorrhaging credibility. People call it a party of “amasela (thieves)”; others think it’s synonymous with incompetence given unmet service delivery needs. It is blamed for unemployment reaching hitherto unachieved heights. Even problems with roots in the Ukraine war are heaped on the ANC. 

The point though is that given the huge credibility crisis and socioeconomic challenges facing our country, the ANC delegates to conferences should, theoretically, find it easy to choose between a candidate like Gumede, who is about to go on trial, and another, Nyawose, who has no appointment with prosecutors. It’s a simple deselection. If fair were fair — and money were not an issue — Nyawose should have won even before the conference started. 

But alas, right?

Look at what happened in Mpumalanga last week: ANC delegates decided that, for their dear beloved party that is under siege, it was a great idea to vote for murder-accused Mandla Msibi as provincial treasurer. That Msibi needed to be asked — two days after his election — to step aside is not just an indictment on him but on those who thought that of all ANC leaders in Mpumalanga, the right leader to entrust with ANC funds is one with a pending murder charge. The gun-toting treasurer was charged after a shooting incident in August last year, leading to him stepping aside as MEC of agriculture. 

Do you need a brush with the law, like Zuma, to be popular in the ANC? Are credible leaders so few that the best the ANC could put forward are those the courts must still decide if they should serve jail time or serve the people?

To revert to this important conference in eThekwini, many, and we will know whether they’re the majority within 48 hours, believe the most appropriate person to lead the ANC is one facing 2,000 charges along with 21 co-accused in a R300m waste tender. The state intends to call 41 witnesses against Gumede, who is accused number one. The main claims are that Gumede used her position as mayor to instigate the circumvention of the law, leading to the irregular awarding of the tender to three companies in a scheme involving the former city manager and top officials. 

Whether Gumede is guilty is for the court to establish. But given where the ANC is in relation to public perceptions that it will most probably fail to garner 50% of the votes in the 2024 elections, why are its delegates still considering people like Gumede and Msibi with clouds so dark over their heads? That is the question. Do you need a brush with the law, like Zuma, to be popular in the ANC? Are credible leaders so few that the best the ANC could put forward are those the courts must still decide if they should serve jail time or serve the people? In the case of ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, she still wants to serve in spite of a court finding her guilty of perjury. Shouldn’t the ANC be demonstrating to voters now that it is acutely aware of its decline and that it is busy self-correcting by rejecting anyone tainting what the believers call the glorious movement?

And, of course, the likes of Gumede and Msibi will argue that they have not been found guilty and that they should not be disadvantaged simply on the basis of allegations, though serious these are. 

But the dark clouds gathering over the ANC must mean that the members — quite apart from the low requirements of step-aside rules — should act in a way that secures ANC interests. If the ANC can’t put the ANC first, why should the voters? As it is, the factional approach to elections sends a message to the general populace that the ANC members, at war as they might appear, are prepared to kill off this proud movement simply because of misplaced loyalties to factions. 

If the ANC delegates cared more for the ANC and not the leaders who give them crumbs from corrupt tenders, Gumede would not be a candidate the RET faction has placed their hopes on to revive an anti-Ramaphosa campaign. In other words, the contest between Gumede and Nyawose would not be a contest if the ANC delegates cared about the ANC.

Yet, Ramaphosa, our slow-to-act leader, and those like Nyawose, who support him, should be contested. Our democracy requires that someone like CR, who wants to do good for our country, should be contested by someone else who wants to do better. But right now, it seems those raising their hands to contest are shady politicians with numerous fraud and corruption claims to disprove. The challenges we face as a country require the standard to be set a bit higher.

Makhudu Sefara is the Editor of TimesLive

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