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ANC: We are at our weakest

In yet another attempt to arrest the decline of the governing party, the ANC national executive committee (NEC) is looking at appointing a renewal committee ahead of its elective conference in December.

This as its senior leaders admitted this week that the party was at its weakest point in history. Party president Cyril Ramaphosa was the first to make this concession on Friday when he addressed delegates to the sixth policy conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg.

Yesterday, former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe reiterated this warning. The policy conference, which ends today, is the ANC’s first national meeting since the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020. And the party has been characterised by fights over the step-aside rule as well as the party’s youth challenging the NEC to give a full report of what happened to the resolutions from the last conference before making new ones.

The differences are expected to become proxies for the full-scale challenges on the current leadership at the December elective conference. “We have not gone to a national general council. We are at a policy conference and the NEC must not refuse to account.”

On Friday, a delegate from Limpopo said:

We can’t review policies when we don’t understand how far you have gone in terms of implementation of policies from the 2017 conference. That should be very simple logic.

ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who was chairing the session, was warned that if the NEC “ran away from accounting to the branches” then it would strengthen perceptions that the Ramaphosa-led leadership was “only obsessed with the step-aside rule”.

According to those who attended the session, KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Siboniso Duma gave the national leaders an ultimatum to “either be defeated by a superior logic or take the matter to a vote”.

Briefing the media on the sidelines of the conference on Friday, the ANC’s general manager Febe Potgieter revealed that the party had plans for a renewal committee in the hope that its vision would revive its appeal to society.

Potgieter said the committee was 

Developing and will present to the elective conference in December a vision for the renewal of the ANC, and the programme of action in terms of the country towards 2032.

“That is one aspect of renewal because the renewal of any organisation is not just about the people, it’s also about the ideas and the vision that we have that unites the organisation as well as society,” said Potgieter.

She presented the organisational renewal document to the delegates. She told journalists that the document had raised “serious doubts” about the “character of the ANC as a servant of the people”.

The governing party had moved from its core values and mission of, among other things, “being a movement that will transform South Africa”, she said.

“The way we described it to the people is not so much that the movement may cease to exist, but, in fact, its character might change to such to an extent that it will become anti-people … it will just become such a lame duck that it becomes ineffective in making a difference. And the point that we therefore made is that this policy conference and the national conference at the end of the year are make or break for us [as we head to the] national elections [in 2024],” she said. For the first time since 1994, the party had dipped below 50% in the local government elections held last year and therefore it could not be “business as usual” for the ANC.

READ: Ramaphosa calls for solutions, solutions, solutions at ANC policy conference

In his opening address, Ramaphosa told the delegates that the ANC was “at its weakest and most vulnerable since the advent of democracy”.

Speaking to journalists on Saturday, Motlanthe agreed with Ramaphosa’s assessment.

“It is true that the ANC is at its weakest in the sense that it is factionalised. Part of the strength of the ANC over the years is that it is home to a whole spectrum of political schools of thought that, however, are always united in pursuit of a common goal,” he said.

“At the moment, there is speaking in tongues, and we need that cohesion, we need that configuration around policy positions so that, when we interview a member in Thohoyandou [in Limpopo] and they respond to you, it should be within the same framework as you will get from a response in Mthatha [in the Eastern Cape] or Kimberley [in the Northern Cape],” said Motlanthe.

ANC Eastern Cape chairperson Oscar Mabuyane reiterated that the party had been engulfed by “ill-discipline not only from members but also leaders”, and the “cancer of factionalism” that had encroached on the party had led to its weakness.

Mabuyane told City Press that the intervention of a renewal committee was needed and that this was the right direction to save the ANC.

He said the ANC had, for a long time, allowed those given the opportunity to lead to think that they “are better than the ANC itself”.

Mabuyane said: 

It’s an argument that we’ve been putting [forward] … that part of the renewal agenda we are pursuing must teach us to always avoid building systems around individuals, because when the individuals are no longer there, the systems collapse.

“We must institutionalise to be an organisation on the renewal [path] so that people appreciate the fact that they are members of the ANC, they’re not members of other members. So that’s what we’re trying to instil … that helps to inculcate a new culture in the ANC,” said Mabuyane.

However, Gauteng secretary Thembinkosi Nciza said the ANC’s weakness could not only be inward-looking.

Nciza said the fact that the governing party had failed to intervene in the challenges faced by society had also contributed to its weakness.

“When people speak about a party being at its weakest, they believe it to be based on what is made to be the highlight of the day – which is corruption. But people are unemployed and it’s a problem,” he told City Press.

“And it can affect the governing party because people are not working … the people of Gauteng spoke about the e-tolls eight years ago. Even today we are still speaking about them; there is no intervention. The cost of living is too high – how are you intervening? And that is what this ANC must talk about,” Nciza said.

“And you want to act as if the ANC is weak, based on what is happening internally? You say accused number one is corruption in the ANC, and you are not saying accused number one [is the failure to change] the lives of our people as the ANC.”

–City Press

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