Ananse: ANC’s dream deferred

By The Africa Report
Posted on Thursday, 5 January 2012 19:00

In January, 2012, the African National Congress (ANC) will celebrate its 100th birthday – 18 years in government and the remainder in opposition – but it will be as a party weakened by leadership infighting and its core values corrupted by power.

Gwede Mantashe, in a report prepared for the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC), says that divisions in the ANC are becoming “more glaring, with comrades locked into groupings”, and that “factions are growing stronger than the organisational structures”.

On 10 November 2011, a disciplinary committee gave a five-year suspension to ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, for bringing the party into disrepute and for ‘undermining’ ANC and South African President Jacob Zuma. Historically, the ANC’s Youth League was a force for renewal, producing the likes of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.

Attempts, led by former President Thabo Mbeki, to change the ANC from a broad-based extra-parliamentary liberation movement into a more effective governing party, have stalled.

In government, ANC members use the party as a way to get private-sector and government jobs and contracts. Now the real argument is about Zuma not delivering enough patronage to Malema, the Youth League and groups that back Malema.

Since Zuma ousted Mbeki in 2007, a new phenomenon has arisen whereby ANC leaders are elected on slates. Those supporting a particular presidential candidate will link a slate of candidates for election to the ANC’s NEC, provincial committees and branch levels. Once these slates of candidates are in place, they appoint their supporters to all positions in government and give their businesses contracts. Those who supported the rival slate are hounded out of power.

This means there is no internal merit system or competitive elections, except for the position of president. For most of its 100-year history, the ANC leadership has fought against populism and factionalism. Both Zuma and Malema have risen to the top of the ANC for their populist rhetoric.

One of the fundamental clauses in the ANC’s guiding ‘strategy and tactics’ document sets out the vision of the ANC: “ANC cadres should act as custodians of the principles of fundamental change, winning respect among their peers and society at large through exemplary conduct. They must be informed by the values of honesty, hard work, humility, service to the people and respect for the laws of the land.”

This vision of the ANC and the embarrassing reality are polar opposites. The contrast between the moral authority of a Mandela, an Oliver Tambo or an Albert Luthuli – all former presidents of the ANC – and the murkiness of Zuma or Malema, could not be more striking.

In ANC leadership battles, intelligence, security forces and police are routinely used to undo rivals. Corruption has been selectively prosecuted to trip up opponents. In power, the ANC leadership and its leading factions appear to be above the law.

ANC leaders talk about tackling poverty, yet corruption, wastage of public resources and conspicuous consumption have rocketed.

Senior figures of the ANC have estimated that the party’s centenary celebrations will cost more than R400m ($50m), a bill that will be footed by ‘friends’, meaning rich donors who expect favours in return.

For the first time in the ANC’s history, a business wing of the party has not only expanded, but is also dominant. In the 1930s, the former ANC president Pixley Seme dreamed of the rise of an ANC business wing that would consist of self-help groups, mutual societies and cooperatives that would collectively uplift the black majority in tandem with their political power.

The modern version of his vision – black economic empowerment – has benefited a select group of ANC leaders, who have used their political connections to become fabulously rich while their brothers and sisters live in poverty.

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