Wednesday, October 12, 2016
The ANC’s succession debate has again taken centre stage in the analysis of all manner of discourse in South Africa. The contest for political power is now firmly within the ANC domain. Opposing factions have once again concretised around personalities and not ‘policy positions’ and ‘promises for change’ even within the ANC itself. The ANC National General Council (NGC) that was supposed to create a mandate template with which contesting leaders would have naturally used to galvanise support for themselves is fast becoming a new and yet losable opportunity again. Issues of service delivery and ‘serving the nation’ are not foregrounded in favour of personalities, factions and cliques organised around nefarious criteria either than ideology and ‘promise for change’. Nostalgia is emerging as a new terrain to justify certain of the voices. Veneration of the past has also emerged as new criteria to create in-ANC coalitions to influence succession ‘for the sake of our future’ and yet by those coming from the past.
The construct of the national electoral process to coincide with the various political conferences, elective or policy-making, remains lauded as the best substructure to defend the South African democracy. The synchronisation of the ANC’s affiliate organisations, its alliance partners and its policy conferences to all lead up to its five yearly elective conference remains one of the policy making architectures second to few, if any, in the democratic world. The capacity to discourse and chart a path for the development of South African society is thus chiefly serviced by this architecture. The founding fathers and/or early generations of ANC leaders should have had a vision about this construct which the current ‘breed’ of leaders, at all levels, and members seem not to have grasped and understood. The path to leadership selection has thus been concretised as a key component of being ANC and ANCness; properly constituted structures of the ANC remain thus supreme.
The NGC as part of the ANC policy architecture conferencing mechanism was supposed to have decisively pronounced on all matters where substantial differences existed thus giving the upcoming elective conference an opportunity to adopt as organisational policy until the next conference. The leadership contest that has become the keynote of most policy interactions of the ANC has thus far robbed members of an established opportunity to influence the direction, pulse and soul of the movement. The intellectual potency and resolve that has been evidenced through past policies of the ANC has now become an exclusive reserve of non-in-ANC entities that shape the policy decorum of South Africa. Thinking as a native in ANC intellectual land has not only become a refugee but is fast growing into an alien attracting from a strange breed of in-ANC majorities, rejection and disdain.
In ANC parlance, the divisive nature of the current leadership contests would have by now attracted a policy response that visions a stable South Africa as opposed to the dominant narrow factional interests. The price of government as an outcome of political contestations would have been theorised within a tradition that seeks to understand the balance of forces and how they impact on the national democratic revolution or the future of South Africa if you are not a NDR enthusiast. The continuum of development as triggered by the 1994 democratic breakthrough would also have been a variable used to define the type and calibre of leaders suited for South Africa in the current context. The new and organised ‘obligations of members to members’ has received little to no theoretical attention, whence it is now becoming the context of the ‘new ANCness’, which is unfortunately becoming the context of all political contexts in today’s ANC, and unfortunately SA.
It has been very much un-ANC to fail in such circumstances. The emerging DlaminiZuma-Ramaphosa divide that look set to surpass the 2007 Mbeki-Zuma one, procures from thinkers within the movement to negotiate a compromise for the sake of South Africaness as a dimensional nexus of ANCness. In the thinking process, members, and indeed leaders, of the ANC need to distinguish what ANCness is becoming compared to South Africaness, a conflation of the two is fast becoming one of the political liabilities the ANC may not be able to amass sufficient political capital to balance it out; electoral loss becomes an inevitability in 2019. The ANC’s social capital, with blackness as its biggest variable, is a contested space lacking visionary leadership from the ranks of those that defined themselves as being outside the ANC.
The balancing of the various capital shaping society (i.e. political, economic and social), to consolidate national influence is fast occupying centre stage in South Africa. The history of political formations will in the short term be dependent on that entity’s preparedness to shed from its mobilisation arsenal, tendencies that defined its legitimacy at particular contexts; race as a vector of analysis in matters political has been downgraded to a ‘just above junk status’ thus not attractive to ‘political investors’ also called voters. The African pattern of accessing opportunities via the political-social-then-economic capital duct has in South Africa been repudiated by the supremacy of the Constitution principle underpinning our democracy.
The mere fact that the ANC bequeathed ‘the South Africa belongs to all who live in it’ preamble of the Freedom Charter to the country via entrenchment in the Constitution, makes part of its legacy a national one. Political capital as the context of all contexts can thus not continue to dominate South Africaness; in fact it should be repudiated by all that envision a South Africa that drowns in equal opportunities with equitable outcomes for all. Understanding of this bequeathing will go a long way in changing the ANC’s attitude towards voters as the primary mandating constituency to govern South Africa incorporated. Elected leaders will, through such an understanding, balance their in-parliament voting with what is good for the country as opposed to what is in the interest of the ANC.
The ritual of invoking struggle history to justify all manner of behaviour and discourse should thusbe reviewed, particularly as we construct how the ruling party determines its in-party succession contestations. Since the ANC’s grip on the country’s politics is inextricably linked with how it conducts itself, the movement should thus know that its challenges of leadership actually mirror that of the country. As the murky road to next elective conference assumes a character of a ‘dog eats dog’ fight, unlike a pig that eats its offspring, the ANC needs to demonstrate that its known resilience is equally fit to withstand conditions of legality, ruling partyness and incumbency. Whilst incumbency is correctly identified as having the potential to churn out sins, ruling partyness breeds arrogance that can undermine the very legality of the ANC.
Parallel to the dangers of ‘ruling partyness’ and incumbency is the emerging ‘breed’ of social segregation, propelled by somewhat ‘in-party class’ realignment around opposition to genuine pro-poor aspects of being ANC. ANCness that seeks to rebalance, in a non-racial sense, the pornographic socio-economic inequalities has lately grown to become an inconvenience to the post-apartheid developmental consensus. True South African citizenship is fast concretising around the ‘equal opportunities for all with definite and defined unequal outcomes for society’. The fact that true SA citizenship is coterminous with anti-blackness has in recent times, and particularly within the context that has foregrounded leadership succession above any programmatic imperatives of the national development agenda, eroded the pro-poor champion status of the ANC.
Watermarked in these conditions is an in-party driven reversal of transformation gains at the altar of morally justifiable reasons that are presented as viable and robust opposition. The unprecedented ideological and political scrutiny of black leadership during the prevailing brutal succession wars is ‘breeding’ a sense of ‘less worth’ amongst would-be future leaders. Politics and political leadership will, if the ANC does not manage its succession properly, be a career option to the ‘new youth’ if it is outside liberation politics. The advent of a MDC type of youth politics that is at present arrested by the ingenuity of the in-ANC youth has found a strange platform in the ‘new ununionisable’ youth that decorated the Marikana episode of post-Apartheid South Africa; eish!!
As an African proverb warns, ‘he that does not obey cannot command’, the ANC succession debate and contest should thus be conducted in a manner which does not send a message to society that some leaders of the party should not be obeyed as they fail to take their own commands. The first form of command is to respect basic systems of organisation design, planning and management. The construct of the ANC is of such a nature that its supreme command is rooted within its members, thus making its organisational power one of the most diffused. The institutional architecture required to manage such a diffused power structure demands from leadership administrative mechanisms that remove membership registration and credential issues as reasons for failure to finalise conferences, or even so to create certainty of in-party voters long before conferences.
The reliance on archaic systems of membership registry makes the country to question the extent to which the party has embraced information technology at the most basic aspect of its existence, membership. The current systems of conference preparation makes the Govan Mbeki statement that ‘jail was built by us…with our own hands, we dug the stones, dressed them and laid them…we built a veritable fortress, an ultra-maximum security…for our own imprisonment’ relevant and revealing. In the clear absence of a broad cadreship that is still enthusiastic about the possibility of a National Democratic Society, the succession discourse needs to be conducted on a publicly accessible platform in order to match the current in-party ‘turmoil’ with knowledge of the organisation’s history and policies as well as the nature of ANCness as a necessary adjunct for a true South Africaness.
Yes, Nkrumah was right “when a revolution has been successful, the ideology comes to characterise society…just as there can be competing ideologies in the same (ANC) society so there can be opposing ideologies”. The 55th conference of the ANC should thus not only settle the succession challenges of the ANC but should once and for all bury the ideological vacuum that has characterised ANCness. ‘Wolves in sheepskins’ and the many ideological prostitutes that are trading on ANC platforms will have to decide where to ply their ideological trades. The South African state needs such a certainty.
Dr FM Lucky Mathebula
The Th!nc Foundation