Gareth Setati
Gareth Setati

Through the eye of an ANC slate

On the issue of slate politics in the ruling party, perhaps the time has come for the party to consider a policy that limits the reach of this mechanism somehow. This is a matter for ANC members to contend with. As for the ordinary folk, slate politics within the “top six” of the ruling party should not be as much of a bother as it should be its effects once a government administration is put in place after the general elections.

In political science, by definition a “slate” is simply a list of candidates to be considered for nomination by a political party for elections, appointments, or the like. This is a general definition. From an ANC perspective, a slate can be defined as a list of candidates to be nominated by particular factions for appointment into the top leadership positions of the party.

Slates in the ANC are driven by strong underlying political dynamics of the day and they are hotly contested. They can stretch from the initial top six positions down to the top 97 positions that span the entire national executive committee (NEC) of the party. These top positions comprise the men and women in whose hands (and whatsoever whims) the future of this country lies for the next five years and further. This is obviously serious business.

But, as noted that from the perspective of ordinary people, we should worry more about how internal ANC slate politics manifest in the formation and running of the government. Let’s face it, slates are wild and pervasive in the government structures and the proper term for it is cronyism. These slates exist in ubiquitous form, and the mess with them, in contrast to within the party, is that they are not positively declared.

Therefore, folks, if any leader should pass through the so-called “eye of a needle” it should certainly be so in government too. As a nation we must find ways to limit political slates in government as a matter of unwavering policy. Due to practical nuances, each of us may have a different take on the level at which this limit should be imposed. Nevertheless the principle is clear, and it is not new either: we need far more technocrats than politicians in the middle to lower structures of government and in the leadership of those structures, period!

There are of course the pros and cons. The immediate trouble with curbing slates, at any level, will always be the principal-agency problem. “Agents”, no allusion to “bloody agents”, appointed by “principals” will act rationally in their self-interests, at times not to the wishes of the principals, thereby circumventing the process in the first place. Director-generals are agents of cabinet ministers, the president is the principal of cabinet ministers, and hey presto, the people are the principals of the president!

Principal-agency is a classic problem and we won’t waste much effort in the analysis-paralysis of its composition except to say, as the people, we must not stand by the fence and allow this agency to run away with it.

Furthermore on the pros and cons, it should be safe to say that for any leadership team executing a set mandate requires some significant comfort that there is loyalty within the team as well as coherence in ideology and policy perspective. The converse of course is that slate politics taken to excess tend to marginalise individuals who are otherwise the best at the tasks at hand.

Hence, going forward, if we are serious about having capable people in relevant positions in charge of national matters, the policy debate in this regard must press ever hard for a review of the current extent of political slates. Among other things, the debate must deliberate not just on limiting the inefficacies of this mechanism, or building on the efficacies of it, or addressing the debilitating effects of agency, it must also deliberate on how to actually get it done and dusted without relying too much on the political leaders to effect this change. Ultimately this kind of change is a people matter because political leaders are, to begin with, already rationally consolidated by this slate mechanism.

All indications thus far is that any politician, or shall we say any agent, will always have a degree to which they will act rationally in their self-interests. These self-interests are guaranteed in the politics of slates. Much of this has to do with the so-called “phuma si’ngene” political catfights in 21st century ANC politics.

A faction presents itself as the new force to reckon with and therefore applies the principle that you are either part of this lot or you are out — and “out” could mean for as long as they are in. The lot that wins at the elective conference will see it fit to exclude, more often than not, members who were not part of their slate. This happens perhaps as much out of spite or hatred of members outside of their slate as it does precisely because their slate is already committed. This should explain why Joel Netshitenzhe, a respected thinker in that movement, and a member of then Mbeki’s administration, was relegated down the pecking order and barely made it into the current NEC. The same cannot be said of other capable members who had to kiss their NEC membership goodbye.

The observation is unambiguous: what is needed is a pioneering government. As to what the top six do in their daily humdrum of party administrative tasks is just a few steps in the thousands of steps their agents will walk in the five years they will be in charge of the government.

Of late a lot has been said about organisational renewal in the ruling party. Reconsidering the slate mechanism, not just within the party but more importantly in government, can be one such focus area for a renewal. This will probably be hard to come by when the leaders are dyed-in-the-wool political animals who see slates as an inexorable part of their careerist ambitions. This then shall have to be one of the pertinent challenges of our times.

Tags: ,

  • Committed to teaching in the midst of smog: Five turnaround strategies for rural schools
  • Stop feeling guilty for living in your strengths
  • Beyond Trevor Noah and Mandela’s rainbow: Towards a politics of empathy
  • Self-serving black leaders: why the masses are “forgotten”
    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Gareth, this country needs party primaries so the members of the party can chose the candidates for the party. SA should also allow direct election so the voters can elect the president, members of parliament and the mayors.

    • ntozakhona

      Kgalema Motlanthe must thus be saluted for steadfastly refusing to associate himself with any of the current slates. Slates are factions, period! The slate (faction) that captures the ANC will go to capture government and that is how corrupt and incompetent elements get appointed and shielded. They are valuable footsoldiers of a slate. This happens in all tiers of government and levels of the ANC.

      No one knows who the authors of these slates are but they have a national foothold. They print t-shirts, transport members to branch elective meetings, feed them etc they are simply cash flush. The danger is that the ANC might end up being captured by foreign agents with money controlling the winning slate, Perhaps the president and deputy of the ANC should be nominated simulteneously, with the two candidates with the highest votes declared Pres and Dep Pres.

      Members wearing slate T shirts should be severely disciplined and signs advocating slates be prohibited, Maybe only the President and Dep Pres of the ANC should be sung about and hailed with Viva’s. Just maybe the ANC must begin to act decisively.

    • Tofolux

      I am so tired of reading poorly conceptualised ”debates” but I will never grow weak from defending my liberation movment from these weak attacks. Firstly, Steve Biko warned us of a concept he identified as self hatred that seems to have befallen us nd afta so many yrs afta his death. We can now see clearly how some have failed to liberate their minds. The warning bell he rang so loudly is evidenced by all in plain sight. He like all other visionaries talked abt this tool of belittling blacks in general and Africans in particular. In effect it is Anti-Black and afro-centric. Firstly, can I remind this author that ALL govts in EVERY country should be accused. I think these finger pointers think that the Vice President and State Secretary of State in US and the Home Secretary in Brit,etc etc fell out of the sky. Not even in their mere pol opp party did they annoint the opposing, in ANY concilliatory leaership position. So what are we really talking abt here? ANC has been under covert and overt attack by middle-class, monopoly capital, certain civil society, minority groups and the fourth estate for awhile now. In fact these ones have set themselves up as a clear and homogenous opposition to ANC. They sing from the sam hymnsheet. The irony though is that these people are not elected but imposed and yes by A SLATE. Not only is this hypocritical but dishonest. If you are goingt to have rules, apply them equally to all. Democracy must be painful to you but clearly at some…

    • The Creator

      Actually, tofolux is wrong. Before Polokwane, the focus on clique-based “slates” did not exist and — by and large — the NEC consisted of the 100-odd people who got the most votes, even if they disagreed with the leadership.

      At Polokwane, for the first time, the “slate” system was used to purge the leadership completely of Mbeki supporters. As a result, of course, the Zuma supporters are now terrified that if they ever lose, they will all lose their posts and perquisites, and so this system will continue and grow ever more corrupt.

    • Gareth Setati

      @Tofolofux. Thank you for your comments. Keep Calm and Carry on.

      I wish I didn’t have to mention that your comment is riddled with logical fallacies, primarily the infamous ad hominem attack. Anyhow this is the only aspect I think was worth responding to:

      You say: “Firstly, can I remind this author that ALL govts in EVERY country should be accused. I think these finger pointers think that the Vice President and State Secretary of State in US and the Home Secretary in Brit,etc etc fell out of the sky. Not even in their mere pol opp party did they annoint the opposing, in ANY concilliatory leaership position. So what are we really talking abt here?”

      No, actually I needn’t any reminders about the ubiquity of political slates around the world. I happen to know about them, not least of which the American format which there for ever. My focus, which it seems you may have missed, was about my country and how I perceive political slates manifesting in government and therefore society at large. This is the central point. I also make suggestions that our format of slating, especially when it spills over into government, should be reconsidered.

      As to whether you are coming to the defence of the ruling party I think you are entitled – just note no one has any monopoly on this defence, neither do I think anybody has a monopoly on the correct perspective as to what needs fixing in this country.

      And no Im no part of any organized group of ANC bashers. Quite the contrary

    • ntozakhona

      Gareth when we talk about the character of the ANC, we mention self-criticism as one of its qualities. I am actually a bit fatigued at discussing issues raised by right wingers. The national discourse is shifting to the right whilst we try to put out imagined fires. Your contribution is welcomed. Our organisational renewal document is on our website and honestly looks at the dangers of palace politics, We are not a secretive movement instead we want our culture of open and robust debate to permeate the whole society.

      The usual suspects are lost, they have nothing to say, I guess they are not used to such candid public self-analysis. Your blog has a cosequence been quickly removed from prominence, at least they posted it. For small mercies ,we are thankful.

    • ntozakhona

      ” The ANC is the democratic parliament of the people”‘ said Oliver Tambo. The ANC has always defined itself as a broad church with the branch as its basic unit and primary policy making body. Slates have stripped the ANC of that character and robbed branches and members of their important role. There are attempts to turn the ANC into just another DA. That should be defeated and our character mantained,

      The Sobukwe led elements who tried to capture the ANC through slates were forced out. A similar fate befell the Group of 8 led by Makiwane. In the 80s the Marxist Workers Tendencies suffered the same punishment of expulsion. The ANC constitution is emphatic on its prohibition of factions and slates fits its definition of what factions are.

      Is this how the ANC is being destroyed from inside as Oliver TAMBO warned? Gareth we need to speak out, it is not about individuals gossiped about but about our ANC.

    • LittleBobPete

      Interesting comments, and @toffylux goes off the deep end again.

      Sadly, the ANC has moved on from being a political party (established by religious leaders with a good moral founding) into being nothing better than a CULT. You almost have to swear your greatest allegiance to your party / cult before you look after the best interests of your country.

    • ntozakhona

      LittleBobPete the ANC is the only formation in South Africa that has a clear commitment to ensuring that the wealth of the country is shared amongst all. It is the only one that understands how the past has disadvantaged many of our people and is not in denial about it. How can we not be loyal to a vehicle that will take us to the New Jerusalem envisioned by 1927 ANC President Josia Gumede.

      Toffolux is not neccessarily off the mark, her vigilance is neccessary. There are some commentators who though not anti-ANC tend to play to the rightwing gallery when posting in foruums such as these. They join the orgy of gossip and unprecedented slanderous attacks against individuals in the ANC. The debate on policy, process, strategy and tactics thus suffers harmstringing our liberation effort. The sophisticated modern day kaffir jokes become the national discourse in that manner,

    • Tofolux

      @Gareth, until we all decide that we will be brutally honest when we engage, I guess it is a fruitless exercise to talk loudly about non-truths. All this mumbo-jumbo wil take us nowhere.

    • Gareth Setati


      Granted about honesty and so forth, but whether honesty must be brutal or not is a matter of one’s taste – it appears to be yours seemingly the point can be made either way. Agreed also that there must be no space for “non-truths” and “mumbo-jumbo” as you put it.

      If only you could stop skirting the issue, work on reducing the ad hominem attacks, and actually point out which aspects of my points are guilty of non-truths and which guilty of mumbo-jumbo. That will be a good start.

      The trouble with ad hominen attacks and other such fallacious nuisances in discussions is that not only do they leave the points raised unattended, but they also reduce the quality of your argument. It really is a point of maturity to address the points raised squarely without faffing about with baseless assumptions about the opponent’s argument. This is argumentation 101.

      But I suppose you know all of this.