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Factional politics destroying ANC from within

The appointment of Danny Jordaan as the new mayor of the troubled Nelson Mandela Bay municipality is interesting from two perspectives. First it demonstrates the central weakness in our electoral system ie that the will of the people is subordinate to the interests of the governing party. Jordaan was parachuted to this role, he wasn’t even on the party list in the last election. Second, it confirms that factionalism has become a malignant cancer destroying the party from within. It’s eroding its ability to uphold good governance practices that are critical and central to the efficient delivery of vital social services.

The message coming out of Luthuli House is that Jordaan’s key task is to ensure that its service-delivery obligations are executed efficiently. This assumes that the challenges are purely technical and administrative in nature. If this indeed is the case, then the new appointment is a brilliant strategic move and Jordaan’s competencies as a good administrator will serve him well. Under normal circumstances, voters want nothing less than an efficient local government that listens to their needs.

But the challenge facing the ANC is deeper than that. Some say the recent service-delivery protests were instigated by competing factions in the party to undermine the legitimacy and efforts of the current leaders with the clear intent of replacing them in the next round of elections. Naturally those in power will not voluntarily vacate their positions as a gesture of goodwill, power will be captured by force or other insidious means! This is the ugly side of factionalism that is destroying the noble value of selfless service and leadership central to the ethos of the ANC as we knew it.

As we prepare for local government elections in 2016, jostling to be at the top of the list of the winning faction will intensify and become even more violent. This has happened before and is bound to get worse with every election and patronage continues to grow as the driving force behind the factional lists. Jordaan is going to be confronted with these competing factions and it will be interesting to see how he navigates the shark-infested waters in order to achieve common purpose and unity. This will require more than decisive leadership.

How he deals with corruption and the fragile state of governance in the municipality will determine whether the ANC will be able to retain power in 2016. The challenges are indeed enormous and the remedy cannot be business as usual. At the core of efficient service delivery is the question of capacity and the level of critical skills required to deliver the services. Drastic action will be needed to correct these deficiencies.

In many small municipalities, projects and programmes that were designed to improve the local economies had allegedly either been delayed or abandoned because of competing factions that wanted to benefit through tenders. What has been lacking is decisive action to root out these practices.

In the current climate of high unemployment and slow economic growth, it’s not surprising that local government positions have become attractive, they are perceived to provide personal enrichment through tenders and patronage. The networks arising out this practice are deep and vigorously defended to the extent of using violence.

We need to look into our closed-list proportional representation system to understand how it’s spawned the factionalism that Kgalema Motlanthe had warned against. This may pose an existential threat to the ANC.

The nature of this closed-list system is such that if you want to run for a leadership position in your party, you need to join or form a faction that shares and supports your strategy and is willing to swear allegiance to you. Such a strategy was masterfully executed in Mangaung and has now been successfully embedded as a culture within the party. The manifestations are everywhere to see.

Allegiance is critical to the success of the faction. But it must be understood that those who are excluded from your faction will not sit down and enjoy the glory of your success when the process has been concluded in your favour. They will be plotting to replace you in the next election.

The other critical issue to contend with is that all those who were in your faction, and were critical to the success of your election, will be expecting to be rewarded with senior appointments. This is the power of patronage. Under these circumstances, competencies give way to loyalty. Our experience with the underperforming local government provides ample proof of the corrosive effect of this structural weakness in our political system. It naturally leads to the collapse of governance and an emergence of a culture of impunity.

The display of brazen and callous materialism by elected officials and “tenderpreneurs” is a direct manifestation of this growing sense of impunity. Abraham Lincoln captured this paradox of perceived power in a crucible when he stated that “nearly all men can stand the test of adversity, but if you really want to test a man’s character, give him power”.

The unintended consequence of this breakdown in our political system is that accountability to the public is compromised. Voters feel a sense of neglect from the people they voted into power. And finally a sense of apathy sets in. Accountability is central to ensuring that politicians pay attention to the views of the public.


  • Thabang Motsohi

    Thabang is a very experienced and leading strategy consultant with more than 20 years of executive management experience. His forte and focus as an organizational strategist concerns helping organisations develop vision aligned strategies and deal with repositioning challenges in changing market environments while maintaining a sustainable and competitive advantage. He is a graduate of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. He has also completed the Harvard Senior Executive Programme.