Thabang Motsohi
Thabang Motsohi

How long can the ANC keep winning elections?

The discussion documents that have recently been released by the ANC in preparation for its national general council in October reveal renewed intention to have a serious discussion and reflection on a number of key issues, which if unresolved, can accelerate the demise of the organisation. In reality the fundamental question is about what is causing the growing inability of the ANC to govern effectively and implement its programmes successfully?

The reality of the situation is that most of the challenges that have been identified are not new. The call for rigorously enforcing discipline and fighting the factionalism that is tearing the party apart is also not new. What is different perhaps this time is that the ANC has acknowledged the fact that not acting differently this time around will render it vulnerable to the growing electoral threat. All indicators point to a downward slide and possible loss of some metros to the opposition parties in the 2016 local government elections.

The most egregious problem concerns the patronage that has infected the arterial system of the ANC structures and is steadily, but surely, corroding its ability to provide efficient social services in most areas under its control. It is this patronage problem that has spawned the corruption that dominates the media every week. It is also a direct cause of the gulf that has developed between the party and the people that voted it into power. Research has demonstrated that behind many of the so-called “service-delivery protests” is the feeling of alienation and disempowerment by communities. Councillors are not accessible to the communities and there are no effective channels for redress because, most often, they enjoy the protection of the party bosses.

Venom is routinely directed at President Jacob Zuma for the parlous state in which we find ourselves. But the truth of the matter is that there is a more complex structural problem within the ANC that poses a serious constraint to its ability to govern effectively.

First, the ANC under the alliance structure with the SACP and Cosatu is effectively a multi-brand organisation. The fault lines of such a structure will always manifest themselves in misaligned strategy and policy outcomes. The economic policy area is a classic example.

Many of the unemployed are poorly educated and mainly women. Of this number, more than 50% are young people. The common feature for all of them is that they do not have a matric qualification. This is the minimum that is required to open the door for them into formal employment. Yet, our economic policies favour a technology-driven and high-skills trajectory. We are not creating the types of jobs that are required to absorb our high unemployment numbers. And the situation is progressively getting worse because the rate of increase of the labour force is higher than the formal job creation rate.

This problem should not be difficult to resolve if there is a serious commitment to discuss the challenges openly and frankly without the restraint of ideological bias and the obsession for decent jobs.

The ANC will need to re-invent itself into a single brand party and focus on its mission to deal with the social challenges of our nation in a rational and pragmatic fashion. This will require that it completes Thabo Mbeki’s strategy of separating itself from the ideological rhetoric of the SACP and interest groups like Cosatu and in the process remain small but better and clearer on its policies and mission.

I have no doubt that, should it do so, it will tap into a potentially very broad support base that is currently feeling marginalised and uncomfortable with the disproportionate power and influence of the SACP and Cosatu, which have not contested for elections on their own tickets. Otherwise the reality is that without this transformation, the much vaunted developmental state will remain a pipe dream and the shifting ground might render it irrelevant in the near future.

Second, our electoral system provides an ideal environment for patronage to grow and thrive.

We need to look into our proportional representation closed-list system to understand how it has spawned the unintended consequences of the destructive practice of factionalism that Kgalema Motlanthe had warned against in 2012. Ignoring this threat may pose an existential threat to the ANC.

The nature of the proportional representation closed-list system that we have adopted is such that if you want to run for a leadership position in your party, it will be necessary to join or put together a group or faction that shares and supports your views and strategy and is willing to swear allegiance to you and the faction. Such a strategy was masterfully executed in Mangaung and it has now been successfully embedded as a culture within the party. The manifestations of it are everywhere to see.

The element of 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 how 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 after your elevation into the position of power.

In the next nine months we shall see this fault line playing itself out as people fight to retain their positions on the party lists while others will be plotting to dethrone them. Regrettably, this competition is never without violence.

The question that we really need to ask ourselves is whether there is sufficient electoral threat to the ANC to force self-introspection and transformation. One of the attributes of visionary leadership is the ability to scan the future and properly interpret the markers of potential challenges on the road ahead. All indicators point to the fact that the ANC is seriously lacking in such a skill. The political environment points to the need for the ANC to restructure itself into a party fit to govern without the liberation ghost on its back. A transformed ANC will be good for South Africa. Under the current alliance arrangement, progress on many policy fronts will be stunted. The state of the economy requires a transformed ANC.

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