Mangaung - Leaders account to members
Many people in and outside of South Africa pin their hopes on the positive outcomes of the ANC conference in Mangaung in December this year.
The conference is more about discussing and finding solutions for South Africa. The difference in the paths and direction that the ANC will take post Mangaung depends on the thoroughness of the discussions and preparations to resolve issues that plague our country, and not the face of the leadership cadres elected. In any case there is so far not much policy difference between the ANC leaders.
The delegates must be excused for the excitement in their branches because leaders ignite different levels of inspiration and passion on the membership. But it is important to state that there will be an ANC after Mangaung.
There is a powerful song that delegates sing when the outgoing leadership is ushered off the stage to join normal delegates in the conference. The song reminds leaders who is in charge. The members sing; Webaholi bethu sizonixelela ukuthi amandla asemasebeni” (we wish to inform you, our leaders that the power lies with the branches). The tune is sweet and makes it easy for everyone to sing along and makes the hall reverberate in an inspiring melodious sound– but the message is sobering! Just in case power made anyone forget!
In this regard, the 53rd conference of the ANC will demand serious accounting from the leaders elected in Polokwane. This time around, unlike in 2007, there are fewer distractions. Leaders will be expected to account collectively for their collective conduct and performance as well as the unacceptable conduct of the individual leaders which was not befitting the stature of an elected leader of this movement. No member of leadership will exonerate themselves from short comings of the collective in as much all will share in the glory of outstanding success, irrespective of how much energy they have invested in the project.
The entire leadership will have taken time to reflect on matters that need to be brought to the attention of the membership. In 2005, it was the Special NEC meeting that questioned the absence of the then Deputy President Zuma and the absence of that matter on the agenda and on the report of then Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe.
The NEC which was expected to last no more than an hour to endorse the agenda, had to be adjourned after five hours of a heated and acrimonious debate. The meeting continued for over an hour the following morning, no less heated but at least contained in the report of the Secretary General, the explanation of the circumstances around the then Deputy President as approved in wording to reflect the input of the NEC. It further resolved that the Deputy President be invited to attend the NGC.
It had become abundantly clear that the NGC would not start in the absence of the Deputy President and any discussion would have derailed the proceedings unless properly managed. Conference is one time wherein the power of delegates prevails over any leader of the party and branch delegates are the real boss that is described in the constitution.
Undoubtedly the matter of party leaders who have brought the ANC into disrepute will also arise at conference. Many ANC leaders have unashamedly acted in a manner that has opened the organisation to bad publicity. Foremost amongst those are the few ambitious and unscrupulous ones who sought to leak the internal debates and documents of the ANC and distorted the contents and spirit of confidential party engagements to the media as sources. They further insist on publicizing their views which were defeated in a rational internal debate or which were never expressed at all in party platforms. They act as court jesters of the medieval era who used their license to spread palace gossips to villagers where the dynamics of the ruling dynasty was the politics of the land. They have failed to learn the lesson taught to apartheid-time informers, that is, no matter how detailed the information was that the informer submitted to the handlers, he or she remained despised for betraying the confidence of people who trusted him or her.
What is important is that at this point in history, South Africa needs focused leadership. So far the ANC is well positioned to provide such leadership. The ANC has worked hard to earn this position of respect.
In the recent past, the ANC has been criticized for being inward looking and being consumed by factionalism. To varying degrees there was merit to some of the criticism. Amongst others, the Julius Malema debacle has been a disgrace of monumental proportions. The ANC had no choice but to expel him. There remains a huge responsibility for the ANC to reassure its members that no similar misconduct will be tolerated for so long.
The Disciplinary Committee and the National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal did a splendid job of protecting the ANC, but the process just took forever. The NEC was also correct not to exercise its discretion to review the matter. This would have prolonged the trauma of the membership, conveyed a vote of no confidence in a structure created by the ANC Constitution, the NDCA, and send a message that the ANC is not ready to clean out the rot. The ANC must still calculate the damage caused to it by the conduct of the ill-disciplined Youth League leaders. Some senior ANC leaders have not assisted the youth by offering ongoing secret support, instead of correcting them in a principled manner.
The other area the ANC has to manage better is how to reign in all those who get consumed in leadership ambitions and begin to use ANC airtime for self promotion and disgraceful conduct. The most decent way for those who lose confidence in their leaders is to resign their positions as proof of their convictions. Some analysts have been as bold as to say that there is no leadership in the country, which I totally disagree with. The reality is that the public spats have been more dominant than a lot of good work that has been done in the country.
It took the South African Institute of Race Relations to point out to a lot of good work that has happened in the country under the ANC leadership. This is the work that conference must take stock of and strengthen the ANC`s capacity to perform better and censure all the negative tendencies that have crept into the party. This shall help refresh the ANC and ensure that the ANC emerges stronger and more focused after Mangaung, for the benefit of the whole country.
Dr Zweli Mkhize is the ANC KZN provincial chairperson, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and Premier of KZN.