[African National Congress (ANC). Picture: Gallo Images.]
If there was any doubt over the magnitude of the crisis in the ANC, the past weekend’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting provides unambiguous confirmation that Africa’s oldest liberation movement is at a crossroads.
The unsuccessful attempt to unseat President Jacob Zuma as leader plunged the NEC into an unprecedented debate that stretched over many days.
Notwithstanding the fact that the intended putsch against Zuma was thwarted, one cannot but agree with various NEC members that the debate was overdue and brought out into the open a raft of critical issues that until now were spoken about in hushed tones in the corridors of power.
Drawing a line in the sand over the crisis is necessary and the proposal by some stalwarts and veterans for a national consultative conference might not be a bad idea after all.
While the leadership were initially peeved with the manner in which they were informed of the request, the agreement between the NEC and the stalwarts that a consultative meeting is necessary is no doubt a positive development, but it is important that the baby not be thrown out with the bath water.
Historically, the ANC has hosted just three consultative conferences in its 104 year history.
While the proposed consultative meeting will form part of next year’s policy conference in June, its significance is still important. While the circumstances might be different, the triggers for these conferences were not that different to the predicament confronting the party.
Like Morogoro in 1969, Kabwe in 1989 and Durban in 1991, these consultative conferences have played a vital role in the ANC’s repositioning.
The need for these conferences were necessary because the party needed to adapt to changing conditions in its evolution.
As with the events that led to Morogoro, Kabwe and Durban, the ANC is once again at a crossroads.
Notwithstanding the differences in opinion over the necessity of the conference, it is important that all role-players grasp the opportunity to chart the way forward.
While some have attempted to misrepresent the concept of a consultative conference to advance their own narrow power interests, if properly managed such a conference will go a long way towards eliminating the rot.
Factionalism, careerism, using the party as a springboard for personal enrichment, gate keeping are among the issues which have eaten away at the moral fibre of a once proud organisation.
The euphoria over winning political freedom is now a distant memory. The setbacks in August’s local government elections were merely an affirmation of what many have been saying in the past few years. While the challenges confronting the ANC in exile were largely driven by issues related to the execution of the liberation struggle, the conditions today are very different.
Access to state power and resources have no doubt resulted in the erosion of the values that so many fought and died for in the liberation struggle.
The background to the first consultative conference in a post-apartheid era is not dissimilar to the present environment. While the gathering in Durban was a phenomenal moment of celebration and one that finally affirmed that freedom was a reality, the underlying tensions were palpable. The jockeying for positions between the exile and internal leadership was apparent.
The intervention of stalwarts, who included OR Tambo (even in his ailing state), Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, prevented a full blown power struggle consuming the party ahead of the constitutional negotiations.
Of course, at the time the apartheid regime clearly anticipated this power struggle and hoped it would meet a weakened ANC at the negotiating table.
The compromises hammered out in Durban ensured that this did not become a reality. While the cracks were papered over, the simmering tensions have resurfaced periodically since then.
The challenges facing the ANC today is a consequence of the cumulative problems from the past few decades. Those challenging the leadership of Zuma today have conveniently dumped the crisis on his lap.
They know that this is patently unfair. The rot has its roots in Durban, bared its ugly teeth in Polokwane and now threatens to devour all and sundry ahead of next year’s elective conference.
This destructive culture and behaviour is now entrenched. While the ANC has made significant strides in dismantling the apartheid legacy, a lot more can be achieved if the current challenges are removed.
The starting point must surely be frank discussion, including the grassroots, leadership, the leagues, MK and alliance partners. The key objective of next year’s consultative meeting should be to deal decisively with the problems in a honest and frank manner.
There must be a genuine commitment to unite the party. Failure to do so will result in further implosions and jeopardise the party’s prospects in the 2019 general election. The stakes are high.
Speaking at the opening of the ANC’s 2nd consultative in Kabwe, Zambia, Tambo said: “What has convened here is more than a conference of the ANC.
It is nothing less than a South African National Congress, a true parliament of all the people of our country. Consequently, it carries on its shoulders serious responsibilities which are central to the future of our country.”
As the ANC grapples with its challenges it would serve the party well to heed the words of this great patriot and statesman.
The opportunity created by next year’s meeting should not be wasted.