To purge or not to purge

The ANC is set to begin its business for the year in earnest on Friday when it holds the first post-Mangaung national executive committee (NEC) meeting. It is expected to elect the powerful national working committee (NWC), which deals with operational issues in the party. The NWC includes the top six officials of the ANC and 20 additional members out of the 80-member NEC. Like the NEC elected at Mangaung, the NWC is expected to be stacked with President Jacob Zuma's allies.

While key campaigners such Nathi Mthethwa, Blade Nzimande and Angie Motshekga are expected to retain their positions on the NWC, on which they have been serving since the Polokwane conference, there is jockeying for the vacant positions created by those who did not crack the nod for the NEC at Mangaung.

These include Fikile Mbalula, Siphiwe Nyanda and Dina Pule. Among those who will be attempting to get onto the NWC are Malusi Gigaba, who is positioning himself as a rising star in the party, and Pule Mabe, who proved his loyalty to Zuma as Julius Malema's nemesis in the ANC Youth League.

It would be essential for Zuma and secretary general Gwede Mantashe to have people they trust on the NWC, as the committee oversees the functioning of the provinces, regions, branches and all other ANC structures, such as parliamentary caucuses. There would hardly be any resistance within the NEC to ensure Zuma and Mantashe get a compliant committee to work with so they are able to tighten the reins on ANC structures to minimise dissent and conflict.

ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said he had not seen the agenda so he could not confirm what else would be discussed at Friday's NEC meeting. Some members of the NEC will, however, be eager to deal with unfinished business from Mangaung and crush remnants of the Forces of Change, which had campaigned for Zuma's removal at the December conference.

One of the issues the NEC is mandated to deal with is the future of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). The League has been running under an interim leadership since Malema's expulsion and the concurrent suspension of its secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.

A controversial proposal by the ANC in Mpumalanga at the Mangaung conference to disband the Youth League NEC is still on the table.

The motivation for the proposed disbandment is the conduct of the Youth League's NEC, its controversial statements and the suspension of Mabe as treasurer. Following a charged debate on the matter at the plenary, the conference accepted a proposal by Gigaba for the new ANC NEC to deal with the matter. An NEC sub-committee is therefore to be set up to assess how best to deal with the ANCYL.

While several provinces support the dissolution of the ANCYL NEC and favour a process to constitute a whole new leadership, some ANC NEC members feel this is now an unnecessary measure as the youth wing has been tamed. Acting president Ronald Lamola has made a concerted effort to tone down the errant behaviour of the League and has even been accused by Malema of "selling out to the Zuma camp".

Despite being at the forefront of the campaign to remove Zuma as ANC president and replace him with Kgalema Motlanthe, the Youth League magnanimously issued a statement congratulating the newly elected office bearers. The Mail & Guardian last week reported that some senior league leaders, including Lamola, met Zuma in Mangaung and assured him of their support.

Lamola said the League was preparing to fill vacant positions as soon as possible, an indication that they were bowing to pressure to dump Malema, the paper said. For several months after Malema's expulsion, the ANCYL still referred to him as president and resisted attempts to replace him. A decision now has to be made as to whether an ANCYL national conference or national general council is convened in the next few months to elect new League leaders.

Lamola and others in the League leadership are hoping to stave off harsh action and to play a more constructive role in the ANC's move to "rebuild" the League. But some of the League's critics in the ANC feel that too much damage has been done and that a complete purge is required to cleanse it of destructive elements and those still loyal to Malema.

There are similar sentiments about how to deal with the ANC provincial leadership in Limpopo, which was also at the forefront of the Forces of Change campaign. Moves are underway to motivate for the dissolution of the Limpopo provincial executive committee (PEC) after fierce conflict in the province in the run-up to the Mangaung conference.

Violence broke out during a stop-start nominations conference over delegate credentials, particularly relating to the Waterberg region, which supported Zuma's re-election. The provincial leadership, however, stood firm in its resolve to support Motlanthe for president.

Divisions in the Limpopo delegation at Mangaung were evident, with delegates expressing contradictory positions and some sections singing pro-change songs while others chanted in favour of Zuma.

While there are moves within the ANC to dissolve the PEC, the campaign to have Cassel Mathale removed as Limpopo Premier is also expected to pick up pace over the next few weeks. Mathale's detractors want a complete purge in government and the ANC in the province, which they say will send out a strong anti-corruption message ahead of the 2014 elections.

However, others in the ANC leadership feel this might cause instability in the province and cause disillusionment in party structures, which could impact on voting patterns in 2014. Mantashe has recommended that an NEC committee be appointed to deal with the Limpopo issue.

The Limpopo provincial working committee made a surprise move this week by issuing a statement pledging for the new national leadership of the ANC. The ANC provincial spokesman Makondelele Mathivha said the outcome of Mangaung and its resolutions should be supported by all in the movement.

"To this end, the ANC, under Jacob Zuma, has the unqualified support of Limpopo as led by the chairperson, comrade Cassel Mathale. The province reiterates its message of congratulations to the NEC elected in December 2012 and wishes all leaders serving in that structure well in the work of the organisation's programmes ahead," Mathivha said.

Like with the ANCYL, this is also clearly a move placate the national leadership and deter harsh action against the province. However, as with the youth league, Limpopo's leaders have powerful enemies in the new NEC who want to see them ousted and humiliated.

While the NEC decides how to deal with the two problematic structures, opposing factions in the ANC will begin new battle in the next few months to populate the election lists for the national Parliament and provincial legislatures ahead of the 2014 elections. But the number of seats available will ultimately be dependent on the ANC's ability to sell itself to the South African electorate.

Therefore, the challenge for the ANC's newly elected leadership will be to shift focus from internal wars towards the massive election battle coming next year. In 18 months, these internal battles will be petty and irrelevant when the ANC has to convince South Africa it is still worthy of leading it.

This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.