Branches must consider leaders that will bring ANC back from the brink: Kunene

Thulani Kunene, who is vying for the position of provincial secretary of the ANC in Gauteng, said that he was confident in his candidature and the ability of branches in the province to select a leadership that would help the ANC reconnect with the electorate.

Supporters await the launch of the ANC elections manifesto at Church Square in Pretoria on 27 September 2021. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - While concerns around money being used in internal African National Congress (ANC) contests remain, Thulani Kunene, who is vying for the position of provincial secretary of the ANC in Gauteng, says he is confident in his candidature and the ability of branches in the province to select a leadership that will help the ANC reconnect with the electorate.

Nominations from across the province have been a mixed bag, with branches choosing their preferences outside of the proposed slates that have been punted by those in the running for provincial leadership.

Kunene features on a slate led by Gauteng Education MEC and outgoing ANC provincial deputy chair, Panyaza Lesufi, his direct competition in a slate led by Cooperative Governance MEC Lebogang Maile, with outgoing Ekurhuleni secretary, Thembinkosi “TK” Nciza, being their chosen candidate for provincial secretary.

Outgoing embattled provincial secretary, Jacob Khawe, is also in the running for the position.

He said that the majority of the province’s branches had done what they believed was best for the party as opposed to sticking to slates.

“There is a clear demonstration that members of the ANC in Gauteng want to save this ANC, they want to ensure the ANC remains relevant to the people of the ground,” Kunene tells Eyewitness News in a wide-ranging sit-down.

For Kunene, who’s also the party’s elections manager in the province, he’s had a close view of the ANC’s downward trajectory at the polls, having seen their own efforts resulting in a near-miss in 2019, that saw the party gain just over 50% to retain control of the province and the continued decline in 2021’s local government elections, where the ANC lost control of even more metros in Gauteng.

He said that while the ANC did not live for the elections, it was important for branches to consider the kind of leadership that would bring it back from the brink.

The leader, who’s been described by those who know him as rooted amongst the communities he serves, has taken to characterising himself as a “background guy,” something which is shown through his discomfort under the glare of the media spotlight.

“One of the things we’ve recognised and have accepted is that our branches have not been responsive to people’s problems. They have not been out there, they have been inward-looking,” was Kunene’s assessment of the branches.

In his admission that things have gone very wrong in how the ANC functions, he refuses to lay blame on any leaders, including a refusal to publicly review the performance of the outgoing collective but instead said that there was nothing that could be done about the past, emphasising that the task that awaited the ANC now was rebuilding, and how he could help shape what it became.

"We know what needs to be done, it's already resolved on, there is no need for new resolutions, we must have the resolve in ensuring there’s discipline and the will to do what we resolved on," he simply said as an answer for how the ANC could come right.

Kunene hammers on about the ANC’s constitution and its resolutions, insisting these two hold the key toward true renewal and closing the growing gap between the former liberation movement and South Africans.

And while he did not want to share his views on the outgoing leadership, he seemed concerned about branch activities in the province, saying clauses that dictate branches hold regular meetings with community members, draw up their annual plans and meet all the requirements to be defined as “branches in good standing,” were not followed to the latter.

"We want an ANC that’s back to its rightful owners, South Africans an ANC that’s externally focused, that doesn’t spend all its time discussing our problems, that doesn’t spend time fighting amongst ourselves, fighting for positions because unfortunately, that’s what people of South Africa see, they see us fighting every day and unfortunately and they see us fighting for positions and not their problems," remarked Kunene.

Kunene said that should he be victorious, he wanted to see a re-orientated ANC that understood its primary responsibility to be serving and helping people resolve their day-to-day challenges.

In keeping with his stance to not discuss particular issues in the party, Kunene said that decisions around who should lead at national level would be done at the right time and in accordance with the regulations as set down by the organisation but he did that say the team that emerged from the party’s national conference in December had to be able to renew the ANC.

Kunene added that the ANC must have younger leadership at the fore and reflect proper balance in terms of gender.

“The ANC needs to look at the skillsets across its membership and say these are the people that we think are the best, those are discussions ANC branches will have working with regions and provinces giving guidance,” said Kunene.

He put his foot down on the contentious step aside resolution adopted in 2017.

“I am a disciplined member of the ANC, once it's taken a position, I internalise it, if I have any misgivings I know where to raise them,” he told Eyewitness News.

“As an ANC member, I’ll not go on a public platform and raise views that are different from what the party has resolved on. If I have an issue I know what to do,” he concluded.

The ANC’s Gauteng provincial conference is set down for the first weekend in June.