CHARLES NQAKULA: Diagnosis of the health of the ANC


In the past decade, there have been many voices within the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC), where a great measure of unhappiness has been expressed regarding the state of the ANC. The matter was raised quite strongly by the movement’s stalwarts and veterans during the period 2016-2017.

The concerned members argued in 2017 that the policy conference scheduled for 30 June that year, had to be converted into a consultative conference “to allocate time and space to diagnose the health of the organisation and attempt to come up with solutions and programmes,” according to the diagnostic organisational report that was delivered at the policy conference by then secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe.

Mantashe told the conference that the national executive committee had decided that the first two days of the policy conference would focus on the health of the organisation, to accommodate the proposal of the stalwarts and veterans who wanted a discussion on the state of the organisation.

There was tremendous hostility towards Mantashe’s diagnostic analysis of the organisation. At that time, different factions were fighting to protect their interests vis-à-vis the leadership slates that had been drawn up leading to the December 2017 conference.

Those who were opposed to the diagnostic report were part of the NDZ17 base that was supporting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Their view was that the report on the health of the organisation was meant to attack President Jacob Zuma and, in the circumstances, undermine Nkosazana’s effort to be the next ANC president.

Mantashe had raised the matter of corruption within the ranks of the ANC. He spoke about state capture and the influence of the Gupta brothers. He said, “It is, indeed, correct to state that the Guptas can do business anytime (and) anywhere with whomsoever. However, their relationships with the families of prominent leaders attract the attention of the people. When there are benefits that accrue to families of the leadership, it is assumed to be corrupt.”

Mantashe raised a number of issues that spoke to the ANC’s maladies. He said there was a serious decline in the ethics, values and traditions of the movement; that the quality of the branches of the ANC and the membership in general, was very poor. He added that there was the rapid collapse of the organisational discipline and that there was a decline in the ideological outlook of the Movement.

He said the ANC was beset by divisions and factions that had become a seemingly permanent feature of the movement. Consequently, there was a growing trust deficit between the people and their movement, which was impacted by the perception that the ANC was entirely corrupt.

There was no serious engagement with Mantashe’s diagnostic analysis of the state of the ANC. Any political analyst worth their salt cannot maintain that the ANC is better today than it was when Mantashe did his analysis.
In his foreword to the Policy Conference 2022 Special Edition, President Cyril Ramaphosa makes the following observation: “Our Movement equally faces enormous challenges in this period, as witnessed by the decline in support with the 2021 local government elections. This mirrors the declining level of trust and credibility in us as leadership and cadres.”

But, the ANC’s electoral support has been declining since 2009. When President Mbeki was leading the ANC in 1999, the ANC won 66.35% of the vote, higher than the 62.65% scored under President Mandela in 1994. The ANC’s support in 2009, under ANC president Jacob Zuma, was 65.90%, compared to the 69.69% during the third election, under Mbeki. In 2014, the ANC scored 62.15% and 57.50% in 2019.

The stalwarts and veterans of the ANC were correct when they argued in 2017 for converting the policy conference into a consultative exercise, to do a proper analysis of what is happening in the ANC and remedy the ills afflicting the movement.

The situation that Mantashe painted for the delegates in 2017 is worse today, which calls for a special engagement by members of the ANC to prepare the ground for a serious discussion on the question of unity and renewal. When Mantashe spoke about “solutions and programmes”, he was talking to strategy and tactics.

The cancer that the ANC must deal with is the hostility by some members to the themes of strategy and tactics as well as to theory and ideology. Some members do not embrace those matters because they see political discourse as delays to their ascendance to positions of leadership and access to resources. When they are at meetings, they talk resources – what tenders should go where.

Mantashe put this matter as follows in his diagnostic analysis: “Although the membership of the ANC is more literate now, the culture of reading policy documents of the Movement is dying, because political and ideological clarity is no longer the deciding factor for election to leadership positions and deployment.”

Leadership and deployment have become a means to resources. Both those aspects are bought by those who want to be leaders. It is a matter of public knowledge that thousands of rands changed hands at the 2017 ANC national conference where leaders were buying support for the positions they wanted. Those leaders mobilised huge amounts of money for them to be able to buy support.

The forthcoming ANC policy conference is not going to change the circumstances Mantashe pointed to in his diagnostic report. It will not even stop corruption. Huge amounts of money will still be used in the national conference in December to buy support for leadership positions – another type of corruption, which seems to be acceptable in the ANC these days.

It would have been better to organise, at this time, a consultative conference, like the 1969 Morogoro Consultative Conference, where a deep analysis was done following deep problems in the movement occasioned by an incipient process of immoral behaviour involving both leaders and cadres in the External Mission of the ANC. Revolutionary morality had flown out of the window.

Real renewal and unity happened as a consequence of the Morogoro Conference. One of the young attendants at the conference at the time, was Sindiso Mfenyana, who published before the policy conference in 2017, and who attended that conference as a veteran, a book entitled Walking with Giants.

He writes the following, among other things, regarding the Morogoro conference: “The ensuing discussion and debate at the Morogoro conference provided the basis for the important document Strategy and Tactics of the ANC, (which) introduced a new way of analysing the struggle and charting the way forward.”

The second consultative conference of the ANC was held in 1985, at the small town of Kabwe, in Zambia. That conference did an assessment of the road travelled since the Morogoro Conference and, using the decisions of the first conference, mapped a new programme going forward. That new programme resulted in the unbanning in 1990, of the ANC together with other revolutionary organisations and the resultant democratic breakthrough in 1994.

The ANC should be wise and convene a consultative conference, where it can pick up Mantashe’s diagnostic report and discuss it sincerely and with purpose, where a programme of action would be devised to deal decisively with all the ills that are detrimentally affecting the ANC.

Charles Nqakula is a former minister and national security adviser to Cyril Ramaphosa, and is an ANC veteran.