The Secretary-General of the African National Congress (ANC) Comrade Gwede Mantashe has delivered the Organizational Report to the 54th National Conference of the ANC. It covers the five-year period since the 53rd National Conference at Mangaung in 2012.
ANC Today interviewed him on the side-lines of the National Conference about the work covered by the report; organizational challenges, and the future of the ANC.
How do you see the ANC’s current role in society?
Owing to its programmes of advancing change and transforming the conditions of the country’s poor and marginalized, the national liberation movement, the ANC, remains at the helm of South African society. It is our responsibility to continue to earn the trust of society.
What are the biggest challenges we face as a country?
We are now in the second phase of transition to the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) which is characterized by radical socio-economic transformation. This is in acknowledgement that unemployment, poverty and inequality must be obliterated. Full change cannot be realized unless economic power is conferred on the majority.
The Organizational Report has strongly referenced the Decade of the Cadre – please elaborate on this?
For any organization to withstand contemporary challenges and at the same time remain true to its values, principles and ideological grounding – it is imperative that we need to undergo a process of developing the right calibre of membership. This is where the notion of cadreship comes in. The focus of this decade-long programme is the ideological, political, academic and moral training of a critical mass of ANC members. Notwithstanding our challenges, efforts are underway to realize this objective. At the heart of this is political education. The discussion on organizational renewal must be a permanent feature of our movement to ensure that we adapt and change.
Please elaborate on what you have identified as the key challenges facing the ANC?
Some of the challenges we face are as a result of self-inflicted wounds. One notes for instance Then there are the fierce, even fatal contestations, together with an almost endemic factionalism between and amongst comrades dominating our structures, causing grievous divisions in the movement.
Others can be attributed to external factors opposed to our movement and its outlook on society and the world. There is for example a rising groan about state capture, corporate capture and the role of money in politics and policymaking.
It is also a reality that over a sustained time period, our movement has experienced a decline. This has manifested itself in a multi-faceted manner – including but not limited to the quality and quantity of our membership; ideological outlook and policy articulation; efficiency and effectiveness of structures; organizational discipline and the waning of values and principles amongst the leadership and membership alike; cohesiveness in the Alliance; electoral performance and ability to govern – and influence in the broader society.
In your view are any of these challenges insurmountable?
No, because all normal organizations pass through such phases. However, decline is arrested when there is recognition that something dramatic has to be done – and a new growth trajectory initiated. We have reached such a moment.
The report speaks to a ‘trust deficit between the ANC and the people – please elaborate?
As a result of some of the aforementioned factors, there is a growing gap between the movement and the people, which has placed the legitimacy of our movement as the standard bearer in society under threat. In the second half of this term, we witnessed a decline in our performance at the polls in the 2016 municipal elections – with our support dropping by 8% compared to the 2014 elections. Of particular concern was the massive losses incurred in the Metros. The latter threatens to relegate the ANC into a rural party in a manner similar to those of other liberation movements that are in decline.
It is important however to note that trust deficit is a problem facing liberal democracies in general, and also occurs where there is a general mistrust for the ruling and business classes.
This Conference is taking place in the centenary year of OR Tambo. How do you see his legacy living on in the movement?
Next year we will also begin to mark the centenary of Comrade Nelson Mandela. We should use such anniversaries as an opportunity to energize our movement and remind us of the quality and selflessness of the leadership that has inspired us and provided a vision as well as sense of unity and purpose to our movement, but to the people as a whole.
What has been your observation regarding the unity of the leadership in this period?
Despite extremely challenging conditions, we have sought to maintain our unity as a leadership collective. This however has come under strain as a result of factions and slates. In some instances, decision-making has been removed from structures – reducing them to being sounding boards. That notwithstanding, structures are expected to take collective responsibility for as well as defend decisions they cannot honestly own.
How has the ANC culture of internal democracy suffered as a result of factionalism and slate politics?
This vibrant internal culture, wherein all views are sought and consensus reached based on the best and most appropriate course of action – is virtually non-existent. A symptom of this is when the results of every conference are immediately appealed – because some are motivated only by the need to win any debate or election. Court challenges have become the preferred method of engagement when results do not favour one or another faction.
How have perceptions of corruption dented the reputation of the ANC?
We are faced with a painful situation where the entirety of the liberation movement is projected as corrupt as a result of the actions of some. State capture is a reality and forms part of public discourse – and the ANC cannot afford to be perceived as confused or defensive in the face of this debate. The Conference must provide concrete guidance to the leadership not only on the position the ANC must take, but on how it should engage with this debate.
What can be done to arrest the ANC’s electoral decline, particularly with the 2019 elections looming?
The ANC remains the only realistic formation that can unite a cross section of all our people and engender real change. What is lost on some is that the ANC has since the inception of democracy continued to be victorious at the polls. In each national general election, we have maintained a majority of 60%. This despite many commentators and analysts predicting the ANC would poll in at below 50%.
A number of things need to be done to arrest this decline. It starts with ensuring that our support base goes out and votes; and that we are registering more voters for each set of elections. We need to reduce opportunities of local parties and independent candidates who are breaking away from the ANC. We urgently need to continue to improve our candidate selection processes. It is important equally that our leaders at all levels are made to appreciate that factional selection of candidates is very costly to the ANC, and even more so in the long term. Provinces and regions that need our urgent attention must be helped. Most importantly, we need to prioritize rebuilding the reputation and image of our movement. The serious signs of decline must be arrested – and a new growth trajectory developed.