The African National Congress (ANC) will, later this year, hold its 54th National Conference, which among others, will elect the national leadership of the organization for a five-year term, assuming that part of the ANC Constitution will not change.
Fortunately, the nominations for the leaders that will be elected are not yet open, so this text (and its author) is unlikely to be misperceived as punting one leader or the other. However, discussing the principles around leadership is encouraged in preparation for nomination time.
In a media statement following the January 2017 Lekgotla, the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) said,
“Branches will hold their BGMs/BAGMs during September and October 2017. In line with the 2016 NGC Resolution that the branch is the basic unit of the ANC, that slates must be outlawed and that serious action must be taken to prevent and deal with the practice of slate, the NEC resolved [to] do away with the practice of consolidating nominations for leadership at a regional and provincial level. Branches must be given the right to nominate. Consolidation at other levels tampers with the authority of the branches to nominate. All nominations for leadership from branches will be consolidated nationally by the Electoral Commission.”
This is a noble and very necessary intervention by the NEC. It will probably be followed by clear guidelines on how the nomination process should unfold. Until then, it seems practically unworkable, desirable as it may be.
Using the current constitution, a branch would have to nominate six national officials plus 80 additional members of the NEC, based on its own wisdom and knowledge of the 86 leaders. Keeping in mind the outlawed slates and that the leaders are unlikely to individually campaign for themselves, it would be interesting to see how a single branch, without consolidating at a zonal/regional or any level, would compile its nomination. As suggested earlier, the nomination guidelines will probably clear this, when they are issued.
The ANC National Conferences are preceded by the National Policy Conferences where there are in-depth discussions on policy priorities for the organization and draft resolutions for the National Conferences to consider, plus discuss further, for final resolution.
As such it is never considered necessary that leaders express their own priorities, outside of agreed resolutions, in order to be nominated for national leadership. It is assumed that the elected national collective will implement the resolutions agreed by the National Conference.
Given the irrelevance of stating a preferred leader’s priorities, lobbyists of various leaders have, in the past, relied on that leader’s past and resultant accumulated character traits to suggest why branches should nominate the said preferred leader.
Often times, lobbyists have ascribed various priorities to their preferred leaders as part of campaigning for their election. Oddly, the said leaders usually do not explicitly own up to whatever their lobbyist ascribes to them. As such, those leaders, once elected, may not be held accountable for the commitments made by their lobbyists on their behalf or in their name. Failures, where identified, are owned collectively.
Evidence since 1994 suggests that each elected national collective implements Conference resolutions with varying focus. This is probably due to a combination of subjective and objective factors which result in some resolutions being implemented faster than others, and some resolutions left unimplemented, or the speed of implementation thereof is extremely slow.
The struggle credentials and the service delivery record of potential leaders may no longer be sufficient to suggest that a leader will deliver on the immediate interest the ANC branches, and society in general, may have.
In this regard, the ANC 5th National Policy Conference Discussion Document on Organisational Renewal (PCDDOR) proposes that;
“The ANC nominations and election processes must be reviewed to allow for open contestation with provisions for the membership to engage the candidates.”
However, the PCDDOR advances this proposal more to address the challenges of divisive factionalism, rather than accountability, which is the point that this author is arguing.
Preceding this proposal, the PCDDOR acknowledges thus;
“This reality has resulted into the manipulation of branch processes to be geared towards achieving pre-determined outcome in terms of the elections of leadership in various conferences. (sic)”
This is evidently contrary to popular rhetoric, which all factions advance, that the 2001 NWC Discussion Document titled “Through the Eye of the Needle” is the filter with which leadership is chosen.
Rather than “Through the Eye of the Needle”, the branches are presented with pre-selected lists from which they have to blindly choose, as there is never a clear distinction in the delivery priorities or policy approaches of either list. Thus, through the garage door, branches blindly choose from the pre-selected.
It is common knowledge that the national leadership is elected for a 5-year term. Hence the candidates, once nominations open, should present convincing arguments on what they will do in their 5 year term, with clear timelines upon which they would be held accountable by the ANC NEC and the ANC branches through the ANC (mid-term) National General Council.
The intended delivery, and timelines should be clear enough to make it possible to tell achievement of the targets from the failure to achieve those targets.
The revolutionary sounding rhetoric of radical economic transformation, and the brilliance of pointing out challenges, causes and magnitude of unemployment, inequality and poverty are grossly insufficient as reasons to be elected. Equally inadequate is the enthusiasm in identifying opponents of the National Democratic Revolution, and/or their allies, either internally, domestically or internationally.
The commitments candidates make should, as far as possible, include how they are going to achieve those commitments. It should not longer be enough for any prospective leader to promise free education, without clarifying how that would be achieved within the prevailing fiscal constraints. The ANC members should refuse to be led by leaders who do not have the foresight to know that their commitments are unachievable.
It is common knowledge that the global balance of forces are likely to worsen and the global economic growth will remain stagnant. A candidate should not make unreasonable commitments with the hope to blame rating agencies, or other external factors, for the failure to achieve those commitments.
Our 23 years in governance ought to be evident in how practical are the commitments the candidates make. Relying on collective ownership of failures may no longer be enough to convince the voters that we have appreciation of the trust they entrust us through their hard-won vote.
ANC members, and volunteers, would have the conviction to later go on a door to door campaign to explain the commitments, convinced on how those commitments would be achieved.
This is not a proposal for a departure from collective leadership or from ignoring policy decisions adopted by Conference. It is a suggestion that candidates should state the priorities they will focus on in their 5 year term, together with their collective, so that the Conference do not just blindly choose based on the struggle credentials or CV alone. They have to know that the program resonates with the branches and communities which they represent at the Conference.
The proposal made in the PCDDOR for candidates to be engaged by the membership is not entirely new to the ANC. It is already happening with the ANC nominees for local government candidature in each ward. It is only fair and sensible that a level as important as the President, and the entire national collective, should not be left to chance.
Bayanda Mzoneli is a member of the ANC King Nyabela Mahlangu Branch (Ward 5) in Tshwane Region.