REVIVE OUR ORGANISATION: URGENTLY RETURN THE EXILES!

luzukoBy Luzuko Buku

The ANC has enough human capital for the complete resolution of its challenges and all it needs is its full utilisation. Interestingly, ever since the letter by Reverend Frank Chikane in 2015 titled ‘Saving the Soul of the ANC’ and the input by Sipho Pityana at the funeral of Mfundisi Makhenkesi Stofile in 2016, there has been a linear view that only veterans and stalwarts can assist in saving the ANC. The subsequent 101 veterans campaign and the Mkhonto WeSizwe ‘Council’ took tune from these organisational renewal propositions and thus cornered themselves into this believe of a singular view for the resolution of our challenges.

During the dawn of democracy many of our comrades who were educated in various countries abroad were employed in the public service, NGOCs, parastatals, business and corporate. Subsequent generations of young black professionals, academics and social activists produced after apartheid also deliberately joined, and or were sent to, these ranks. The logic was that these comrades are occupying these positions in order to contribute to the vision of transforming South Africa and thus creating a better life for all. Some of them were deliberately removed from parliamentary lists and channelled into different career paths.

The ANC’s policy guidelines, Ready to Govern (1992) were more clear on the role that these individuals will have to play on our programme of radically altering the apartheid fault lines. It stated the following about the deployment and role of skilled South Africans:

“Special attention will have to be given to intensive training and the opening up of careers and advancement for those held back by past discrimination. Management in both the public and private sectors will have to be de-racialised so that rapidly and progressively it comes to reflect the skills of the entire population. Equity ownership will also have to be extended so that people from all sections of the population have a stake in the economy and the power to influence economic decisions.”

The guidelines called on the civil service to be opened up so that it becomes truly South African and ‘not an administrative arm of a racial minority.’ The plan was to transform the Judiciary, one of the key symbols of apartheid oppression and repression, into a well a functioning system for the administration of justice for all in the land. The vision was that:

“The bench will be transformed in such a way as to consist of men and women drawn from all sections of South African society. This will be done without interfering with its independence and with a view to ensuring that justice is manifestly seen to be done in a non-racial and non-sexist way and that the wisdom, experience and competent judicial skills of all South Africans are represented” (Ready to Govern, 1992).

A great majority of educated South Africans then openly associated with the vision and programme of the ANC and were not scared of associating themselves with the organisation. Whilst this is still the case, there is now less vigour and enthusiasm from these individuals about our movement. The main motivation for getting a job or starting a business was not only money. These individuals got their zeitgeist from the fact that they were contributing to the overall transformation of South Africa.

They were inadvertently responding to the vision contained in Ready to Govern and the challenges expressed by President Mandela in the Political Report to the 49th Conference of the ANC in 1994 where he said;

Ours was not a planned entry into government. Except for the highest
echelons, we did not have a plan for the deployment of cadres. We were disorganised, and behaved in a manner that could have endangered the revolution.

…Over this period we intensified the task of building a pool of skilled cadres at the same time as we prepared for governance…Many of the cadres who were upgraded in this period are today to be found at various levels in the state. But compared to the actual demand, this programme was woefully inadequate. The challenge therefore remains.

The understanding was that all progressive professionals were to play a key role in the reconstruction of South Africa and academics were also required to be an engine for this success. This is why in the 50th Conference of the ANC in 1997 President Mandela asserted that:

…More generally, we must ensure the growth and development of a modern and  properly prepared intelligentsia to guarantee the success of our historic
objective of the fundamental social transformation of our country and its
reconstruction and development.

The above reflections from the policy guidelines and reflections by the then President indicate that the movement had envisaged a situation where there will be different service streams in the transformation of South Africa; the political, legal, business, civil service, NGOs etc. Whilst the ANC preferred that all areas where its people served be non-partisan, it did not assume that the comrades being deployed in them would eventually be non-active members, except for those institutions where the constitution was explicit.

The need to serve a higher purpose under the ANC as an anchor organisation was basically the understanding even to those cadres who were now not supposed to openly associate with the organisation. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this was that these cadres were dumped, forgotten and as time proceeded the political space was closed for them. Whilst this was not a carefully planned exiling of our comrades, our classical organisational structure birthed it and it is important we deeply reflect on it.

The Unintended Consequences of our Structure

Classical progressive organisational theory has the basic assumption that people first have a grievance or an objective as individuals and when trying to express such in public they realise that other individuals share such views. It is this realisation of the commonality of problems that they decide to form an organisational platform whose main task will be to define the scattered grievances into concrete political objectives and then become a vehicle for their obtainment. These objectives are divided into strategic and tactical tasks with the former being long term and the latter being active steps towards the achievement of the end goal. The ANC was formed and it continues to operate within this theoretical understanding albeit with various transformations but little modernisation.

The branches are structured as basic units which galvanise people to express their needs for resolution at the local space and or decision making by higher organs within the organisation’s organogram. This organisational construction assumes a seamless system where information and decision flows accordance with the principle of democratic centralism; maximum participation in discussions, coupled with discipline and unity in implementing the arrived at decisions. The principle of supremacy of the majority view and the decision of higher structures guides the ANC’s day to day operations.

The structure illustrated above is very correct and it was ideal for the liberation movement to prescriptively apply it. Both history and the prevailing reality in the movement demonstrate that this organisational structure and decision process flow can be easily manipulated and relegated to nothingness by those at the higher echelons of an organisation. The slogan of branches being the epicentre of representative internal organisational democracy is soon becoming a shadow of reality and the rallying cry of ‘power to the people’ is consistently being disproved. The reality is that branches choose from a pool of leaders that have already been carefully selected by lobby groups and conferencepreneurs.

The poverty of our people in townships and rural areas has been exploited by those higher up and their right to choose leaders has thus been invalidated. To put it differently, a great majority of our branches are populated by unemployed people whose affiliation is sometimes paid by their councillors or local leaders thus committing themselves in a Faustian Pact which permanently suspends their membership rights. Patronage has engulfed the fundamental democratic traits of our organisation and now members in branches are told who to elect. The ‘raise this to the branch’ refrain which is consistently given to those seeking to question or correct the misdemeanours prevailing is often given with an understanding that the branches are already assembled to close space for particular views.

The Banishing of Comrades

Many of the comrades who were deployed in the bureaucracy, business and parastatals were easily chased away using this organisational structure. As years progressed they became increasingly alienated from their organisation and this correlated with the growing arrogance of the comrades who took the political stream. They were thus exiled in corporate and the movement was robbed of the wealth of knowledge that they possess.

Their re-entry was always prescribed and it mostly happened when they were going to be used for this or that grand scheme of corruption in a municipality, government department or state entity. The entire organisation was thus left as a preserve of the politicians and all other activists who were in government, business, churches and NGOs were made outsiders. The activists tap was closed and whenever people wanted to speak they were referred to the branch, even though all knew the shortcomings of such an organ.

The exiling of comrades continues till this day and one of its manifestations are the do-or-die conferences where if a person fails to be elected they are totally removed from political life and forced into exile. What usually follow is an overt blacklisting of a comrade when seeking employment or when trying to do business. It also makes it easy for comrades to wish all manner of bad things for their organisation as it has been used for his or her banishment.

The reality is that the exiling of these comrades does not take away their ideas or their activist inclinations and that is why they are sometimes targeted by oppositional forces. These are mostly first generational black middle-class individuals who have experienced oppression and as such they are not easily lured into such advances by the opposition.  They have however produced an offspring during their bureaucratic exile years. It is this second generational middle-class youth which is proving to be the base for the opposition and general dissent against the movement. It is this generation, birthed by our comrades, which has been captured by the dinner table discussions of liberals and right wingers, who are understandably, mostly white.

It is important that this thesis is not misinterpreted to mean an existence of angels (the exiled) and demons (the politicians). Whilst the lines are blurred, there exists a clear crop of committed comrades who are still serving in political structures in the organisation and in the government. Similarly, there exists a number of comrades who were sent to business who have returned with riches only to fuel and fund all the wrong ills that have come to characterise our internal organisational body politic. So if you were to use the analogy of angels and demons both will exist on each side of the equation.

The Likely Remedies

It is high time that the movement return these exiles through a radical organisational overhaul which will put content at the centre of decision making. This means that the decision making process flow should be decisively relooked. Clearly the reforms that have been applied over the years with the main being ‘Through the Eye of the Needle’ have not produced the best of results. Whilst the ANC is a voluntary organisation, it needs to be however deliberate in its programme of calling back the exiles into their branches and it should properly open space for these comrades to properly participate in its activities.

The ANC needs to further restructure the branch in a manner that responds to the prevalence of patronage politics. It might be important for the organisation to, for instance, have quotas for a broad representation in its branches and overall structures. The representation of workers, church, professionals, NGOs, the unemployed etc. should be included as a provision in the same way that gender is recognised. That this wide arena of groups should be represented should not be only treated as a principle but it should be constitutionalised.   This should additionally include the creation of provisions for geographic spread and representation of different national groups.

The usual rebuttal of the above proposal will be that it is undemocratic and too prescriptive. The reality however is that we have been able to achieve this in the implementation of the gender requirements and members thus express their democratic wishes knowing that 50 percent or more of a structure should be female comrades.  The second rebutting point would be that this proposal alone will not eliminate the patronage networks as factional groups can carefully select people to be elected in this broadly representative form. It is important to understand that whilst this is likely to be the case, the life of an organisational structure will be more fluid and dynamic with this broad representation. This will therefore be a necessary addition to other broad measures that the organisation will have to undertake.

Luzuko Buku is a former SASCO General Secretary and ANC Member

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