The manner in which the African National Congress chooses its leadership is not only archaic, it is probably the only organisation in the world that does it that way.
The ANC boastfully argues that it is the most democratic way of grassroots involvement because it is the branches that nominate and vote for leadership.
On the surface the assertion that grassroot democracy appears praiseworthy. However, when you look deeper you realize that it is just a charade. Branches of the ANC are supposed to nominate candidates for the positions of Office Bearers, including the position of president of the party. This is done at a Branch General Meeting(BGM). They also nominate for the other 80 additional NEC members. This looks like the epitome of grassroot democracy in which the president is nominated from the most lowest level of the organisation’s structures.
The fact of the matter is that by the time a branch convenes to nominate the leadership, political entrepreneurs at provincial and national have already compiled a slate with the names of all office bearers and additional members of the NEC. Branches are then lobbied to support an exclusive slate led by a particular presidential candidate. The slate is a result of an up democratic in which generals of the contending factions decide who should be president and impose this decision on captured branches. It is never the decision of the branches who the national office bearers should be as well as all other NEC members.
In most systems in the world, a capable and visionary leader, with the right credentials to lead the party, is identified by the party leadership and requested to run for leadership. Sometimes a confident and capable individual raises his/her hand to lead. Outgoing US president Barack Obama falls in this category. The important thing here is that the party leadership knows who has the vision and capacity to lead the party at a party time in its history. An ambitious weak leader will be rejected by the party leadership and that will be the end of the story.
When Helen Zille was approached to lead the DA, the party leadership felt that Tony Leon had run out of stamina to take the party to the next level having kept the warring DP and NP factions of the new party together under difficult circumstances. Zille’ role as party leader was to consolidate the work done by Leon and take the fight to the ANC. She had the personality, the credentials and temperament to do so. Such a decision is not stuff for branches but leadership. She successfully took the party from 16% voter support to 23% until she handed over the reins to Mmusi Maimane who is expected to ram through the 30% psychological barrier. The fact that the DA took Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay in the last local government elections means that Maimane is on course, courtesy of the DA leadership and its brilliant succession plan.
In the ANC world, the branches elected a fatally flawed president in 2007 who has reduced the ANC voter support from 70% to 54% in 2016. As things stand today, the ANC already in serious crisis about succession as president Jacob Zuma prepares to end his second term in December this year. Despite the public pronouncement that nominations for leadership will only be open after the mid-year policy conference, two distinct factions have emerged in the party, one for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the other for Cyril Ramaphosa. When the branches are given the opportunity to nominate, they will be supporting one of the two slates. Talk of grassrooot democracy!
Under these circumstances, it makes sense for the ANC to allow Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa to openly run for office as candidates for president. The ANC must understand that in these modern times it will have to either adapt or die. Despite running the most sophisticated and economically powerful state on the African continent, it is still behaving like an outlawed guerilla movement of the sixties and seventies. It still resembles old fashioned Stalinism instead of surging forward like a modern party. The ANC must stop deceiving itself and smell the coffee. Cyril and Nkosazana are running for president.
In order to manage the unofficial running of the two candidates, the party can establish a committee to work the rules of engagement. The two candidates should be encouraged to crisscross the country lobbying branches, regions, provinces, alliance partners and the South African voters to vote for them. This should be based on their vision and programme that they would pursue once elected president of the party. This makes sense because the two candidates command the largest factional support in the organisation. This would really brighten up the internal campaign as a countdown to the December conference. The alternative is doing what the ANC at the moment – drive the campaign underground and thereby allow the political entrepreneurs with their moneybags to clandestinely the campaign of the contestants.
Now, the ANC hypocritically bars its presidential candidates from campaigning openly because the time has not come. This is so dishonest it is nauseating. In the titanic battle between Thabo Mbeki and Zuma, leading to the Polokwane conference in 2007, the Zuma machine was long in motion by the time the official nomination period was declared. Worse still, in 2012, by the time Kgalema Motlanthe launched his campaign after the official nomination date, the Mshini Wam brigade was in fifth gear. This explains why Motlanthe was humiliated in the conference. Zuma had long been campaigning.
Late last year Cosatu pronounced its support for Ramaphosa to run for president while a day before the January 8 Statement rally the ANC Women’s League officially announced that Dlamini-Zuma was their only candidate for president of the ANC. The generals running the campaigns of both Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa are hard work as we speak while the party publicly denies that. Shame!
Instead, the ANC should allow those with sufficient support to join the fray and run for leadership. The weak with no substantial support will fall by the wayside while the strong will sustain the campaign until conference. This how modern political parties run their internal politics. Let the games begin.
Sello Lediga is a political commentator, Struggle historian and author.