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Johannesburg - ANC heavyweight and National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel has warned against a purge of leaders who appear not to “toe a particular line”, as the party gathers for its national conference starting on Sunday.
The party “should treasure leaders who could best contribute to the continuity of values and history. If it did not, it would weaken itself”.
The tradition of the ANC drawing on the “skills and acumen of the brightest and best among us should be sought out again”.
“To contribute, an individual does not necessarily have to be in the top six, but the ANC shouldn’t eject skills from the leadership cadre.”
Manuel’s comments come on the eve of the ANC’s Mangaung conference, with the party deeply divided over those who want President Jacob Zuma to serve a second term, and those pushing for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to replace him. Manuel made it clear that he would not be drawn into discussing camps, slates or his preferences.
“I do not see the difference between various slates as representing diametrically opposed policy platforms. There appears to be little that separates slates on policy, so we are down to personalities…”
The Mangaung conference, rather, should focus on accountability of leaders, jobs and unemployment, inequality, corruption, mass migration into urban areas and the challenges these raised.
“Slates tend to distort the attributes of individual members. The problem is that exceedingly talented individuals could be overlooked for people who have a popular appeal.”
Provincial general councils during the nomination process had tended to focus on individual slates. In the absence of developing policy nuances, this appeared to be “quite out of character” with what the ANC had been in the past, he said.
Speaking to Business Day two weeks ago, Motlanthe said that should he not be voted back into a leadership position in the party and government, he would like to go back to working on the political education of Congress of SA Students (Cosas) activists.
Having served as secretary-general of the party for a decade, Motlanthe’s solid theoretical acumen and intimate knowledge of the ANC and its organisational challenges is widely recognised.
Manuel said the training of cadres was “an investment in leadership” and should not be “overlooked in highly factionalised environments. Talent should always supersede camps”, he said.
“It would be a profound tragedy if the skills of (Motlanthe) are no longer available as part of the skills set that the national leadership of the ANC collectively possesses.”
Manuel called for a “framework of accountability” as the basis from which leaders should be elected. Too little was currently asked of elected ANC leaders in this respect, he said.
“It would be better (if) the ANC focused on frameworks in terms of which it could hold those deployed into government accountable.
“If the ANC believes that a large conference such as this would be able to hold people accountable for the technical functions that they will perform in government, it would repeat a huge mistake.”
He suggested using the results of Census 2011 as a possible “accountability framework” to “measure deviations off the agreed path” of attaining the “stated political goals of raising living standards”.
Despite proposed sweeping amendments to the party’s constitution aimed at stemming corrupt activities by ANC members and deployees to government, Manuel said there was space for more to be done. “More could still be done before the 2014 elections if people are put on terms now.”