Picture the following scenario: it is December 2012. The ANC is wrapping up its Mangaung elective conference. Kgalema Motlanthe has just delivered his acceptance speech as the new president of the ANC and he has thanked two recent presidents he has worked with intimately – Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.
This means Motlanthe would have witnessed two ANC and state presidents whose tenure ended prematurely. He would have worked with Mbeki as the secretary-general of the ANC and Zuma as deputy president of both the organisation and the government.
This would probably put him in good stead to complete two uninterrupted presidential terms. More than his performance over his presidential reign, he would have developed an insight on how his recent predecessors lost out on completing their terms.
Thus he would be better positioned to avoid similar traps.
However, the issue is not about Motlanthe’s ascendancy within the top echelons of the ANC. Rather, it is the ANC’s organisational inability to hold its top six officials accountable collectively for the state of the organisation.
There is no institutional arrangement to assess the performance of the top six. They have very little obligation to exercise collective leadership. This anomaly allows for the irony that if they fail as a collective, some still get rewarded.
The ANC’s “organisational renewal” discussion document dismisses the perception that factionalism and disunity is a product of the post-Polokwane era. However, it does acknowledge that the situation gained ascendancy post-Polokwane. If this is correct, then a pre-Polokwane collective leadership assessment of the top six would have concluded that it failed the ANC – in its entirety.
Interestingly neither Zuma nor Motlanthe would have become numbers one and two in both the movement and the ANC as they were also part of the top six pre-Polokwane.
Furthermore, if the observations that ill-discipline and factionalism gained ascendancy after Polokwane, then the entire top six must accept collective responsibility.
In other words, properly organised, obligated and assessed, there ought not to be a single shining star within the top six.
The incentive for a higher position within the top six ought to arise on the back of a collective leadership success.
However, this is not a motivation for “pass one, pass all” or “fail one, fail all”, just that a balance ought to be drawn between individual glory and collective responsibility among the top six officials.
The isolation of individual leaders within the top six as being of a higher grade leadership creates fertile grounds for conspiracies, manipulation and backstabbing. It creates uneasiness for the sitting president and an atmosphere of suspicion and thus more disunity within the top six.
It fosters disintegration within a leadership structure that ought to be highly cohesive and disciplined, much more so than any other structure within the organisation.
The recent “top six unity press conference” is a case in point in this regard. In fact, it actually achieved the opposite.
There is growing evidence based on the run-up to both the Polokwane and Mangaung elective conferences that the ANC’s principle of collective leadership is becoming more rhetorical than a sustained reality. The slates that are the hallmarks of these elective conferences do not reflect collective leadership but factional preferences.
Consequently, in the immediate aftermath of the elective conference, some within the movement begin to entertain the idea who should take over as the next president. Zuma’s inclination to go for a second term was discussed almost two months after he assumed the presidency.
It is an increasing norm in organisations that performance assessments look at both the individual and the unit within which the individual operates.
At the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), performance assessments are done for both the individual and the unit. Many organisations are increasingly refraining from paying performance bonuses to individuals on the basis that the organisation as a whole did not perform satisfactorily.
This is not punitive, but provides an incentive for collective responsibility, collective accountability and collective assessment.
This compels the top leadership and management of the organisation to act collectively, and jointly own and implement collective decisions.
Had this been the case within the top six of the ANC, Mathews Phosa would not have represented former youth league president Julius Malema when the latter was charged, presumably by the top six. It means Phosa would not have contradicted the decision to put some Limpopo government departments under administration in one of his speeches in that province.
The top six officials would have retorted with one voice when the leadership of the youth league was allegedly making statements contrary to the policies of the ANC.
In essence, holding the top six collective accountable will infuse discipline and leadership cohesion within the top six itself. It will also have a transcendental effect on the entire organisation. Ideally, when the rest of the organisation realises that there is unity, discipline and cohesion within the top six, it is likely to follow suit.
In fact, it is likely to discourage factionalism because such groupings will have no point of entry within the top six.
The fact that some leaders within the top six have been singled out for exit way before the succession discussions were open within the movement is an indication of the fluid unity within the top six.
When several leaders are demonised and others praised, with no collective corrective response by the top six, then collective leadership is a myth.
Due to the ANC’s lack of a systematic performance assessment for the top six officials, the organisation is therefore unable to manage internal leadership succession.
There is always a systematic link between leadership performance, organisational stability and succession planning and management.
The inability to manage leadership performance results in organisational instability.
Coupled with the lack of a succession plan and management, factions arise and individuals’ ascendancy to powerful positions depends on which factions wield more power.
This situation leads to three unfortunate outcomes: the development of patronage within the powerful factions; marginalisation of those who are not located within the powerful faction; and “elected” individuals who are more likely to dance to the tune of the factions that put them in power than to the broader membership of the organisation.
Ascendancy to leadership, therefore, is not a result of careful succession management but a revolving door syndrome depending on who pushes the door and who is put next to the door.
Ultimately, the organisation only exists sentimentally, rather than substantively.
Hence the ANC’s current preoccupation with its own renewal.
The ANC’s “Organisational Renewal” draft document highlights the need for an astute and decisive leadership. Yet it does not stipulate how it is to be attained and sustained.
Given that the ANC is researching and exploring means to modernise itself to fit into the current context, it needs to consider establishing a performance assessment committee.
Among other things, the committee ought to assess the performance of the top six officials of the party.
More than any other structures, the top six individuals’ job description are clearly spelled out in the ANC’s constitution.
Their performance contracts would be based on the elective conference resolutions. The performance committee would be made by individuals who are not members of the party’s national executive committee (NEC).
This is because the performance committee would account and submit its reports to the NEC.
This would include the organisational report that the ANC’s secretary-general presents at the electoral conference. This report, before it gets to the national working committee and the NEC would be reviewed and assessed by the performance committee.
Thus, the performance committee would have to be constituted by a technical team, knowledgeable and experienced in organisational development but highly in sync with the ANC’s historical mandate as a liberation movement and strategic objectives as the ruling party.
The unity of the ANC will be possible if the responsibility for such is a collective obligation of the top leadership. This will require a systematic approach that makes it difficult for factions abruptly to elevate certain individuals while demonising others.
n Hlophe is a political scientist and a member of Kunjalo House.