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From the most junior officials through to senior-ranking leaders, President Jacob Zuma included, the ANC has conceded that its communication skills are wanting.
“So we are going on a programme, even Zuma, to improve. We told him. Everyone has agreed,” senior party leader Mathews Phosa said on Friday as the policy conference came to a close in Midrand, Gauteng.
“I accept that our communication has not been up to scratch, both in the party and at the government level. It’s important that we all know how to communicate.
“In government, we have had problems. The tension that existed between (government spokesman Jimmy) Manyi and the media was not good. That will have to improve. There is no benefit in being hostile. The same applies at the party level.”
Phosa was responding to a question about the president’s tendency to be defensive.
However, throughout the four-day conference, Zuma and his peers went the whole nine yards to be accommodating and friendly to the media and struck a tone that was markedly different from previous ANC conferences. Party spokesmen Jackson Mthembu and Keith Khoza kept their interactions cordial and helpful, day and night.
“We told them before the conference began. This was important to us. It’s part of what we are trying to achieve,” said Phosa.
The ANC has also proposed a smaller national executive committee (NEC) and has suggested cutting the 80-member team back to 60. Kgalema Motlanthe has pushed for this for some time and would like to see it below the 60 mark, as would Phosa, who believes it should be cut to 35 or 40.
“When we came back from exile, it was smaller… and it was more efficient and effective,” Phosa said. A smaller team gave its members “a chance to really talk and think things through. And their decisions were very considered. It was like law. And when the NEC would meet, we would wait for the outcome with great expectation, wondering what the communiqué would say.”
However, the growth in party numbers in the past five years is presenting problems of a different sort. Dissenting views among party members were evident in Midrand, which became acute during the discussions about nationalisation and land reform. A significant number of delegates want state control, yet the leadership appears to be unable to stand up and tell its members it will not do it. It is doubtful that a smaller NEC or a more sleek style of communication will settle the matter.