Shaping SA on a shadowed reality

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The candidates for the top six positions in the ANC should make presentations at the organisation’s policy conference about their suitability to lead the organisation in the positions they seek elections for. The ANC needs to make some drastic changes in the manner it manages policy development and succession management.

The ANC’s policy conference deliberates on the strategic path for both the organisation and the state.

It is prudent that those who have the desire to drive the ensuing programme are openly engaged on their vision to drive this agenda.

The policy conference is the most viable platform wherein they can articulate their views and proposed means to take the organisation to a higher level.

In this way, the ANC would have established a critical link between a five-year strategic programme, and the leadership personnel to drive such an agenda.

This would enhance the quality of policy deliberations. Furthermore, it would remain the sail over clandestine lobbying and conspiracies for leadership positions.

It would also clear the suspicion over the incumbent leadership that not allowing for open individual positioning for leadership is an act of self-preservation.

This would give the voting membership of the ANC a sense of self-confidence to act maturely in both policy deliberations and succession matters.

While the ANC’s policy conference is meant to determine the strategic direction of the movement, it has become the boxers’ pre-fight weigh-in sessions for leadership positions. Rather than an objective reflection on policy proposals tabled, it now matters who authored such policy proposals.

Draft policy proposals are read with the suspicion of the perceived factional location of the author or group of authors. Eventually, what ought to be the ANC’s policy positions and programmes are then seen as the preserve of a certain group within the movement.

One common example here is the so-called ’96 project dismissively used to determine the leadership grouping led by former president Thabo Mbeki.

This leadership drove and consolidated the Gear economic policy, AsgiSA, and the African Renaissance agenda that yielded the AU and the Nepad programme.

Thus, when the ’96 project was replaced by the “Polokwane project” in 2007, certain programmes pursued by the former fell off. For example: the prominence of Nepad has declined, and little is said around the AsgiSA.

These projects have not reached their life span, but rather are associated with a dislodged grouping within the ANC.

The danger in associating ANC policy and programmatic positions with certain groups is that it erodes organisational continuity.

This presents a policy development danger within the ANC. It is not the inability to produce good quality policies, but that the acceptability and continued implementation is dependent on appreciation by the dominant group at that moment. In the process, valuable resources with historical memory, experience and technical acumen are lost both to the ANC and the state.

The faction ownership and rejection of policy positions also means that policies adopted through resolutions are seen as resolutions of the winning group, and not of the movement in its entirety.

The adopted policy programmes lack the substantive buy-in and commitment by the whole organisation. At worst, it means these will equally be ditched at the 2017 policy conference, depending on which grouping will be dominant at the time.

The forthcoming policy conference’s value is likely to be castrated in the following aspects.

First, it will be unable to lay foundations for the medium to long-term policy and programme planning because it will revolve around the incoming leadership for the next five years. Second, the policy resolutions to emerge from the dominant group are not guaranteed broader organisational support due to post-conference disunity, and further leadership contestation. Third, the losing factions will immediately embark on an overdrive to undermine the ensuing resolution simply because of their association with rival factions.

Fourth, informed and astute individual members will censor themselves from articulating good points in instances where such may hinder their chances at the Mangaung elective conference. Last, rather than policy principles, the ANC will increasingly revolve around dominant groupings.

The above scenario is rooted in the following context: the relationship between being in a leadership position, and access and control of resources.

This has resulted in the replacement of individual organisational commitment with lobby groups within the ANC. This is inspired by the quest for patronage.

Thus, unless the non-state sector of the economy grows fundamentally such that a better life is possible without reliance on state resources, the above will persist. In fact, the battle for leadership access and control within the ANC will intensify rather than factions parting ways to start their own political parties.

Former president Thabo Mbeki spent a significant amount of his energies discouraging grass-roots members against careerism, and yet the biggest careerism danger was, and still is, at the leadership level.

The second revolves around the challenge of leadership in an open democratic organisation within a democratic society. It is more difficult to lead an open democratic organisation in an open democratic society than a non-democratic society. According to Pamela Brill, a leading scholar of political leadership, this is because the individual members of the organisation enjoy “… the sacred value of freedom (which) enables individuals to hold many differing points of view regarding the critical issues and optimal solutions”. The difference, though, in the ANC’s case, is largely material driven rather than being intellectual, substantive differences.

The two above are fuelled by the ANC’s lack of a succession plan and management.

The current succession management approach has only served to fuel underground lobbying, scheming and conspiracies.

The above disruptive conditions do provide a context for the ANC’s forthcoming conference to emerge with some serious groundbreaking policy resolutions.

Yet it is equally difficult to perceive that indeed this will happen.

Organisational development guru Charles Handy makes two points that are essential to change: the ability to read the changing world, and thus adjust accordingly; and the courage to make what he terms “discontinuous change” – making change that has nothing to do with the past.

The current historical trajectory necessitates a major policy shift by the ANC. In fact, the movement has always risen to the challenge of major policy shift whenever historical conditions demanded such.

A few examples from recent history will suffice: the sunset clause policy position that ushered a government of national unity is a product of the ANC; the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) is another major policy product of the ANC; and Gear as a fundamental economic policy that has sustained SA’s economic policy is another major policy product of the ANC.

Therefore, a major shift in ANC policy is not out of reach. The question is whether it has a leadership political will to do so.

The ANC seems still to be operating in a transitional gear when the context of both the organisation and that of the state indicates greater normalisation. The current modus operandi of the ANC both in terms of policy making and succession management was crafted and is relevant for a transitional period.

Given that the ANC is a ruling party of a modern state that requires high degrees of technical acumen and a leadership with the ability to deal with complex issues, and engage with complex constituencies, the transitional mode for both policy making and leadership succession requires major policy shifts.

One possible policy shift is that the ANC should consider the centrality of individuals who seek to ascend to leadership positions. Both the ANC and society at large are increasingly yearning for leaders who sell their vision, articulate their proposed programmes, and are individually willing to be subjected to assessment for their leadership performance.

The ANC ought to produce a policy framework, rules and regulations that facilitate a more open individual ascension to leadership positions.

The situation wherein individuals emerge from behind the scenes to assume leadership positions has resulted in some serious inconsistencies.

Nelson Mandela’s presidency focused on reconciliation, Mbeki’s on the African Renaissance and Zuma’s on domestic issues through infrastructure development.

While these may not be bad choices, it is rather unfortunate that they become pronounced after these men have assumed the throne.

On the eve of the policy conference, nobody really knows what the touted names for leadership stand for. It is difficult to discern their capacities and capabilities as leaders in their own right.

In the same manner that the ANC presents its draft policy documents for public scrutiny, the same (albeit limited to the organisation’s policy conference) should happen to ANC prospective leaders seeking the top six positions.

Plato observed that some people get accustomed to the shadows, and translate these as reality. When these people are subjected to the actual reality, they have a serious challenge to adjust, so much so that they prefer the shadows to reality.

Is it possible that the ANC has translated the transitional period as the lasting reality?

n Hlophe is a political scientist


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