Dear comrade Deputy President Motlanthe,
During the course of the week, we read ad nauseam about a statement which you made during a BBC Hardtalk interview with Stephen Sackur in 2017. Perhaps in the pursuit of sensationalism, the statement resurfaced again this week as a headline by Eyewitness News - “ANC NEEDS TO LOSE ELECTIONS TO REFLECT". This headline subsequently brought this statement to life again. Admittedly we could have written to you in 2017, luckily for us, Karl Marx’s most quoted works comes to mind - “History repeats itself first as tragedy then as [a] farce.”
As a result, we sit here with an election, do we let the farce continue unabated or should we attempt to arrest it. We have elected to discuss both the tragedy and the farce.
As we understand it, you still hold membership of the African National Congress (ANC) and continue to associate yourself with it to date. You are a member who has had the distinct privilege of serving in the liberation movement’s top six in two different capacities, first as Secretary General (SG) and later as Deputy President (DP).
As former SG and subsequently former DP, (though in ANC language we seldomly use the word “former” when referring to officials because we acknowledge that the expertise and experience gained serving in a particular position becomes part of ones make-up and is therefore never lost to the organisation) we assume and appreciate that your utterances come from a place of great love for the ANC and deep concern over the state of affairs not only within the organisation but also within government as the governing party.
In your September 2017 interview, which was conducted ahead of the December 2017 watershed 54th National Conference of the ANC, you say “the ANC has the opportunity to renew itself but that will take lots of courage, and failing that, it has to hit rock bottom, it has to lose elections for a penny to drop".
You then proceed to say: “For as long as it is associated with corruption and failure, people will vote it out. It would be good for the ANC itself if it were to be voted out because those elements who are in it for the largesse will quit it. They will desert it – only then will the possibility arise for salvaging whatever is left of it.”
Well firstly, we agree with the general thrust of your problem statement, which is in our interpretation that the ANC was formed with one of its main objectives being to transform South Africa as rapidly as possible into a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous country, and as a result of the sins of incumbency, we have veered away from this objective.
It is indeed true that an ANC which is associated with being self-involved and inward looking, divided and occupied with factionalism, unaccountable to the electorate and viewed as corrupt and not the vehicle which is expected to deliver a National Democratic Society. Therefore, there is no question that the ANC needs to realign itself not only with South Africans but also its historical values.
Where we fundamentally differ is the “solution” you present which seeks to say that, we must lose elections in order to reflect. Having scoured various texts and platforms we have not been able to find a substantive argument offered to explain how the total loss of confidence by the electorate in the ANC will lead to its renewal and or reflection. In fact, this in our view is a classic post-hoc fallacy, as this statement which has been attributed to you on two occasions assumes that losing an election is a pre-condition for self-correction.
Borrowing from the Organisational Report you delivered as SG to the 52nd National Conference in 2007, “…The ANC has always (been) be truthful to the people and never hide or conceal its own shortcomings and weaknesses, or the extent of the challenges that we face. Consequently, our people continue to hold the ANC in high regard, and demonstrate their confidence by coming out in even greater numbers in support our movement in each successive election.”
One can rightly (or wrongly) argue that 2007 was a long time ago and that things have worsened since then, however, the ANCs ability to honestly self-critique is
evident in the Organisational Report delivered by former SG comrade Gwede Mantashe to the ANCs 54th National Conference in 2017.
Therefore, comrade DP, perhaps you ought to pen down your ideas as to how you moved from the illustrated position to the one where the very same organisation “should be voted out because [of elements] who are in it for largesse.” We do believe that we will greatly benefit from such text as the absence of it has left us to interpret your thoughts as presented in the media.
In search of some answer, we have come to the conclusion that the implied logic in statement is that the corrupt and problematic elements within the ANC will dissociate themselves from the governing party because it will not longer wield political power.
Even, this type of logic we find is a-historical as problematic elements within ANC date as far back as 1969, epically memorialized in the Hani memorandum. Wherein Hani with six other comrades namely Z.R. (Jeqe) Mbengwa, Leonard Pitso, Ntabenkosi Fipaza (Mbali), Wilmot Hempe,Tamana Gobozi (Mikza), and G. S. Mose (Jackson) Mlenze problematized the conduct of the leadership at the time as follows: “We, as genuine revolutionaries, are moved by the frightening depths reached by the rot in the ANC and the disintegration of M.K. accompanying this rot and manifesting itself in the following way: The ANC Leadership in Exile has created machinery which has become an end in itself. It is completely divorced from the situation in South Africa.”
But the Hani Memorandum did not stop there it proffered a solution as follows, “the development of the Revolution has necessitated a renewal and rejuvenation of those who are leading it. We must guard against the fossilization of the leadership as this is likely to hinder the progressive development of the Revolution.” We shudder to think what would have become of the ANC if the likes of Hani and Co. had argued the pessimistic position you now advance.
Evidently, tackling problematic individuals is not a new phenomenon and it is not contingent on an electoral process.
In proving that self correction while in government is possible, we can look to the Chama Cha Mapinduzi movement that’s been in power in Tanzania since the 1960s. The party introduced strong internal processes which ensure that its leaders and deployees are assessed not only by members but all society in general positions. The party has also demonstrated high levels of intolerance against corruption within the party and government which has led to the party’s ability to continuously self-correct.
Once more borrowing from your 2007 Organisational Report to the Polokwane Conference – “A profound and popular movement, which is also a ruling party such as we are, will never be immune from negative tendencies, and elements which are in direct contradiction with these values of courage, generosity, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, truthfulness, integrity and temperance.
"The point, however, is to ensure that through continuous political education the noble values and norms of the African National Congress remain the dominant and defining characteristics of our movement. In order to achieve this, we must devise mechanisms that will enable the membership to combat and defeat the negative tendencies that Lenin, José Marti and countless other revolutionaries have identified and warned us against. We must always strive to correct each other`s weaknesses and reinforce each other’s strong points.”
The real question before us, is how do we ensure that negative tendencies which morphed into and out of Polokwane in 2007 recede. From where we sit no one can wash their hands without truly reflecting on how each of us have contributed to where our movement is today. To your credit, you raised the flag (white or red history will judge) in 2017, either way the flag called for a need to reflect. Be that it is may, even the most righteous amongst know that self-correction does not manifest itself overnight, it’s a process that must residually remould the movement into its glorious self.
So no, comrade Deputy President, we do not need to lose elections to able to reflect and self-correct. All that is needed, is for the leadership of the ANC, and membership alike, to have the courage, generosity, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, truthfulness, integrity and temperance to carry out this historic task.
We shall therefore be counting on your vote as young people of the ANC on the 8th of May.
* Chrispin Phiri and Nonceba Mhlauli are ANC activists who write in their personal capacities.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.