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Can the ANC be renewed in the face of intensifying factional battles?

In all respects there is no doubt that President Cyril Ramaphosa wants a second term as leader of the ANC, says the writer. Picture:Werner Beukes/SAPA/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

In all respects there is no doubt that President Cyril Ramaphosa wants a second term as leader of the ANC, says the writer. Picture:Werner Beukes/SAPA/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Apr 10, 2022


Professor B Dikela Majuqwana

The ANC has declared to the public its mission of organisational renewal. The aim is to arrest continuing decline in electoral outcomes as shown by the results of last year’s local government elections.

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One of the causes of poor electoral performance is public perception that ANC leaders do not care about the voters and are allowing corruption and lawlessness to flourish for the benefit of political leaders and their families.

The voter counts only as “voting cattle” to echo the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

At the recent Mpumalanga provincial conference of the ANC which ended on April 3, President Cyril Ramaphosa called for unity saying: “Let’s rid ourselves of self-serving individuals. The ANC must come first. One of the most distinctive features of an organisation is when it asserts the issue of discipline.”

Responding to the burning down of the ANC office in Mpumalanga, Ramaphosa related this to the ANC saying: “The house is on fire and comrades, you must put out the fires of corruption, division, and everything wrong in the province.”

These comments are fresh from the first of the nine provincial conferences that the ANC will be hosting in preparation for the national conference at the end of the year.

In them, one can glean an undeniable truth that the president knows the ANC is deeply divided. What is not immediately obvious from Ramaphosa’s comments is his attitude to the cause of these divisions, factionalism.

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For that we must take a look at the results of the Mpumalanga event.

Ramaphosa is clearly happy with the group that gained victory there, led by Mandla Ndlovu as the new provincial chairperson.

For him, it means he has successfully rendered harmless his current deputy and potential adversary, DD Mabuza.

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That “The Cat” was nowhere to be seen next to Ramaphosa alerts us that his talk of unity is a façade. Most likely what he means is “unity” and “renewal” of his faction.

If unity means anything different, it will be tested in the case of the Eastern Cape and others still to come during the year. The Eastern Cape provincial conference will take place on the April 22-24.

According to recent reports, the current incumbent is up against two different opponents.

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Oscar Mabuyane is Ramaphosa’s man. His opponents are Babalo Madikizela and Mlibo Qoboshiyane. We have a single position in the ANC contested by three different comrades. Such a development seems unprecedented in recent years.

This alone shows that factional conflicts are far from declining. If anything, factional slates are now what characterise ANC political culture.

This takes our memory back to the “festival of the chairs” in 2017 when Mabuyane was elected to his current role against a background of violence and chaos in East London.

Can something worse than that “festival” be in the offing?

In all respects there is no doubt that Ramaphosa wants a second term as leader of the ANC. Furthermore, his faction would like to entrench itself and be secure in the knowledge that their opponents have been reduced into mere irritants with no real influence.

This is important if we consider that Ramaphosa’s victory at Nasrec in 2017 was hardly convincing. It is not far-fetched today to imagine that his faction would like to see a split in the ANC with opponents breaking off to set up their own party.

This ideal situation would help Ramaphosa and his faction to mould the ANC in his image.

But would that put an end to ANC-leadership led corruption and secure the much-touted renewal?

In politics, unlike in science, it is often the case that protagonists engage in heated debates and violent disputes without ever securing a common definition of what is meant by terms in use, such as “corruption”.

Similarly with phrases such as ‘state capture’.

What we know is that both corruption and ‘state capture’ aim at securing monopoly of access to state resources.

When politicians talk of ‘corruption’ the label only applies to their opponents. Likewise, when Ramaphosa talks of corruption, he is obviously excluding himself and his most important supporters.

His aim is to paint his opponents into a corner, as is the case with the step-asiding of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

If Ramaphosa gains victory and manages to secure the dominance he desires, his best hope is that he can successfully redefine corruption and make it disappear from the ANC.

This strategy is already being tried out in the case of Covid-19 contracting where the public is yet to see swift progress to ensure political accountability for widespread corruption and misuse of public funds.

As reports of medical personnel and clinicians going unpaid in Gauteng make the rounds, we are yet to see those who exercise authority and final oversight being made to account by the ANC.

Similarly, the meaning of the word ‘renewal’ in relation to the ANC. It carries meaning for Ramaphosa if understood as achieving decisive victory and dominance by his faction to be able to reduce opponents into minor irritants.

This is what many of those now investing in a reconfigured ANC would like to realise by hook or crook.

Far from being part of a solution, Ramaphosa is proving to be part of the problems the ANC faces.

* Professor Majuqwana is the head of engineering at the University of Zululand. He writes in his personal capacity.