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Factional politics undermines ANC’s 2032 renewal roadmap

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, centre, with the party’s new Mpumalanga provincial leadership elected last Saturday. Contrary to the assertion that the ANC is on a renewal trajectory, factional politics remain steadfast, says the writer. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, centre, with the party’s new Mpumalanga provincial leadership elected last Saturday. Contrary to the assertion that the ANC is on a renewal trajectory, factional politics remain steadfast, says the writer. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 10, 2022

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By Bheki Mngomezulu

The year 2022 is a defining year for the ANC in its renewal agenda. It will test the party’s honesty and determination to rebuild itself after experiencing several challenges.

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The reality is that the image of the party has been dented on many fronts. In-fighting, fading comradeship, declining party loyalty, vilification by both leaders and members, corrupt activities, intra-party and intra-alliance killings as well as public spats by senior party leaders are examples of some of the ills that have engulfed the ANC.

In the process, support for the party has dwindled as evidenced in the last year’s local government elections. While it is true that voter apathy cannot be attributed solely to the ANC, the reality is that the significantly reduced number of people who participated in the local government elections affected the ANC more than any other party.

This can be explained by the number of municipalities which the ANC lost to opposition political parties – including some metros. What made the situation even more glaring was the fact that the ANC is the governing party in the National Assembly and in most of the provinces, except for the Western Cape.

These developments happen at a time when the ANC has embarked on the renewal project. When Cyril Ramaphosa ascended to the position of ANC president in 2017, he gave the impression that his marginal victory had set the ANC on a new and unprecedented pedestal.

The fact that he had secured this victory by a mere 179 votes did not actually bother him. All he was interested in was to rebuild the ANC. When he became the president of South Africa to finish former president Jacob Zuma’s term after he was forced to resign in February 2018, Ramaphosa made similar statements about the country.

He talked about “The New Dawn” that he was coming with. He also regretted the “Nine Lost Years” under his predecessor. What he did not tell the nation and the world was that he was part of that administration.

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Almost five years down the line, the questions which beg for attention are the following: Has the ANC been renewed? Is the party more united than it was in 2017? Has the ANC’s support increased or decreased since 2017? Broadly, is the country in a better state now than it was in 2017 when looking at unemployment figures, the state of the economy and such related issues?

In a nutshell, has “The New Dawn” descended on both the ANC and the country? I will let the readers be the judges. The focal point of this opinion piece is the impact of the regional and provincial conferences of the ANC on its renewal agenda.

This topic has been triggered by some of the conferences that have been held recently, especially in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape provinces. Contrary to the assertion that the ANC is on a renewal trajectory, factional politics remain steadfast. In the case of Mpumalanga, going to the provincial conference, it was clear that there was no unity.

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Instead of nominating candidates based on their requisite skills and credentials, people were nominated based on the slate to which they belong. Mandla Ndlovu, who emerged victorious as the ANC’s provincial chairperson, was already on record stating that he supported Ramaphosa to continue for a second term as the party leader and thus as the presidential candidate in 2024. His four colleagues sang the same tune.

When the results were announced, the Ramaphosa slate won the day. No one from the other slate, led by Lucky Ndinisa, made it to the top five positions.

Now, the question arises: Does this help the party’s renewal course? I do not think so. In the Eastern Cape, Chris Hani, which is the most influential region in that province, put its weight behind the current premier, Oscar Mabuyane, who is a known supporter of Ramaphosa. As such, those who support him, by implication, also support Ramaphosa to come back for a second term.

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Even the eThekwini regional conference in KwaZulu-Natal could not be insulated from the “slate politics”. Thabani Nyawose is a known supporter of Ramaphosa, while Zandile Gumede is the face of the other faction or slate. Given this synopsis, regional and provincial conferences of the ANC do not assist the party in its renewal agenda.

Instead, they sustain divisions and promote factional politics. These things happen under Ramaphosa’s watch. One wonders if this is “The New Dawn” that he espoused when he rose to power. If the ANC fails to address these factions, it will pay a heavy price in the 2024 elections.

* Mngomezulu is a Professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape

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