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Ruling party should relook how it recruits members

The patronage politics in fighting for proximity to power in the ANC is deep, says the writer. Picture: Ntombi Nkosi/IOL Politics

The patronage politics in fighting for proximity to power in the ANC is deep, says the writer. Picture: Ntombi Nkosi/IOL Politics

Published Jun 4, 2022

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By Dr John Molepo

Neil Thomas once wrote that “the reasons for the liberation movement’s success has been its cultivation of human capital – any organisation is only as good as its people”.

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The idea that the ANC is a mass organisation is iniquitous simply because anyone can join and participate in its activities. The recent chaotic activities at the Ekurhuleni ANC conference and at many other meetings turned into fights during which members lost their lives. This compels one to ask what kind of members does the ANC recruit?

This was highlighted at an ANC Youth League political event when former ANC president Thabo Mbeki made remarks on the behaviour of some of the members who fought for positions instead of delivering services.

The ANC has been declining in many facets including in its membership, in elections and by losing critical municipalities, and control of the State. This is centred on the behaviour of the members. Who wants to join a political party that is focused on factional fights in which people die? The ANC has always proclaimed itself to be the leader of society.

Citizens followed credible leadership who were passionate about serving communities. Today, in the ANC, a criminal can lead a branch or a region or hold other positions of authority. The basic unit of the ANC is the branch. It starts from there.

The recruitment of the members is a serious challenge, and even the membership systems are that of quantity instead of quality. The politics of money is so deeply entrenched in the ANC that if one has money, one can easily be elected into an influential leadership position. Thus, it is not surprising that you find leaders claiming that they “own that branch."

The patronage politics in fighting for proximity to power in the ANC is deep. Membership serves an individual with access to state resources instead of communities. The ANC launched a political school for its members and leadership. This is a great step towards improving the quality of members in the party, but how many take the school seriously?

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Or is it just a case of collecting certificates that the school offers without one living the values of the organisation? Since its launch, how many have gone to the school – even among those who are contesting and electing councillors? It is high time that the ANC deals decisively with the issue of quality membership.

It can borrow from the Chinese Communist party processes which have seen a decline in the number of its members but an increase in the quality of membership. The Chinese Communist Party went through several agonising processes but eventually won. The bar it set is very high and has had a serious positive impact on the party.

Maybe the ANC should go through the same process to eventually win with regard to the quality of its membership. ANC processes should be able to filter and control unscrupulous members. The current recruitment standard puts political standards above everything else, and that should be expanded.

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The ANC should adopt some of these criteria including interviews, investigations, votes and probation over two to three years before one can become a member and this should be supported by their activities in their communities. With these stringent processes, surely conscientious members would be recruited?

With the evolution of liberation movements, the ANC’s recruitment of potential members should focus on more women and better-employed members. There should be a special focus on recruiting young workers and intellectuals.

The ANC might receive backlash from the people it would drop if it changed its focus from recruiting based on an ideological preference to recruiting based on a practical preference for those with attributes that would be beneficial for the party.

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Nevertheless, the ANC should change its approach in order to prevent the slow death of the liberation movement.

* Molepo is a Senior lecturer of Public Administration at the University of Mpumalanga

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