935 President Jacob Zuma sings after concluding his opening speech as the ANC 53rd congress kicks off in Mangaung, Bloemfontein. 171212. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Bloemfontein - In his acceptance speech at the ANC’s 52nd national conference, then newly elected ANC president Jacob Zuma chose unity and continuity as a central theme.

On Sunday, in his political report, which marked the beginning of the ANC’s 53rd elective conference, Zuma placed huge emphasis on discipline.

By its very nature, a political report is a state of the party analysis. It also provides delegates with a sense of the direction in which the president wants to take the party and where his emphasis would be placed.

The president touched on the main aspects of his administration, patting his government’s political back for doing things that they had promised to do when they took office. He boasted about the National Development Plan and said cabinet ministers were, for the first time in South Africa, being assessed every quarter.

However, Zuma dedicated more time to tough talk on discipline – or the lack thereof – in the ANC and in the government.

The president spent more time on discipline than he did on any other important topic in his speech. He had good reason to do so. The ANC has been plagued by several incidents of ill-discipline, forcing its national disciplinary committee to take action. In the most prominent of cases, the party took action against Julius Malema, then leader of its youth league. Malema was fired from the ANC after being found guilty of, among other charges, misconduct.

Incidents of intimidation, violence, fraud and corruption were reported in the nomination processes held by various branches. In the worst case, top North West ANC official Obuti Chika was shot dead.

“We condemn the use of violence and strongly condemn the killings of ANC leaders, including the ANC Dr Kenneth Kaunda secretary in North West, Comrade Obuti Chika. We condemn the killing of other comrades in other provinces as well earlier this year. We must frown upon other alien practices such as the use of money to buy the support of ANC members. We should not allow a situation where those who have money turn members of the ANC into commodities,” Zuma said, to a thunderous round of applause.

Zuma also expressed his strong displeasure at ANC members who turned to the courts to find solutions to ANC problems. His point was in reference to the unprecedented move by ANC factions in the North West and Free State to approach the courts for relief. The ANC in the Free State was successful. The Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, delivered a judgment that sent shock waves through party circles, ruling that the provincial executive committee of the ANC in the province, elected after a recent conference, was unlawful.

The court further ruled that the decisions take by the provincial structure were invalid.

The judgment forced the ANC national executive committee (NEC) to disband the provincial executive leaving the party’s Free State chairman Ace Magashule as the only surviving member of the provincial leadership. He was not affected by the ruling because he had been directly elected by the national party.

A bid by some in the ANC in the North West to seek court mediation in a political dispute failed. The courts sent the unhappy members back to the ANC, though the ruling instructs the ANC leadership to address the grievances raised by the group.

All of this left Zuma unhappy. “The ANC should also revisit this matter of the people who take the ANC to court when they are unhappy with a particular decision. Some comrades do this even before exhausting internal processes. It is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Zuma referred the delegates to a decision taken by the party’s national general council in 2010 on ill-discipline: “The national executive in particular, and all structures in general, need to act with firmness, fairness and consistency… Acting on the mandate of the national general council and informed by the constitution of the ANC, the leadership dealt with some cases of ill-discipline and some members were expelled and others suspended.

“The lapses in organisational discipline indicate that the incoming national executive committee would need to prioritise political education. There is no need to wait for a formal ANC political school building before we start,” he said.

Zuma was not only tough when he spoke about discipline. He chose particularly strong words when he addressed problems in education.

The president said he did not like the way teachers were dressed when they stood in front of pupils to teach. He repeated his unhappiness at the Limpopo textbook scandal.

“Let me repeat the call to all our teachers, that they should be in school, in class, on time, teaching for seven hours every school day next year. The delivery of textbooks must also improve. The failure to deliver books to Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 this year in Limpopo is an occurrence that must not be repeated,” he said.

Zuma also talked tough on fraud, corruption and government tenders, which many believe to be the source of the scourge.

“The campaign against corruption continues. Our country is one of the most transparent societies when it comes to the fight against corruption, it is talked about often in the public domain as there is a unified effort by all in society to build a corruption-free South Africa.

“Government has established institutions that probe corruption including the Special Investigating Unit, and units within the SAPS, Treasury and other departments. We urge the public to continue assisting these units with information so that we can stop corruption in its tracks.”

The tender process, Zuma said, was an “area of vulnerability in government”.

Mangaung delegates, he suggested, “may wish to deliberate on tendering which is often open to abuse currently”, said Zuma.

* Jovial Rantao is the editor of The Sunday Tribune.