ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, ANC president Jacob Zuma, his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
IS THE ANC becoming an ordinary political party? This might seem an odd question, except that in the South African context, it is entirely relevant. For decades the ANC has referred to itself as a “liberation movement”.

Often as a “glorious movement”. Certainly, in the generation since it came to power, the ANC has always represented itself as more than a political party: it has seen itself as the sole legitimate representative of the nation and the standard bearer of the national democratic revolution (whatever that might be after 23 years in the government).

Nothing was more important than being a loyal and disciplined “cadre” and the unity of the movement was paramount.

Changes started a decade and more ago. After Polokwane, with its bitterly fought election between President Jacob Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki, the faction-forming and the subsequent recall of Mbeki as president, things were never going to be the same again. Change has speeded up and the faction-forming and the inevitable slate politics have become the norm in the government.

Ours must be the most disunited government in the world. Despite the doctrine of cabinet co-responsibility, ministers and their deputies say what they like about each other.

A senior minister, Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu, is able to say, with reference to the Zuma rape charge of 10 years ago that she believes that Khwezi, the woman Zuma was found not guilty of raping, did indeed believe she had been raped.

Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor - Deputy Minister Cyril Ramaphosa’s choice as deputy president - talking about perceptions of corruption, said some cabinet colleagues live beyond their means and some must be getting money from “elsewhere”.

Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Kebby Maphatsoe, the former army chief who emerged as the president of Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), openly backs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma against his cabinet colleague, the deputy president of the ANC, and has attacked Ramaphosa for pursuing factions. There are many more examples.

This disunity does not surprise, given the certain knowledge that several cabinet members no longer serve the public as their first priority, but have allowed themselves to become the lackeys and perhaps even the appointees of Zuma’s friends, the Guptas.

When corruption spreads its tentacles as far as it has among the loyal cadres deployed to positions of authority in national, provincial and local government and into all of the state-owned entities, it is not surprising that the collegiality and the comradeship that famously existed has died.

The evolution of the ANC has been most marked in the current leadership election. In the movement it was simply not done to express any ambition to serve in a particular office or position. It was totally frowned on and the fiction was maintained that loyal cadres would accept whatever deployment the ANC decided on for them: this while campaigning furiously underground.

Things are changing - most people would think for the better - and the current crop of candidates are campaigning openly all over the country, attempting to win the support of branches, regions and provinces. This is exactly what should happen in a democracy. When Ramaphosa announced his Top 6 and especially his choice for deputy president he was attacked from all sides. The Star came out with a blazing headline: “Cyril’s big blunder”.

This was all based on the fact that some thought it wrong for him to express his preference for the people he would feel most comfortable working with in the leadership of the ANC. That his opponents were likewise circulating lists of their preferred candidates, just leaking it to the media, was forgotten.

The truth is that it was actually a good step forward in the normalising of our politics. The ANC could learn a thing or two about internal party democracy from the DA. Not only does the DA have peaceful meetings where all members have the right to express their views without fear of being hurt or killed, but it welcomes open competition for office.

Every member has the right to be nominated for any office in the party - from the highest to the most junior.

When Western Cape Premier Helen Zille announced she was standing down as leader after eight years, Mmusi Maimane, Wilmot James and several others announced they were considering standing. Open nominations were called for and all the aspirants were given the opportunity of meeting and addressing congress delegates.

The Gauteng provincial congress of the DA takes place later this month.

Politicians need to work hard to be elected into positions, not just rely on a slate or a more senior friend to give them a leg-up in return for lap-dog support.

Open campaigning should help ensure it is merit that will count in the final voting because these are the upwardly mobile people the voters will in due course entrust with their future.

The more one knows about them and what they stand for, the better our democracy will be. An ANC that becomes a normal political party such as one finds in every constitutional democracy in the world would certainly strengthen ours.