The case of SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is a test for President Jacob Zuma to show us he is leading his party on to a new path, says the writer. File photo: Matthews Baloyi

The NGC set a new path, but will the ANC’s leaders follow it? asks Mcebisi Ndletyana.

Johannesburg - Momentous is the best description of what transpired at the ANC’s fourth national general council (NGC). Elements of the old ANC were, admittedly, still in abundant evidence.

But the NGC also committed to measures that will redefine how we know the ANC.

Understanding the governing party’s attempts at organisational renewal requires an appreciation that change does not come through rebirth. Old practices are capable of spawning new and progressive behaviour.

Self-criticism and open deliberation are customs that have held out the possibility of the party reforming itself.

Identifying a problem comes with the attendant obligation to seek corrective measures.

Corrective measures for a political party are a dictate not only of logic, but necessity.

Reason alone is inadequate to steer the party towards renewal. The threat of losing power is the necessity that has compelled the party to insist on stamping out unbecoming behaviour.

This explains the resolution that decisions of the party’s integrity commission be final, rather than its merely making recommendations as before.

Under the new regime, no longer will a leader facing legal charges be allowed to stay in their position, based on the legalese that “one is innocent until proved guilty”. This resolution indicates a determination that the image of the party should take precedence over technical niceties.

Probity will be aided further by the decision to subject public officials to lifestyle audits, a suggestion that had long been resisted. Its eventual adoption tells of the anxiety gripping the party.

That anxiety even allowed for expression of vulnerability. Leaders openly conceded that the party was on the verge of losing power.

It was not the typically arrogant ANC that gathered last weekend, but a party that was largely reflective and contrite. I am not suggesting impropriety was absent. It wouldn’t be an ANC gathering if there weren’t anything amiss.

It took Bathabile Dlamini, the new president of the ANC Women’s League, to alert delegates that reforms would be highly resisted.

She apparently confronted the party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, about his having associated the women’s conference earlier this year with “deviant behaviour”. Mantashe had been expressing his disapproval of the “vote-buying” that allegedly took place at conference, and said an investigation was under way to identify culprits.

It appears Dlamini didn’t share Mantashe’s condemnation of the use of money to buy votes. She was furious that Mantashe denounced such behaviour as “deviant” and said he wouldn’t have done so if those involved were men.

Could it be that it is the characterisation, not the behaviour itself, that upset Dlamini? She was quite bold to confront the secretary-general for rebuking improper behaviour. Who, or what, gave her such pluck?

It is possible not many of the faithful believe in the party’s quest for renewal. Most people outside the party doubt it will do any of the things it has committed to. It just doesn’t have a good record. We’ll soon know whether it is sincere.

Regional conferences are scheduled for the next few weeks. Joe Gqabi and eThekwini’s have been postponed repeatedly on account of bogus branches. eThekwini’s has been postponed a record four times, at times due to disruptions because people didn’t have numbers on their side.

That Luthuli House has not exerted a stern influence to prevent the conference being dissolved on flimsy grounds has only created suspicion of underhandedness. We’ll see what happens now.

The SABC saga is yet another test for the party. Not only has the ANC reiterated its disapproval of the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the SABC’s chief operating officer, but the Supreme Court of Appeal concurs with the public protector that he must be suspended and face a disciplinary hearing.

Motsoeneng’s claim that he was encouraged by a senior employee, Marie Swanepoel, to falsify his qualifications, was shown to be false. In her affidavit, Swanepoel said she had insisted Motsoeneng write down his real qualifications and bring a certificate as proof.

She said he had phoned her, pleading with her to confirm, in her affidavit, his false version, but she had refused. On learning that she had a sexual harassment case against the SABC, Motsoeneng phoned her again, offering her R2 million in compensation, on condition she lied for him. She refused.

More than the ANC, Motsoeneng’s case is a test for President Jacob Zuma to show us he is leading his party on to a new path. He spent almost two hours telling us how much he detested corruption and that he would make sure things changed soon after the NGC.

The ANC’s subcommittee on communications, Mantashe, and the portfolio committee in Parliament have all expressed uneasiness about Motsoeneng’s appointment.

Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi, aided by a sycophantic SABC board, has been the sole advocate for Motsoeneng’s appointment.

Behind the scenes, Muthambi is supported by Zuma. No rookie minister and activist could defy the entire party if she didn’t have the support of the president himself. Her continued stay in cabinet is further proof of presidential backing.

Muthambi hasn’t particularly distinguished herself in her portfolio. She proved incapable of communicating on behalf of the government, leading to Jeff Radebe’s taking over that responsibility; and South Africa failed to meet the deadline for migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Zuma didn’t deem it proper to remove her in his latest cabinet reshuffle, suggesting he approved of her dismal performance and defiance of the party. Did you believe all you said at the NGC, Mr President?

It may well be that Zuma no longer bothers about making an impression. But the rest of the ANC is cognisant that the public standing of individual members has a bearing on the party’s image.

This explains the new decision that in some metros the names of mayoral candidates will be announced before local elections. This is a break with tradition. In previous elections, the ANC punted the party then chose mayors after elections. This was informed by the belief that the party was a strong brand, and that no person was bigger than the organisation.

The ANC has now conceded its brand is tainted. It will take the good name of certain individuals to improve its image.

This reaffirms that an organisation is not some mysterious entity, but a composite of its individual members.

Their individual conduct can benefit or taint the organisation.

The NGC’s decision to build the party’s campaign around reputable individuals is unprecedented, and portends a different ANC – in spite of its president!

* Mcebisi Ndletyana is associate professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg and a Fellow at the Mapungubwe Institute.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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