UNPUNISHED: Humphrey Mmemezi, MEC for Local Government and Housing, at the Gauteng legislature yesterday. Picture: Dumisani Dube

WHEN ANC president Jacob Zuma opened the party’s policy conference in Midrand on Tuesday, he took, correctly, a good few seconds away from his prepared text to pontificate about branches.

It was a good decision. He had put his finger on the heart of the problems or, well, challenges facing the ANC, I thought.

Most of us have been, as we should, fixated on the goings-on at the ANC policy conference in Midrand coming to an end today. Much of what we speak about is The Second Transition, an attempt by the ANC, or a faction thereof, to deflect attention from the ANC’s performance in the last 18 years. Indeed it is a maladroit, hubristic misadventure to get the nation worked up against white males. The point isn’t really to defend white males but, should they feel defended, well, good for them. They certainly can defend themselves and indeed they should.

But I expect the ANC to be honest in its assessment of where we are – 18 years into our democracy – and how we should get out of this hiatus that has given rise to populist thoughts on the economy espoused by Zuma that Julius Malema, former youth league leader, claims copyright of. And the so-called Second Transition is as banal as it gets. I will return to this later.

With general elections under 24 months away, the ANC is well aware that the citizenry is going to expect the party to account for its performance. To say to us that the first 18 years were about celebrating political freedom, and only now must we start focusing on economic freedom is to be disingenuous. To term it the Second Transition is to attempt a trick – without practice.

Zuma focused, correctly, on the need for the ANC to pay closer attention to what constitutes a functional branch – the nucleus of ANC growth. What the ANC must do with branches that have over 4 000 members, but which never really meet because to do so is akin to calling a rally. He used words to this effect.

But it is indeed easy to identify problems, is it not, moreso if you are not being original. That is what most of our analysts, loathed by Zuma, do. So, on this occasion, Zuma and the analysts were one!

The story of the ANC’s dysfunctional branches is as old as our democracy, if it does not predate it. By 2000, the ANC had already started a search for what it termed “a new cadre”. To date, this cadre has proved hard to find, much less to keep. Many theories have been developed based on the fact that the branches are dysfunctional and infiltrated by people introducing “foreign tendencies”, excuse my ANC-speak. Tenderpreneurs are the latest craze! These despised people infiltrate the ANC in a bid to secure positions that will allow them to dispense power and patronage. The sin of incumbency, a phenomenon now much associated with the party, has ensured that the party attracts a myriad people with disparate intents, many of which have nothing to do with serving the poor.

Others join because they are aggrieved at communists who want to belatedly hijack the ANC and infuse it with a communist character. These, we are told, are yellow communists fascinated by BMWs who are themselves not much different to tenderpreneurs. They are the scum of the party, the Skhothanes (impressionable youngsters who buy expensive stuff to trash it in order to prove that they are of enviable means) of this age. Others bemoan careerism. They tell a story of how most of the people in the ANC would be jobless without the ANC because, as Malema would put it: “The ANC is all I know”. As a result, they become the party hacks, literally. They behave like officers: never question, just follow orders, even when the orders are nonsensical. They do this because they are not only beholden to whoever ensures their continued employment/deployment, they also lack the temerity to do good, to act right even if those in power might not like it. It is these sorts who have become the cancer gnawing away at the ANC integrity and weakening its ability to deliver.

Take Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane. Is there any real reason why she does not act against Humphrey Mmemezi, the local government and housing MEC caught and exposed by colleague Baldwin Ndaba? You’ve got to admire Ndaba for his courage and determination to expose Mmemezi.

Mmemezi is the antithesis of the new cadre. He is the sort that uses taxpayers’ money to buy baked beans for his family. He goes on foreign trips and buys “party clothes”, he uses a government credit card to book accommodation a few kilometres from his home. He uses the same card to buy artwork from McDonald’s. He gets involved in a car accident, lies about it and tries to get the car auctioned away under false pretences. You’ve got to marvel at this man’s ability to unleash carnage and plunder and still keep his job.

The problem here is not just that government loses for having paid for a big car that was wrecked and also loses out for paying insurance that is not used because of the dubious circumstances in which Mmemezi damaged it. The problem is that people like Mmemezi behave as if they have a right to damage property, show scant regard for rules and just ruin almost everything they run into, and all of us must just live with it because they are our leaders.

We must be paralysed by our powerlessness as the Mmemezis of this world behave as if society owe them something. Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s inaction confirms Mmemezi is an untouchable. When she makes her grand speeches and tells the world that “Kuya sheshwa, eGoli (we hurry, in Gauteng)”, she must also tell us that this applies to some – not the high and mighty like Mmemezi. If indeed Kuya sheshwa, why is Mokonyane dragging her feet about Mmemezi? Why is the ANC silent when Mmemezi has become such an eyesore?

And the ANC talks to us about the Second Transition – and its cadres to ensure the success of this transition include, Mmemezi? Really?

This Second Transition is a red herring for the ANC’s failure to deliver tangible economic benefits for the underclass. But how could the ANC improve its delivery when it relies on the likes of Mmemezi, whose focus is impaired by his determination to buy as many baked beans for his family, buy party clothes and endless hotel stays?

The party policies are as good as the people implementing them. I know that the age of ANC cadres joining in the face of certain torture, or even death has passed. I know that the branches have become areas of high contestation.

But how dubious do you need to be before Mokonyane can gather enough balls to act against you?