BRANCH nominations for the new ANC leadership will close at the end of the month, but the process has already been fraught with controversy.
Branches are struggling to get quorums, having sometimes to meet three or four times before they can even have the required numbers of people to legally make nominations.
Even more worrying, however, is the suggestion that the nomination process is not free and fair. Branch membership lists are said to have paid-up phantom members. The nominations process is in many cases accompanied by intimidation and violence.
The official position of the ANC is that the organisation will deal firmly with any member who is involved in such acts.
But all indications are that this warning has not been heeded and that the nomination process is fraught with threats and fear. In the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to talk with a diverse group of ANC members from branches in many different parts of the country.
The only thing they all agreed on was that the nomination process was severely constrained by intimidation and threats of violence.
Some suggested that local party elites were not allowing members to voice their own concerns and nominate their own candidates.
Others suggested that in places like KwaZulu-Natal branch members were effectively being disenfranchised if they were thought to be supporting candidates other than Jacob Zuma.
And where whole branches were supportive of Kgalema Motlanthe, they were effectively being replaced by the redeployment of pro-Zuma supporters from other branches.
The intimidation and member disenfranchisement was not only confined to KwaZulu-Natal.
Similar suggestions have been made about the nomination process in all of the other provinces including Gauteng, and the Eastern and Western Cape. Kwazulu-Natal, however, is distinguished by the fact that the province has had a number of political assassinations outside and within the ANC.
The killings within the ANC are not perceived to be conducted by outside forces.
Rather there is a widespread belief within the ruling party that it is being done by ANC members and is tied to the nomination process itself.
This has led many in the anti-Zuma camp to keep their heads low. Indeed, many of the leaders of the “forces of change” are advising their supporters in KwaZulu-Natal not to declare their hand, and essentially to vote with their conscience when they get to Mangaung.
Moreover, many of them suggest that this culture of violence has been imported into the organisation with the influx of thousands of new members, many of whom they believe to have previously belonged to Inkatha. This “Inkathification” of the ANC, it is suggested, has resulted in the spread of traditional values within the ruling party, and internalised within the organisation the broader violence that had typified the relations previously between it and the IFP.
The violence-prone nomination process in the run-up to Mangaung is worrisome on two grounds.
First, the perpetration of violence by ANC members in KwaZulu-Natal as part of the nomination process is not only irresponsible, but it is also downright treasonable.
It runs the risk of reigniting the violence that defined the province for over two decades and came at the cost of thousands of lives.
Lighting this tinderbox will not only again cost thousands of lives, but it runs the risk of spreading beyond the province and compromising our democracy and democratic institutions across the country.
Secondly, a flawed, intimidation-laden nomination process will compromise the legitimacy of the leadership elected at Mangaung.
As long as members believe that they did not get an even shot at electing their leaders, so long will the organisation remain a divided entity.
This means that we will essentially have more of the same.
The ANC will remain politically and ideologically divided, and the leadership will therefore be incapable of bridging the policy divides within the state.
Implementation and service delivery will therefore remain compromised, and poverty and inequality will continue to be a feature of our collective lives.
The net effect will be further polarisation of the citizenry, aggravating the instability and violence that will in the long term erode democracy itself. None of this bodes well for either the ANC or South Africa.
All of this could of course be avoided if only political leaders in the ANC recognised the importance of internal organisational democracy and allowing members freely to choose their own leaders.
But this would require political leaders to forsake their own short-term goals and desires. Is this likely to happen?
Not really, in particular because so many in the leadership of the ANC are in the party to get out of it what they can.
This is what happens when a party decides to have rampant deployment and confuses economic empowerment with enrichment.
The ANC of today is not the ANC of yester-year. It is not the party of revolutionaries as it likes to believe. Rather, it is increasingly at risk of becoming the party of what Frantz Fanon called the comprador bourgeoisie – that layer of society that becomes parasitic, and extracts what it can without giving anything in return.
l Habib is deputy vice-chancellor: research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg.