By Dr Thapelo Tselapedi
Last weekend the ANC in the Eastern Cape, constituting the second biggest province in the ANC, held its elective provincial congress.
Against a barrage of public criticism and a publicly-slick internal opposition campaign, current premier, Oscar Mabuyane, retained his position as provincial chair. In fact, with the exception of the post of treasurer, Mabuyane’s slate retained their positions. It’s an impressive feat.
While his leadership collective is not without its own embarrassing allegations of corruption, an emerging public feature of Mabuyane’s administration is its visible infrastructure programmes across the province.
However, the ANC throughout the country is in shambles. And there really should be no doubt in the minds of both the public and party members concerning the ethical vacuousness that engulfs the ANC.
This is not to say that everyone in the party is ethically compromised – the point is that the few attempting to re-route the trajectory of the ANC lack influence and strategic positioning.
That delegate-buying, the existence of bogus branches, and ethically compromised leaders have spilt over into public power via nepotism, corruption and damaging allegations of the siphoning off of public funds, is open for all to witness.
Accordingly, it is no wonder that for a while now the ANC has been speaking about organisational renewal. However, the ANC’s use of “renewal” has oscillated between electoral survival and organisational coherence.
While Mabuyane’s leadership in the Eastern Cape bodes well for the organisational fortunes of the current president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, potentially securing the survival of the party at the 2024 national elections, it is not clear how united the province will be behind Ramaphosa’s slate in December.
For instance, while Mabuyane’s slate won with a definitive number, Babalo Madikizela’s slate did take a sizeable number of delegates. Therefore, Mabuyane’s final remarks in support of Ramaphosa at the end of the conference might be premature.
Also, it is not at all clear whether Mabuyane’s leadership in the province will secure organisational coherence for the ANC. As it stands, the ANC is attempting to do two things: to ensure electoral survival while also fixing organisational problems.
For some, this is not possible. That is, the ANC is not well-positioned to fix organisational issues while seeking electoral survival. This is because such an attempt largely relies on the judicial arm of the state, something former president, Thabo Mbeki, tried to do but was curbed by the 2007 Polokwane ANC leadership.
It simply took the 2007 Polokwane ANC leadership to transform the Scorpions into the Hawks – the latter an institution that suffers public credibility.
This dependence on the judicial arm of the state, while the party is in power, presents an image that some prosecutions are driven by factional imperatives. This is not a minor issue.
In part, the July unrest of 2021 serves as a case in point. Organisational coherence, or party unity, and therefore the ability of the ANC to impose party discipline over its members and representatives in government, will take a long time to correct.
However, there are important interventions. For instance, though the Eastern Cape has been battling with a public image as the country’s most corrupt province, there have been notable crackdowns against municipal corruption.
While this is happening at a lower political tier of the state, it is not clear to what extent Mabuyane’s win in the province will add political weight to the voices of renewal within the ANC. Mabuyane has his own smallanyana skeletons.
For instance, the Hawks’ investigation regarding his vehicle and renovations to his home, and the allegations of corruption, maladministration or misuse of public funds concerning the memorial service of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela implicating him, are damaging to the party's image.
However, all of these happenings exist alongside some notable low-hanging fruit for the party. These are the Political Party Funding Act of 2018, signed in 2021, the adoption of the step-aside rule in the party and the recently established renewal commission.
These have been important interventions in the party’s articulation of “renewal”. But these are not thorough-going. Until the ANC is able to face its leadership crisis head-on, it is likely to continue naval-gazing, to the detriment of its electoral presence.
* Tselapedi is a lecturer in the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University