Make ANC election more transparent

The ANC has again publicly condemned one of its structures for announcing its preferred presidential candidate before the National Executive Committee “officially” gave the nod for nominations.  

This time around it was turn of the ANC Women’s League to be rapped over the knuckles for endorsing outgoing AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The ANC labelled the move premature, divisive and in defiance of the NEC.

“The announcement made by the Women’s League is rather premature and undermines the very same efforts of fostering unity in the ANC as it is against the decisions taken by the NEC that all its structures including leagues must desist from discussing leadership,” ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said.

It seems the structures simply laughed off the public rebuke and its party’s continued calls on its branches to discuss the qualities of its preferred next leader rather than specific candidates. But that horse has long bolted.

In reality the contest started a long time ago and is already in the high levels stakes. And it is not only ANC members, but also the rest of the country that is in deep discussion about who will take over from Jacob Zuma.

In fairness, and taking into consideration plain old human nature, is it really possible to discuss leadership qualities without linking them to a person?

We shouldn’t forget that it was Zuma who first went against his organisation’s long standing tradition by saying years ago that the country was ready for a woman president.

Back then of course it was seen as a low level debate as others called for the organisation to stick to the norm that the “deputy president must succeed the president”. But time has a funny way of creeping up on us.

Now the battle lines have been drawn with Cosatu publicly endorsing Ramaphosa and the Women’s league backing Dlamini-Zuma. 

More endorsements are in the pipeline.

Instead of the ANC berating those pronouncing their preferred candidates, it should instead be spending its energy ensuring a credible and clean elective process. The first step is accepting that the time is ripe for an open contest.

The struggle days in which leaders made personal sacrifices for the good of the country are over and have been replaced by career politicians with, understandably, presidential ambitions.

An open contest will significantly reduce the cloak and dagger approach to campaigning that has become the norm during branch elections, reaching all the way to the election of national leaders.

By the time the conference starts, the lobbyists and their supporters have a fair idea of their chances, based on behind the scenes manoeuvring.

The lobby groups operate both covertly and publicly by continuously punting the name and credentials of a preferred candidate, who in turn mask their ambition with the coy retort of “the branches will deploy me” or "it is not the time to discuss the matter in the media.”

The ANC argues that the power lies in the branches but in reality, it is the chairpersons and secretaries who wield the power. They make sure only trusted delegates will go to the elective conference and won’t deviate from the all crucial tick on the ballot.

The office of the secretary general becomes the most important in this process as they have final say on the audit process and gatekeeping.

Sadly the bags of money and brown envelopes to grease the lobbyists and delegates also come into play.

The party has spent much of its time calling for an end to these practices that fly in the face of democratic values. But most of its efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

In its January 8 statement it acknowledged the sad reality it faces – threatening the credibility of the process.

“Today our Movement faces serious challenges to its unity. Divisive tendencies such as factionalism, gatekeeping and manipulation of internal processes exist at all levels of the ANC, the ANC Leagues, the Alliance and Mass Democratic Movement. These tendencies inhibit our ability to give decisive leadership to society,” the statement read. 

What is needed is concrete plans to stem the tide and ensure a credible and open process especially now that remaining the governing party after 2019 is as crucial as choosing its next leader. We wait in anticipation. 

- Mahlatse Gallens is political editor at News24.

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