ANC has to lose power for it to take people and democracy seriously » Cypher9ja

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The ANC’s 54th national conference at Nasrec in 2017 was tense because it was the first time that the party allowed public campaigning by candidates – albeit without rules.

The contestation for the top six office-bearer positions at Polokwane in 2007 that saw Jacob Zuma winning the ANC presidency against Thabo Mbeki was filled with ructions. It was the first post-unbanning meeting where some democratisation happened in the ANC.

Previously, leadership was by arrangement where delegates agreed on a single slate from the president right down to the last position.

Regional leaders played active roles in circulating slates to branches that would rubber-stamp the names from the top. At the time, you would know who the president and his deputy would be and the deputy would automatically become the successor to the president.

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The party president’s term of office was unlimited as is still the case, but it has become a new tradition that the incumbent should not stay in office beyond two terms. Now, there are ongoing attempts to prevent Cyril Ramaphosa from getting a second term.

The situation is promising to get worse in future, as indications are that a future president would be lucky to finish the first term in office.

Please don’t mistake this for the kind of democracy that we witnessed recently in Britain, where the prime minister had to resign after just months in office.

In the UK, the removal of the head of government had nothing to do with internal party powermongering, but was more about the mistakes that the prime minister made while in office. She could not bear the pressure.

In South Africa, it’s different. Mbeki was removed by an opposing faction desperate to grab the levers of state power from him. Mbeki was not wrong to seek a third term as ANC president as that was in line with the party tradition of unlimited terms.

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But the timing was not good to do that because the internal conspiracy against him was massive. False accusations that Mbeki intended to change the constitution to allow him a third term as head of state were made, although that was impossible.

Even the idea that the incoming faction wanted to avoid the creating two centres of power between Mbeki’s state office and the party run by Zuma was found to be a decoy to fast-track their entrance into Mahlamba Ndlopfu.

In fact, two power centres is good for democracy because it strengthens the oversight of the president’s performance by the party. The democratisation of the ANC will take a long time to mature into a peaceful process because there is a lot at stake in the unhealthy contests for positions.

Access to state resources is a priority and is encouraging bloody infighting, where councillors and political opponents are murdered in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.

Democratisation is about doing the will of the people and putting their interests first, rather than about the self-interest of the party elites and their families. But the ANC pays lip service to true democracy.

Since November 2021, local election communities were forced to accept strangers who were smuggled onto nomination lists, while their democratic choices were forgotten because of nomination manipulation.

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Although former ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe was heavily criticised for stating the truth that the ANC has to lose power for it to learn a lesson, it is true that once that happens, the ANC will take people and democracy seriously.

But there is hope. That ANC candidates now operate under strict campaigning guidelines and communities directly nominate councillors indicates that democratisation is seen as inevitable in the ANC.

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