A senior ANC official tells the M&G that low-ranking members are no more than a herd that does as it is told.
ANC members have been turned into "voting cattle", used only to ensure that some leaders emerge victorious at the party's conferences, according to Thabang Makwetla, a former ANC national executive committee member.
He said in an interview this week that last weekend's chaotic provincial nomination conferences leading up to the ANC's national conference later this month in Mangaung were the latest evidence of the "voting cattle practice".
Makwetla, who led an ANC team that recommended the renewal and reorganisation of the party in the early 2000s, said his team's recommendations could have saved the ANC from its current crises.
The proposals were rejected because they were labelled "Thabo Mbeki ideas" at the party's 2005 national general council meeting and Makwetla was perceived to be a Mbeki supporter. Tensions were running high at the time because Jacob Zuma, who was deputy president, was fired from the government.
Makwetla said few in the ANC would deny that the party's members were simply voting cattle. "People who are guilty of that are leaders of the ANC, in particular the middle layer [provincial] leadership. They're denying ANC members the right to select their own leaders, because they come with slates and promote these slates. It's not that these ANC members do not have the capacity to debate, but they're suppressed."
Makwetla, who is deputy minister of defence and military veterans and an Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, said at conferences the "voting cattle" were "quarantined" to ensure they were not influenced by delegates from other provinces. Delegates were kept at particular hotels to prevent them from interacting with people from other provinces.
"The practice is intended to make sure voting cattle [are] not contaminated. We're told that, at some point, there's a demand that these delegates must take a picture with cellphones to show they voted correctly and then they get rewarded financially after that."
An effort was made at the 2007 Polokwane conference to ban cellphones in voting areas "to protect delegates from this practice".
He said radical solutions were needed to rescue the party, such as an internal intelligence organisation. "I know it is a contentious matter; others may even say it's controversial, but personally I think the ANC would benefit enormously if it was to reconsider [having] an intelligence structure as it used to have before the time of its unbanning."
Makwetla said hostilities within the ANC had to do with business interests. "The divisions you find in provinces half the time are as a result of business interests, which leadership organs do not know about. We end up trying to resolve intractable differences [between] comrades without succeeding, because we don't know what informs the differences.
Values and traditions
"No leadership collective today can lead the ANC without having access to information about what's happening at that level."
Makwetla said the ANC needed to create "real" cadres from its million-plus registered members to restore the party's values and traditions. The planned ANC political school would not achieve the goal of creating real cadres because theory on its own is not enough. "Cadres are not only a product of a political school. Cadres are also a product of experience in the struggle, whose skills are honed by those experiences."
Although Makwetla's organisational renewal proposals were rejected in 2005, most of them have been revived and are part of a document that was adopted at this year's policy conference. Makwetla said it was a good step but might not work wonders. "Because they're coming too late in the day, I have apprehensions they may not deliver effectively what we would have achieved if they had been implemented in time.
"The other thing, with all due respect to the movement's ranks, is the possible resistance to these solutions from those who are benefiting or stand to benefit from this chaos."
But reality will force the ANC to reorganise itself. "There will be a demise of the organisation. It will die, but in the process we'll be forced to jump to the correct solutions. Today everyone is aware of the need to do this, because there are veld fires everywhere."