The party says it has healed its rifts in the Western Cape, but IEC figures suggest unity has come too late.
Divisions caused by years of infighting in the Western Cape ANC have now been healed, says the secretary of its provincial executive committee, Songezo Mjongile. He believes the party is now better positioned to take back the province from the Democratic Alliance in this year's general election.
The ANC's battle plan kicked off in the province in 2013 when members were given the opportunity to air their grievances at meetings and to rebuild working relationships, Mjongile said this week.
Local ANC leaders had put aside their differences, he said, and had established a "Chris Hani volunteer corps" of more than 20 000 people who were canvassing door to door.
"Our campaign is not about shouting at the people but it is about engagements and understanding the challenges and disappointments. It is also about talking to the people and addressing their needs.
"We say to our volunteers when they address people and they don't have an answer, don't promise things they can't deliver. Volunteers must be able to say that, given this problem, I will be able to bring a leader to come and engage you on your problems."
He said the party was assisting those in marginalised communities in registering to vote, as many could not afford to pay for a photograph for an ID book.
But statistics for the Western Cape released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) last month showed that the ANC was way behind the DA in getting its supporters to register to vote.
Seven out of the 10 Cape Town wards registering the most new voters in November were DA strongholds.
Ward 95, an ANC ward in Enkanini, Khayelitsha, had the biggest increase in voters (2 863) in the Cape Town Metro, closely followed by three DA wards, Ward 103 (Durbanville, with an increase of 2 777), Ward 8 (Brackenfell, with an increase of 2 376 voters) and Ward 23 (Bloubergstrand, with an increase of 2 336 voters). Several ANC strongholds registered almost no increase in voters in November.
But a senior ANC member in the province criticised the current leadership and said the party had failed to deliver on a key ANC campaign strategy – that of ensuring those living in informal settlements were registered to vote.
"Informal settlements are ANC strongholds; we used to be active, especially in the new ones, whose inhabitants are new to Cape Town and would be registered in other provinces," the former provincial executive committee member said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"By the time the IEC registration weekend comes around, the ANC would have made sure that those people have IDs and then, on the days of registration, we will make sure they go and register. That didn't happen this time around," the former committee member said.
Loss of power
Mjongile said the ANC lost power in the province because of its own weaknesses rather than because of the strength of the DA.
"The ANC will always be a contested terrain because you have got different ideological persuasions," he said. "You've got communists, you've got nationalists, you've got workers' tendencies, but you have also got other cultural persuasions, where people are traditionalists and so forth. But what brings all these people together to the ANC is the fact that there is a minimum programme of resolving the national question, which has to do both with political and economic liberation."
At an organisational level, there were other subjective tendencies, which meant people grouped themselves with whomever they wanted to support for leadership. This, he said, was only acceptable when the party was about to go to conference.
"But it becomes destructive when it is sustained beyond conference because then it becomes an undemocratic practice not to accept a democratic process. And that, I think, is the tendency our province has had over a long period. You have two factions. They went to conference. One group won and the other group lost. But then, systematically, they worked each other out of the organisation and as a result you had a number of implosions."
The year 2008 became the breaking point of the factionalism in the province, after Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool was "recalled" by the ANC national executive committee, a precursor to the recall of former president Thabo Mbeki, said Mjongile.
"With the background of Polokwane, the recall of premier Rasool showed the highest level of divisions. That division was no longer being dealt with internally but being dealt with externally," said Mjongile.
"The issue of ‘brown-envelope journalism' [bribery], where journalists took sides in ANC factional battles, had a serious impact not only on the ANC but also on the [media] trade itself, where serious questions had to be asked about the role of the journalists. Whether they did anything wrong or right, I think the point I am making is that all those things, the toxic mix, I think seriously damaged the ANC brand."
He said that the committee's first task was to renew and unite the ANC to bring back stability.
"We needed to reconnect with communities. Because the structures were concerned with internal stuff, it lost sight of its mission, which is to be a champion of the poor communities, to unite society, to fight for non-racialism, nonsexism, and to ensure that there is economic opportunity for our people."