How will the ANC deal with its dissidents

Gaye Davis

HARD questions will be asked at next weekend’s meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) in the wake of repeated scandals shaking the movement and the crisis wracking its Women’s League.

The concern goes beyond the impact on the ANC’s image within South Africa and abroad. “It goes to the heart of the problems the ANC is experiencing internally,” an NEC source said.

Individuals’ access to discretionary funds—such as the

R350 000 cheque Winnie Mandela received from Pakistan - - was a major worry. “This discretionary money is being used to play all sorts of factional games within the ANC,” another NEC source said.
“It is a recipe for factionalism, career-building and patronage.

“It undermines the Women’s League, and resulting weaknesses are then exploited. The same goes for the Youth League. These organisations end up being used as platforms for personal careers and not for the good of the organisation. It is clear now that large amounts of funds have been involved.”

Another NEC source said: “There will be hard talking—we must meet these issues head on. There is concern that if we keep these people within the organisation we could be faced with a split some years down the line.”

In a meeting on Monday between President Nelson Mandela and ANC Secretary General Cyril Ramaphosa, it was decided to set up a standing disciplinary committee to investigate ANC members’ misconduct. In the past ANC disciplinary committees have operated on an ad hoc basis.

It is unclear whether all ANC MPs have signed the code of conduct drawn up by constitutional affairs expert Kader Asmal, which demands disclosure of income and all gifts worth more than R200. But ANC members are asking why it took so long for the code to be finalised. A register is available to officials and members of the NEC.

It is understood President Nelson Mandela has received a report on an investigation into former Youth League member Peter Mokaba’s National Tourism Foundation (NTF), which recently closed amid a welter of allegations about misused funds. Mokaba, chairman of the parliamentary select committee on tourism, earned a salary of around R250 000 a year from the NTF.

The ANC has always tended to keep dissidents within the fold, and has survived complex challenges during its years in exile by doing so. But members are asking whether the political cost is not too great.

“These scandals keep on breaking. It’s a bit like deja vu for people within the ANC who have been unhappy with people like Boesak since the 1980s—disreputable characters on whom we rather mechanically lean, expecting them to win constituencies they never deliver,” a source said.

At the heart of the ANC’s difficulties lies the 1993 assassination of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, and the lack of effective, accountable leaders to take his place in articulating the concerns of the country’s most marginalised, and potentially disruptive, sectors—the youth and the homeless. This gap, an NEC source said, had been exploited demagogically.

But, said an ANC MP: “The issue is not black and white. People like Winnie Mandela are under pressure to articulate concerns of that section of the community and it’s important they’re articulated within the ANC and not outside it.

“Ejecting people like Winnie could mean they take a significant, volatile portion of society with them,” the source said. “The question is the extent to which it is important to keep those seen to be speaking on behalf of the most marginalised so as to keep them within the ANC, despite the political cost.

“This has to be weighed against the cost to the peace process if they went elsewhere and became less restrained.” It was important to recognise the role they had played in keeping “potentially unstable parts of the community within the fold”.

Others argue there are precedents in the ANC for clipping the wings of those whose conduct threatens the health of the organisation. “Not by throwing them out of the organisation but by firing some shots across their bows. This could involve removing them from their positions. Some lines have to be drawn,” a source said.

Some ANC members are growing weary of renegade members being dealt with within the movement and then returning to haunt them. “North-West Premier Popo Molefe acted decisively when he axed (former agriculture MEC) Rocky Malebane-Metsing. Then he was undermined somewhere along the line and Metsing came back on board. The problem hasn’t gone away—now we hear about the R14- million AgriBank loan.”

There is also concern at the leadership’s apparent passivity in dealing decisively and effectively with errant members.

Passivity on the part of the ANC hierarchy, while understood in terms of the delicacy required to deal with a party which, in the words of one ANC MP, is “virtually a multi-party democracy in itself”, is also seen as enabling opposition parties to dance gleefully on the high ground.

Mandela himself is perceived to be tied down by his own morality: his intimation that Boesak might be found another government post if acquitted of criminal charges arising from his Foundation for Peace and Justice debacle sent shivers down the spine of ANC members who have long been troubled by his presence in the movement.

An NEC source said: “It would be worse if the truth didn’t come out, because people could be manipulated by worse forces.”

Dealing effectively with those who bring the organisation into disrepute puts the ANC on the horns of a dilemma—but deal with them it must.

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