Money, members, veterans and Jacob Zuma: at a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon at the African National Congress’s (ANC) national conference in Polokwane, secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe discussed his organisational report, delivered two days before, as well as several other issues concerning the ruling party.
Motlanthe has been nominated for deputy president of the ANC, and voting for the top six positions took place on Tuesday. Voting had closed and counting had started by mid-afternoon, with an announcement expected on Tuesday evening. Following the election of the top six, nominations would be accepted for other members of the newly enlarged national executive committee, which now counts 86 members — of which half must be women.
When asked about the reason for many ANC branches being in disarray and therefore unable to send delegates to the conference, Motlanthe said that when a party becomes the ruling party, “it attracts all kinds of people, including careerists. We are not immune of the influences that come with the successes of transformation.”
In the past, people joined the ANC to be rewarded with freedom. Now, when members are elected to a position with influence, it brings the possibility of material enrichment. “From gifts to outright acceptance of bribes is a very short distance,” said Motlanthe. “We are now open to these kinds of challenges and our branches continue to be equally challenged.”
Logistical problems affecting branches include large branches that were broken up into more manageable groups and present-day ANC members joining and paying their fees over the internet without getting to know other branch members. Motlanthe suggested there should be a kind of “baptism” to induct new members into the organisation.
On divisions in the ANC, currently between supporters of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, Motlanthe said: “The ANC has had several challenges over time.” Some were ideological, like the breakaway of the Pan Africanist Congress in 1958. “We have managed these divisions.”
When lobbying, he said, some members throw out the rule book and cut corners. It is then the responsibility of the NEC to address these problems once calm has returned after the national conference.
He added: “At the moments there are no ideological differences. It is differences based on personalities, in the main, rather than on policy.”
The situation is made even more troublesome by corruption charges that may yet be levelled against Zuma. Motlanthe has said he wants to improve the calibre of ANC members.
“The issue of Jacob Zuma is very difficult to deal with,” he said. “Many people can place allegations. Even when someone is charged, the state makes allegations and that has to be tested. It would be very hard to act against somebody on the basis of allegations.”
Also, the party’s general members are the final arbiters. “If they elect him, we will have to live with that; if he is charged, then they will have to live with that.”
On the party’s finances, he said: “The ANC is a big machinery.” It has 53 regions, but a lack of resources means that “in a way, we operate on a shoestring budget”. During a “dark period” in 2003 and 2004, some ANC staff were not even paid.
However, treasurer general Mendi Msimang’s financial report delivered at the conference showed that the state of health of the party’s finances had improved. “We now write our books in black ink,” said Motlanthe. “We are out of the woods for now.”
In 2005, the Mail & Guardian‘s Oilgate articles exposed how oil trader Imvume Management paid R11-million to the ANC after obtaining an advance from PetroSA. When Imvume was unable to pay its own suppliers, PetroSA doubled the payment. Public money, the M&G said, found its way into ANC coffers.
In response to a question, Motlanthe confirmed that the money had been paid back. When asked whether a benefactor had helped the ANC out of this tight spot, he replied: “The treasurer general made serious efforts to find the money and return it.”
Asked to explain whether the party requires quality or quantity in terms of its membership base, Motlanthe said an effective ruling party should count no more than 5% of registered voters as its members. “If it gets bigger, then you end up with an unwieldy, cumbersome organisation.”
Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive, he said. “We need both.” New intakes must be matched by internal capacity to help such newcomers align themselves with the party’s policies.
Motlanthe also confirmed that an ANC veterans’ league has been proposed, which would be open to members older than 60 and with more than 40 years of unbroken service. “That leaves out the 1976 generation,” he said.
Asked whether he has an interest in the country’s top job, a bemused Motlanthe said: “I prefer to do political education in the ANC, to do something about the orientation of the members of the ANC. My second choice is really to assist in the training of Bafana Bafana.”