If it has chosen badly the ruling party will cleanse itself

Is it our business as journalists to pronounce on who is best placed to lead the ANC?

If you look at some of the personalities in the party’s new leadership, such as unrepentant convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni, or former Mpumalanga health minister Sibongile Manana, who tried to frustrate provision of treatment to people with HIV, the temptation exists to damn them all. Particularly because this is the ruling party.

This is where I disagree with Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee, who wrote last week that our standing as a country had been lowered by, among other things, the ANC leadership elected in Polokwane.
My view is that the ANC’s 600 000 members have made a strong statement about where they want the ruling party to go and we should respect that. They will live to cele-brate or regret their decisions.

Remember 1949, when angry youth leaders, desperate to get rid of ANC president Alfred Xuma, who would not approve of their defiance campaign, elected James Moroka to lead the organisation? Legend has it that during his opening address Moroka referred to the ANC as the African National Council, starting a downward spiral that culminated in his ejection three years later.

If the ANC has chosen badly, this will soon become self-evident and the party will cleanse itself.

Some of the decisions taken at Polokwane were driven by strong emotions. But, that was partly due to the failure to resolve internal leadership conflicts, which were exacerbated by the firing of Jacob Zuma in 2005. Such emotions were discernible at previous gatherings, such as last year’s policy conference. But the outgoing leadership refused to recognise that such unhappiness was manifest in the core of the ANC, opting instead to ascribe such sentiments to the South African Communist Party, trade union federation Cosatu and KwaZulu-Natal tribalists.

At Polokwane, many members came with one thing in mind: removing the party leadership. Some delegates left as soon as they had finished voting. They had done what they came for. This was a bitter battle and neither side gave an inch. If we regret, as I do, that the Zuma camp did not believe that Joel Netshitenzhe and Thoko Didiza should be in the party’s top six, we should also remember that the Mbeki camp would not even have included Jacob Zuma on the national executive committee.

We do, however, have a duty to our readers to catalogue who these new leaders are. If 30% of them have been involved in some malfeasance or are facing criminal charges, it is fair to share that information with our readers. But to virtually condemn them for having been elected to leadership is to take it too far.

Let the ANC take care of its internal processes. We will engage them whenever they take ill-advised measures, such as trying to take a political decision that a senior leader accused of fraud and corruption should escape the courts. In such cases, the public should be galvanised to action.

And the millions of South Africans who voted for the ANC during the last national poll will again have an opportunity to signal whether they approve of the party’s leadership during national and provincial elections next April.

Rapule Tabane is M&G political editor

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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