Western Cape ANC gets back to basics

Mcebisi Skwatsha, Sipho Kroma and Max Ozinsky. (David Harrison, M&G)

Mcebisi Skwatsha, Sipho Kroma and Max Ozinsky. (David Harrison, M&G)

Building an effective opposition in the Western Cape is no easy task for the still divided ANC in the province, the only province where the party finds itself on the opposition benches.

The ruling party in the province, the Democratic Alliance, claims that some ANC leaders are more focused on positioning themselves for its elective conference in Mangaung in December than on breaking new frontiers.

Not true, said former ANC Youth League leader and now secretary of the provincial executive committee, Songezo Mjongile, who said he was mature enough to handle party dynamics. Given the divided history of the ANC in the Western Cape, Mjongile said the campaigns and strategies to build up the party  were now showing results.

"As leaders, we are not homogeneous," said Mjongile. "No organisation is homogeneous. Everybody has their own views and preferences."

The ANC lost power in the Western Cape in 2009 primarily because of its own weaknesses, rather than the strength of the DA, he said.

"The ANC brand and the ANC bias towards the poor still has a strong traction in many communities, whether African or coloured," said Mjongile. "The weakness that occurred was [that] after the 2004 elections, a lot of time was spent on intraorganisation issues and this led to comrades becoming too inward-looking."

The recall of President Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and his replacement with President Jacob Zuma weakened and divided the party, he said. As did the formation of the Congress of the People (Cope), with the new party drawing many of its leaders from the Western Cape. At its provincial conference in 2011, said Mjongile, the party was still at its weakest.

Defending the base
"Among the things we had to do was to regroup the ANC, take stock of what was there and work on strategy," he said. "We had to defend the base of the ANC."

Mjongile said that after the ANC provincial executive was elected it identified frontier areas where there was a split between the ANC and the DA and also identified DA strongholds. Its campaign was to consolidate the ANC base, contest frontier areas and become more visible in DA areas, which he said had happened.

Mjongile plans to assess those appointed to the provincial legislature, including the experienced leader of the opposition in the Western Cape, Lynne Brown, and members of the provincial legislature Max Ozinsky and Mcebisi Skwatsha, who underwent a national assessment last year. All three are backing Jacob Zuma for a second term in office, sources in the ANC told the Mail & Guardian.

Mjongile is believed to be backing the group dubbed by the media as the "anyone but Zuma" camp, but nobody is going on record until permitted to do so next month, according to party rules.

With only a few months left to go to Mangaung, tensions are clearly building in the ANC in the province.

Mjongile has not announced when he will carry out the work assessments on ANC members in the provincial legislature, but staff expect it could be soon. And as the people involved might be backing different horses in the upcoming Mangaung elective conference, the process is viewed with scepticism.

Although Brown has already publicly stated in the media that she will not be going anywhere until her contract is up, Mjongile said all those found not performing their jobs properly would be redeployed.

Effective opposition
"I won't put anyone on the streets," he said, in an apparent show of harmony.

The DA leader in the Western Cape, Theuns Botha, laughed openly when asked if the ANC is an effective opposition in the province.

"I am tempted to say 'yes' to ensure the status quo stays the same," he said. "But it is not true. In the Western Cape, the ANC infighting is out in the open and it definitely makes it less effective. Everybody is simply positioning themselves for Mangaung."

The election of Marius Fransman as chairperson of the ANC in the Western Cape was "rigged", said Botha. "Now there are a few experts in the party and many newcomers."

Fransman is believed to be backing Zuma and Mjongile and his provincial executive are known to be putting pressure on him to give up his job as deputy minister of international relations and co-operation and rather take on the DA in the provincial legislature.

Botha is surprisingly full of praise for Brown, Ozinsky and Skwatsha, describing them as "very skilful" in their respective roles in the provincial legislature. The trio keeps the DA on its toes with oversight and asks questions all the time, he said.

"We are very much in favour of being subjected to oversight," said Botha. "But we know their provincial executive committee wants to get rid of them. And when we paint Fransman in a bad light in the legislature, we look over at them and see them smiling."

Brown denied this and accused Botha of politicking to try to create divisions in the ANC.

"I think that he is basing his opinion on a general perception out there, given the nature of past relations in the ANC," she said. "In fact, there have been occasions in the house where I actually got up to defend the chairperson [Fransman]."

In terms of the assessments planned by Mjongile, Brown said the ANC had to do what it had to do.

"As I have always said before, an assessment must be a fair process," she said. "And that goes for all 14 members of the provincial legislature."

Some believe the work assessments are an unnecessary distraction when what needs to be done is for the party  to prepare for the 2014 general and provincial elections.

Ozinsky said that they were almost halfway through the term of the provincial legislature and the DA was no longer able to blame everything on the ANC's leadership in the past.

"You have to be preparing for the stuff that is going to be coming up in the elections," he said. "I like to think of it as how many irons you have in the fire and how are you going to prepare for it."

Failing in service delivery
Botha said, with regard to the Western Cape ANC, it was not about good government, but about who you backed.

Mjongile said he believed the ANC would get people's votes if "you look after them" and said the DA was failing in service delivery.

"If you ensure that there is service delivery, if you ensure that there is job creation, if you are visible in communities, that is how people will reward you, with their votes."

One issue Mjongile wants to address is to appoint a media officer for the ANC provincial executive to get its message across to the public. The Western Cape media is aligned to the interests of the DA, he said.

"There is a symbiotic relationship between the media and the DA," said Mjongile. "It is a very unfortunate situation because it kills off creativity. You look at how they cover the DA and what it does and how they cover the ANC and what it does. It is very different. They play the DA on local news and the ANC on national news."

Media officer Kobus Grobler, who is appointed in the provincial legislature by the ANC provincial executive, said he was having difficulty getting the correct message across in the Western Cape.

Last week, he was furious after he sent out a press release in advance of a service delivery protest in a Touws River informal settlement to inform the media.

His announcement was "completely misinterpreted", he said.

Deep pockets
Newspapers used this press release as front-page leads, claiming that the ANC was involved in the violent service delivery protests, said Grobler.

"We are against violence and this press release was sent out to connect the media with those speaking on behalf of the protesters," he said.

Although the ANC needs to create an operational budget to fund its campaigns, those "with deep ­pockets" have stayed away as the party alienated people in the province before this provincial executive was elected, said Mjongile.

While its furniture and computers were recently attached and sold by the sheriff of the court, donations have been made to the ANC provincial executive offices. Although it no longer has the same shiny boardroom table and fancy computer equipment, its staff have not lost their spirit.

"There was no clarity of thought on where we were going in the past and the money stopped coming in," said Mjongile. "We are moving towards a situation where we are stabilising the finances of the ANC."

War chest
The provincial ANC had begun to settle its debts in the province, he said.

"The ANC has to be professionally run and it has to have a good image if it is to be viewed as a party that operates responsibly.

"Luthuli House is beginning to get involved and coming to see where it can help. Individuals are also coming on board to ask where they can help."

Building a "war chest" is central to its work, said Mjongile.

"In my view, it is important that the ANC must go through this, because we won't know sweetness if we don't know bitterness. You don't know what the value is of having power until you lose it.

"So this is an important experience that we are going through. The generation that is emerging in the ANC now must know how important it is to serve the people."

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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