/ 26 October 2012

This good and serious ANC must be heard

What has happened to the good ANC?
What has happened to the good ANC?

What has happened to the good ANC? The progressive party that, when it came to power, lived up to its policies of nonracialism, non-­sexism and economic transformation – a party with a great past and an even better future?

These days its loudest voices are those of populists, racists, opportunists and reactionaries. The party seems to have lost its moral compass, with many members only interested in finding the shortest cut to the nearest juicy tender.

I went to two recent ANC branch meetings on Sunday afternoons, not only to see who they were going to support in Mangaung, but also to get a sense of whether the ever more Byzantine ANC was heading to Zumaville in a handbasket.

Established in May this year, the branch in Johannesburg's ward 117 includes suburbs such as Rosebank, Saxonwold and Parkview. Both meetings I attended were held in the listening room of a music production house in Rosebank. Among the attendees were a former senior civil servant, a top advocate, students, business people, domestic workers, a prominent doctor and a poet.

The first meeting was dominated by names. Not names of which politicians should be on the Mangaung slate, but of what to call the new branch.

Transcending race
"We're quick to catapult people to sainthood, but I'm always wary," warned the poet. "You never know what people can get up to. It would be better to have a name tested by time."

Like Ahmed Kathrada, said the comrade who proposed his name for the branch. "He transcends race. Individuals do fail, but Kathrada passed the test of time. His is the essence of what leadership should be."

However, the meeting agreed that the branch should not be named after a living person. All the other proposers got a chance to motivate why ward 117 should carry their suggested names.

"We need courage … the kind of courage Ruth First displayed," motivated comrade deputy chairperson. "She also lived in what is now our branch. Her book about her detention was coincidentally called 117 Days." So Ruth First it became by a clear majority.

The branch was in good standing with its 102 members, which qualified it to send one delegate to Mangaung, reported the secretary, setting the scene for a serious discussion about the state of the party and its leadership.

"Factionalism is driving our organisation apart – we should voice our unhappiness with the organisation," said one member. "We must stop the ANC from this downward spiral."

Comrade poet: "Our past is being blasphemed by where we are now."

Get rid of the president
One of the branch executive members cut to the chase: "To remain the leading party, have we got the leadership we need?"

Comrade doctor: "If a company's chief executive doesn't do well, he goes. Shouldn't we follow the same model at the ANC?"

"People won't be supporting the ANC forever," warned the advocate. "If we look at the rest of Africa, revolutionary parties do get voted out."

The executive member with another reality check: "The Democratic Alliance is making inroads into traditional ANC areas. They are a real threat. They've used our failings. We have to assess the leadership we have now – do we still need them? Should we change them?"

More nodding heads.

"What leadership will give us an electoral victory in 2014?" wondered the advocate. "What kind of politics will still make us electable in 2014?"

Then one man summed it up for the meeting: "We must get rid of the president!"

I believe I saw the good, serious ANC at those two branch meetings. Now it is up to these members to get their collective act together, have a quorum at their next meeting to qualify to send a delegate to the ANC's national conference and also pick who should lead the party from December onwards.

The ANC desperately needs sane voices at Mangaung.