The ANC's decision to put in place a pre-election vetting process to try to rid itself of the corrupt and the morally bankrupt is to be lauded, but for it to be successful it will have to pass the test of fairness and impartiality.
We report that the organisation has asked its candidates for Parliament and the provincial legislatures to disclose, among other things, their love affairs, children born out of wedlock, financial records – and even any leaking of information to outside parties – as a requirement for those seeking to become public representatives.
This arises from the party's national conference in 2012. It decided it had to clean up its image, establishing an internal "integrity committee". If the new committee has the capacity and the proper systems are in place, the vetting process could usefully root out bad elements – those not fit to hold public office – before they actually get there.
Yet, given what has seemed to be a selective, factionally driven and vindictive form of "discipline" within the party in the past few years, some candidates are justified in worrying about potential abuse of the new system.
First, there are leaders with criminal records, facing pending criminal charges or with highly questionable moral judgement, who continue to hold public office.
Unless the party asks them to step aside pending the outcome of the cases, and to stand down if convicted, the credibility of the new system will suffer. It will be seen as a kangaroo prosecutorial system aimed at dissenters and rivals.
Second, the ANC has lately displayed a disrespect for constitutional institutions such as the public protector.
Instead of confronting leaders found to have abused their powers or acted improperly, the party resorted to bashing the protector instead, trying to discredit her or to explain away problems such as the expenditure on the president's private homestead.
If the ANC is serious about shedding shady characters, it needs to support institutions such as the public protector.
Third, ANC leaders, including the president, have complained that state institutions are being used to settle political scores.
With continuing intra-party factional wars, the new system could be undermined if it is abused in a similar way.