ANC NEC usurps provinces' powers

Downslide: Former Independent Electoral Commission head Pansy Tlakula announcing election results in Pretoria in 2014, which included record losses for the ANC in the metros. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Downslide: Former Independent Electoral Commission head Pansy Tlakula announcing election results in Pretoria in 2014, which included record losses for the ANC in the metros. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) is set for a showdown with the party’s provincial structures, which are opposed to the decision to have mayors of the country’s metros and strategic districts appointed by the party’s top brass.

Previously, the party’s regional executive committees submitted three candidates to the provincial executive committee (PEC) for consideration, and the PEC had the final say on who could become a mayor.

The ANC head of elections and a national working committee member, Nomvula Mokonyane, said this week the NEC and not the PEC would decide in future on the mayoral candidates.

The party is battling to retain its popularity in urban areas, particularly in the large metro municipalities it governs. There are fears that opposition parties are gaining a foothold in towns and cities and could unseat the ruling party in some of them in this year’s local government elections.

Panic over the very real prospect of losing key metros has prompted the ANC to take the controversial decision to field its most prominent cadres in those areas to help it recover from its poor showing during the general elections in 2014. In that year, the party received 54% of the votes in Johannesburg, 56% in Ekurhuleni, 51% in Tshwane and 48.81% in Nelson Mandela Bay, all the lowest in its 20-year rule.

“We will bring the most capable leaders of the ANC [in the metros]. We will look at what is in the best interest of the party when we choose mayoral candidates. This is a new approach [that the party has adopted],” Mokonyane said. After consultation with all its structures, the ANC would unveil the names of its candidates before the local government elections.

A PEC member from Gauteng, who asked to remain anonymous, was not impressed with the ANC’s new approach. He said any plan to have the NEC decide on mayoral candidates would be unconstitutional.

“There is a conference resolution taken in 2007 in Polokwane which says the PEC must have a final say as to who becomes the mayor.

“If you don’t follow processes, anything can happen. How do you reach decisions outside processes? This defies all logic. How will the NEC reach a decision that so and so is the correct candidate? The organisation will collapse if processes are not followed,” he said.

The ANC’s provincial secretary in Limpopo, Knocks Seabi, said he would prefer not to comment on the matter but a member of the provincial executive in the province said Limpopo would oppose the move to have the NEC take a final decision on the appointment of mayors.

“It will never fly. Anything that is against conference decisions would be wrong. You can’t say all power to the people today and go and do something else tomorrow,” the PEC member said.

The ANC’s provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala, said he did not have any problem with the new approach, and the Eastern Cape ANC leader, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, said the province would support the decision by the NEC to appoint the mayors in areas that needed intervention, such as the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

Some in the ANC see the decision to have the NEC appoint mayors as a strategy by supporters of President Jacob Zuma to control the resources in the big metros, particularly in Gauteng, before the party’s elective conference next year.

In most cases, ANC leaders rely on those who win multimillion-rand government tenders to fund their campaign to be elected as ANC leaders.

The Gauteng PEC member said the province would fight the attempt by the NEC to take power away from the provincial structure because it undermined the ANC’s constitution.

“They tried the same tactics even on the issue of premiers where they argued for 50/50 representation, but they could not succeed. Unless the ANC is no longer governed by its decisions, their tactics will not succeed,” he said.

He warned that members of the ANC would not campaign for the local government elections if unpopular candidates were proposed as mayoral candidates.

“We will find ourselves in a similar situation with Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, where ANC members protested against the appointment of Danny Jordaan as mayor.”

One of the topics Zuma covered extensively in his January 8 speech last week was the local government elections campaign and the processes for selecting councillor candidates, an issue that has led to a great deal of unhappiness and protests.

Zuma took time to explain that the party’s candidates for local government had to be ANC members in good standing.

Previously an attempt to involve communities to help select ANC councillors led bizarrely to the selection of people who were not even ANC members.

To avoid any confusion, Zuma explained the process in detail: “We remind branches that we select three nominees at an ANC branch meeting and present our nominees at a community meeting.” The community then says who they want and the ANC confirms the candidate, “unless there are overwhelming and compelling reasons to the contrary”.

Mokonyane said the decision to have the NEC appoint mayors would not take away the powers of ANC branches to participate in the selection of candidates.

She said the party would do anything to ensure it retained most of the municipalities in the country. “We are aware this is not going to be an easy campaign.”

As part of its campaign strategy, Mokonyane said the ANC would go back to communities to communicate the party’s successes and challenges.

“Our advantage is the ability to sustain our presence in all districts. We will tell our people what we have done ... [and that] we could have done better under normal economic conditions,” she said. – Additional reporting by Carien du Plessis

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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