Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the African National Congress, wonders in the Sunday Times if they still have leaders who can save the ANC from itself. Well, it was a lecture delivered in memory of Oliver Tambo sometime this week. These are perilous times for the party and the memory of its departed struggle president – perhaps the struggle president – glints with a new sheen.
In the midst of the almighty gladiatorial combat in the government, the party still has post-election wounds to lick. Forget the PR bluster and big-man posturing that followed after it lost control of three major metropolitan areas – you don’t lose that much power and not feel it. This is a time for chewed fingernails and furrowed brows at Luthuli House. The factors that lost them cities in 2016 could very well lose them provinces in 2019. And the unthinkable after that … So far, minds are elsewhere.
Things are tough indeed. Small wonder the secretary-general returned to the memories of the 1969 Morogoro and 1985 Kabwe consultative conferences. Both were moments of crisis for the liberation movement and both led to major shifts in the policies and strategies of the ANC afterwards. Here we are again. Mantashe doesn’t ask if the party has re-entered that crisis moment – he states that “perhaps because of our age and laziness to read and follow our history, this appears to be the first or worst crisis that ever confronted our movement”.
Point taken, secretary-general. But what is currently underway in the party and the government is far from the “three represents” that a “distinguished and accomplished” comrade like Tambo embodied. So excuse us as we stand before you, arms splayed in bafflement, and ask to see the party’s “how do we recover from the almighty screw-up that was the 2016 elections” plan. There has to be one, right? The national executive committee said after the elections that it “viewed the outcome of the elections as a clarion call of the people to the liberation movement to urgently take steps to speed up the programmes of change, and rectify the many subjective weaknesses affecting its capacity to play its historic role”.
Signs of urgency, urgent taken steps, sped up programmes of change and rectified subjective weaknesses are scarce on the ground. Acrimony, recrimination, looting and civil strife are everywhere.
“The ease with which we call for expulsion or purging of those who seem to be disagreeing with us, and the diversity of ideas within the organisation being seen as divisions indicate that we are not keen to learn from history and experience,” Mantashe warns.
Indeed not. Tambo himself was not so enamoured with the release of the so-called Hani Memorandum, in which MK soldier Chris Hani and others complained of the plush lives that certain struggle leaders in exile seemed to be enjoying while the soldiers were neglected or wasted in fruitless campaigns.
If there is to be another “Hani Memorandum”, its moment is overdue.
Perhaps the would-be saviours have opened up the patient, taken one look at the cancer spread throughout the body, and grimly sewed it back up again. It would explain why some comrades have of late taken the view that the entire party leadership should resign. Just give up and let someone else have a go. Certainly, number one himself seems to have washed his hands of the entire business.
The problem is that wouldn’t constitute organisational renewal. The party has decried factionalism at every national and policy conference in the last decade and has done nothing about it. If the counter-movement to the leadership of President Jacob Zuma manifests itself as another leadership battle, as it surely must, will the “new faction” have the wherewithal to clean up the act? To change things and bring about a new party dynamic?
Memory is a damned thing. That’s what the “Zunami” was supposed to be about. The people were supposed to be first this time around. The time seems ripe to anoint another “people’s champion”, another saviour to lead the ANC to perfection. (Perhaps on November 2 in Pretoria? They’ve made millennial-friendly banners and everything.)
And so the party’s top administrator can only sigh wistfully and wish the selfless, principled and ethical Comrade Oliver Tambo were still alive. The party can’t seem to make another one.