The ANC will this week observe its constitutional obligation to convene a national policy conference six months before the national electoral conference in December.
The obvious basic human instinct, under the circumstances, is for the leadership to “tick the boxes” and to be on the right side of the rules. The people who have best understood the importance of constitutional awareness have been ANC branch members.
Even if you don’t do anything else to advance the popular interests of the ANC, you are guaranteed all the privileges and rights of a member or a structure in good standing if you know the rules and you stick to them.
But in what way is this week’s gathering going to contribute to a successful ANC conference in December? How are the recommendations of this policy conference going to help minimise the visible and serious threats to the December conference at which they will be ratified?
So much hope is being placed on this conference.
The concrete historical experiences of organisations and institutions inform many of their constitutional provisions. The inclusion in our constitution of a policy conference was considered necessary for the better management of ANC conferences. It was necessitated by the growing vigour and zeal with which canvassing for leaders at national conferences was pursued, often to the detriment of policy discussions.
This has increased. Today even the policy conference, which was designed to minimise the distraction of slate politics at national conferences, has now arguably fallen prey to the shenanigans of factions.
Factions in our political life are a manifestation of the emergence of diverse interests outside the common popular interests that members share.
There is evidence that special conferences, such as the consultative conferences the ANC held in its years of struggle, have helped to regain a unity of purpose among the leadership and the rank and file.
But unity can only be achieved by a gathering that devises concrete measures to redirect the energies of the organisation accordingly.
The ANC constitution provides for special conferences. A consultative conference, convened to address all the issues facing the ANC today, could have such a positive effect that the December conference would take place in a relatively conflict-free environment. This would allow the national conference more space and time to focus on delivery policies.
The uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) council believes we need a gathering to sound a new clarion call, a call that foregrounds a fresh definition of discipline for cadres and members, and a scientific cadre policy that integrates party and civic duties, together with the interests and ambitions of individuals, anchored on the principle of social solidarity.
Hence we find the libellous allegations that former MK members, mobilised under the umbrella of the national council, have declined to take part in the consultative conference deeply hurtful and regrettable.
First, this untruth comes after we were told in a formally constituted meeting of the task team constituted by Luthuli House, the MK council and the 101 veterans and stalwarts that the ANC leadership has not agreed to and will not agree to convening a consultative conference.
All along we were told the only snag was disagreement on whether it should be linked or delinked from the policy conference. This has scuppered preparations for the national consultative conference.
It is disingenuous for ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe to give the impression that MK steering committee members childishly walked away from something he himself says does not exist.
Second, there is an abundance of evidence that the office of the secretary general never supported the idea of a consultative conference; he did not, in his report to the last national executive committee, allow the matter to be discussed.
Third, the leadership, in particular the secretary general’s office, did not expedite ANC provinces’ preparations for what he now calls “a meeting for a special dialogue”.
Of all the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape convened a provincial consultative conference to canvass views for its own input.
The ANC leadership has let itself down. In the wake of the local government elections last year, the national executive committee said it would not act hastily but would listen to the broad membership of the ANC first.
There can be no better way to listen to the membership than by convening a special conference. Critically, the purpose cannot be to enrich further our understanding of the malady afflicting the organisation. We have philosophised for far too long about this syndrome.
What we need is unanimity on a set of measures to be implemented immediately, and the protocols that must be in place to expedite the smooth implementation of these measures, including timeframes and monitoring and evaluation procedures.
Whatever happens this weekend, even after all the time lost, we still believe that the ANC’s leaders will come to a realisation that a special consultative conference is indeed a prerequisite for a successful national conference in December.
Thabang Makwetla is a member of the MK steering committee