ANC has to adapt or die, says Gordhan

Rethink: Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan says the ANC must change its tune. Photo: David Harrison

Rethink: Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan says the ANC must change its tune. Photo: David Harrison

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan believes the ANC is skirting dangerously close to losing the support of the electorate. He said its policy conference in Soweto will signal whether the party can adapt to a changing world while retaining its principles.

A member of the ANC’s commission on economic transformation, Gordhan will take part in discussions on how to change the country’s economy and strengthen the state’s legislative and governance capacity to deal with rampant corruption and the capture of officials and processes.

Gordhan told the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the policy conference that the ANC, as companies do, was reaching the end of its S-curve — a business term referring to the decline a company goes through after experiencing its peak.

“You have a very successful climb, then you reach an inflection point — at which point, if you do not renew yourself or innovate or adapt to a new environment, you decline. So at that point a new S-curve starts,” said Gordhan.

He is one of the 15 ministers and deputy ministers who were removed from President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet in March.
Gordhan and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas were seen by Zuma and his supporters as particular obstacles to implementing programmes important to the president, such as the nuclear deal. The two were also very critical of state capture and questioned dodgy dealings between the Gupta family and state-owned enterprises such as Eskom.

Gordhan’s dismissal from the finance ministry triggered a slump in the value of the rand and a public rebuke of Zuma, who explained his decision to axe Gordhan to the South African Communist Party and the top six ANC leadership by saying an intelligence report linked Gordhan to foreign business interests.

Zuma’s reasoning was condemned by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, while the party’s treasurer Zweli Mkhize and secretary general Gwede Mantashe criticised the other unilateral changes made to Cabinet.

The ANC’s leadership must now prove that it is able to guide the organisation towards unity, Gordhan said, a task that would require humility. “Leadership, ultimately is, about spotting when you’ve got to realign yourself to the realities around you, where you are open to feedback from external sources and humble enough to realise that adaptations need to actually take place,” he said.

“The challenge is whether we are up to meeting those [needs] and reshaping the organisation. The policy is one thing; changing an organisation in terms of the nuts and bolts is quite another,” he added.

Gordhan is now a member of the parliamentary oversight committee for public enterprises as an ordinary MP, but he remains one of the ANC’s most popular leaders.

He faces allegations from the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association and the ANC Youth League that he is an agent for white monopoly capital — a reference to the belief that the country’s economy is dominated by white South African business moguls.

These tensions have further entrenched the divisions between the two dominant factions in the ANC — those supporting Zuma and those behind Ramaphosa’s campaign to replace him.

Gordhan told the M&G that the ANC finds itself at a critical juncture, with competing interests and increasing complexity.

“There is … some complexity in the way in which organisations adapt, and it’s a multidimensional thing. Part of it is politics, sociology, organisational culture, institutional and human behaviour and the kind of consciousness that guides people when they undertake these sorts of tasks.”

Whether the factions currently feuding for control for the party will be able to rise above the infighting remains to be seen. And whether the ANC can resolve the impasse while retaining its core principles will require a careful balancing act.

“So it’s understanding that complexity and trying to cope with it, that will decide which way you go. I think that’s the test we face: how do we get back, closer to the people who’ve loved the ANC over the years … and ensure, notwithstanding the challenges of a modern environment, you can keep the essential principles [of the ANC] still intact, but modify the way in which you respond to the environment,” Gordhan said.

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