On Tuesday night, when ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe entered the compound into which the media had been corralled for most of the party’s fifth policy conference, his usual waddle had a hint of a lift to it — as much of a saunter as his girth would allow.
He was in a jovial mood, too. Stopping off at the various huddles of journalists scattered across the room, he joked and shot the breeze. Often obdurate, he was now almost avuncular.
ANC policy guru Joel Netshithenzhe and Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, the former deputy chief of the African Union mission during Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s stint as the continental body’s chairperson, had just completed briefing the media on the ANC’s commissions on, respectively, strategy and tactics, and organisational renewal.
Both had emphasised a “groundswell” of support in the ANC for internal reform and the vision of an ANC less beholden to the interests of vulture capitalists like the Gupta family. An ANC more connected, empathetic and responsive to the rest of a country still profoundly divided along fractures of class and race — and increasingly wary of an ANC suffering a diminishing integrity.
The commissions had, according to Potgieter-Gqubule and Netshithenzhe, emerged with “very firm recommendations” to deal with corruption among members, the myriad issues affecting the democratic functioning of ANC structures, how the party would need to re-establish itself in society and measures to deepen the low tide of political thought and practice the ANC is experiencing.
Amendments to the ANC constitution, which would increase the powers of the party’s integrity and disciplinary committees, were also recommended. The former, which may become an independent structure if branches accept the proposal, would also have subpoena powers over those accused of corruption — and the powers to ask them to step aside from positions in the ANC and government.
The organisational review commission had also reaffirmed the vital oversight role that branch, regional and provincial secretaries must play in weeding out corruption among members and the manipulation of branches for factional interests.
If action in this regard was not taken, said Potgieter-Gqubule, those secretaries “will be held accountable, whether it’s individuals, people in their ranks, whether it is supporters or people that they have relationships with”.
Such recommendations may have contributed to Mantashe’s jocular disposition. If he would prefer to salvage his legacy as secretary general of the ANC, as his scathing diagnostic report on the ANC suggests, then his hand has strengthened.
The ANC has further degenerated into a moribund party — politically and intellectually — under his watch as “chief executive officer”.
Violence and murder of comrades increased considerably as it has accompanied the jostling for positions in the party and, consequently, government.
The ANC is losing electoral support and many leaders appear indifferent to whether the party endures, or dies, as long as their own fortunes, in the short-term, are ensured.
From the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal, there are branches and regions which complain that Mantashe has been ineffectual in curbing these practices, despite various reports and complaints landing on his desk.
Some ANC members allege that he has been playing politics, keeping his own interests and allegiances very close to his chest.
But, with the diagnostic report Mantashe presented to the policy conference noting the “political bankruptcy” in the organisation, the decline in “our analytical capacity”, the obfuscation of leaders on key issues such as the allegations of “state capture” and president Jacob Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta family, he fired a thunderous salvo across the bow of the ANC.
With that report — and the manner in which ANC delegates would appear to have responded to it in the organisational review commissions — Mantashe has
suggested that he is determined to not be remembered as secretary general of one of the worst iterations of a venerable organisation. Perhaps he is doing this with one eye on a bigger leadership role come December.
In politics, without the ballot, it is often unwise to suggest who may or may not have won a bout, a battle, or a war. Victory is precarious and nothing is as it seems —
especially in this version of the ANC — but Mantashe certainly emerged from the past week’s policy conference with his banner firmly up front.