/ 2 February 2018

The ANC will need to rise from the ashes

If the ANC is to usher in a new era
If the ANC is to usher in a new era


Lessons on organisational transformation indicate that, often, when brands fail to live up to their values and ultimately fall out of favour, they undergo a creative destruction.

They manage to reinvent themselves and go on to ride a new wave. They make the best of a bad situation by restructuring and transforming to stay congruent with dynamic market shifts. But others disappear because of bad strategic judgments. In business, it occurs all the time.

Self-destruction is more common among political parties because of internal competition. Leaders fight each other to be on top of the pile to have control of state power and all the other opportunities and benefits that come with it.

The task of reinventing an organisation and repositioning its brand will always be disruptive and difficult. But it cannot succeed without a comprehensive leadership overhaul. This is at the heart of creative destruction and reinvention.

In the case of the ANC, the real question is whether it has the capability and resolve to transcend internal structural rifts and to reform and reinvent itself and herald in a new era, as its new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has promised.

The universal truth about the execution of a successful strategy is that there must be comprehensive understanding of the constraints that may impede its implementation and there must be a credible plan to mitigate and eliminate these constraints to achieve the desired transformation.

After the ANC’s poor performance in the 2016 local government elections, Ramaphosa was a leading voice in affirming that the ANC had listened and understood the unequivocal message of the voters — that they rejected the corruption defining the party. He said the ANC would be transformed and the values of its founding fathers would be restored.

But the outcome of the December national conference is less convincing that the message has been clearly understood.

First, the composition of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) and the national working committee (NWC) have hardly changed to reflect a conscious effort by the party to renew itself with an inspiring leadership core. The composition of the top six also fails to meet the expectations of a leadership overhaul that is critical to any effort to reinvent the party.

Second, it is the tripartite alliance — the ANC, the South African Communist Party and labour federation Cosatu — and its inherent ideological rifts that are the genesis of the policy conflict and incoherence that have plagued the ANC-led government since the democratic transition. In truth, the demise of the Thabo Mbeki presidency was triggered by his pronouncement and resolve that it would be better for the ANC to be smaller but better.

The fundamental conundrum we have to deal with is that the tripartite alliance and the ANC-led government have resulted in an astonishing turnover in development policy since 1994 and, more specifically, in the past 10 years. The result is unpredictability and uncertainty, key drivers for creating a negative investor climate.

We started with the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in 1994, designed to provide some degree of macroeconomic stability at the onset of the transition. This was followed by Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) in 1996, which was criticised as opening the door for the ANC’s current neoliberal economic policy. We then heard about “radical economic transformation” leading up to the party’s elective conference last year.

A market-led economic policy within the framework of fiscal discipline and macroeconomic stability underpinned Gear and is a 
central feature of all the other ANC growth policies such as the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa of 2007, the Industrial Policy Action Plan of 2009 (as revised), the New Growth Path of 2010 and the National Development Plan of 2012.

Third, when Ramaphosa ultimately becomes president of the country, how much latitude will he have to decide on Cabinet appointments that will inspire confidence, given the fact that people such as Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini are in the NWC?

In addition, with so much emphasis on the party as the political centre of power, it appears the balance of forces in the key decision-making organs of the ANC present very serious constraints on the leadership overhaul required to transform and reinvent the party.

Fourth, these fault lines and constraints have been magnified at a critical moment when the party has to confront a significant increase in electoral competition.

The leadership changes that have taken place in the ANC are nonetheless significant in the light of the widespread support garnered by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was also backed by President Jacob Zuma, before the elections. It is natural, therefore, for all stakeholders, including the investment community, to have a sense that we are indeed entering a new era.

But for that to materialise, Ramaphosa would need a degree of latitude and executive powers that are impossible under the current organisational structure.

The recent pronouncements by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, powerful figures in the top six, presage an almost impossible situation for the new president of the ANC.

Significantly, these negative pronouncements were made while Ramaphosa was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, singing a very different tune. His audience at Davos must have been confused.

As a nation, we must also temper our exuberance following the change of leadership in the ANC. The road ahead is fraught with danger and difficulties. A firm and unambiguous correction is urgently warranted. Whether or not it happens remains to be seen.

Thabang Motsohi is an organisational strategist at Lenomo Advisory. These are his own views