Can Ramaphosa’s new disciplinary committee operate beyond factional lines?

In 2012, at the height of former president Jacob Zuma’s administration, rumours about the then ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s impending suspension took shape. 

At Luthuli House, it was widely known that the governing party’s  disciplinary committee,  which comprised the ANC’s most prominent leaders, would deliver the final blow that had the ability to upset palace politics. 

Malema had been a symbol of what was to come in the ANC, and the committee that presided over the party’s most pressing matters was no longer a cohort of toothless, grumpy elders. 

As Derek Hanekom delivered the statement expelling Malema, the blow reverberated in the corridors of Luthuli House. The might of the committee had been made manifest.  

It would be fair to say that the disciplinary committee in the hands of Hanekom and Cyril Ramaphosa helped engineer today’s political agenda. 

Malema and his red berets would change how South Africans interacted with parliament. The steps of parliament symbolised the attrition of the ANC and the august house. 

As many speculated about the reasons for Malema’s expulsion, what was clear to some was that factional lines were tangible in the committee, which served as judge, jury and executioner — and sometimes the messiah. 

At the time, the disciplinary committee consisted of party leaders aligned or sympathetic to Zuma. Malema had fallen out with Zuma and the radical young lions, which were once celebrated for this very character, were viewed as too radical and too militant for the elders to control. 

Factions in the ANC are not new, with the divide along lines of loyalty to Zuma and his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, being a clear example. 

Zuma used his influence in the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) and its disciplinary committee to “get rid of” detractors, but so did Mbeki.

It was Mbeki and his allies who were thought to have spearheaded the expulsion of a young and popular General Bantu Holomisa after he had gone against the fray.  

Holomisa did what few of his comrades dared to do. He failed to toe the party line when he suggested at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the then public enterprises minister, Stella Sigcau, accepted a R50 000 payment from the former ruler of the Transkei, Chief George Matanzima.

It was the disciplinary committee that would throw the book at the popular Eastern Cape leader for bringing the party into disrepute. 

The disciplinary committee continues to be perceived as factional. And although its decisions are constitutionally binding, it is an open secret that being charged is usually the result of who you know, not what you have done. 

This was the reason the ANC felt the need to establish another body, the integrity committee, a group of elders that would equally play judge, jury and executioner. 

The idea behind the integrity committee (accused of being toothless) was to break the cycle of factions taking control of the disciplinary committee. In the end, the integrity committee would stand accused of the same thing. 

This could be the reason behind Ramaphosa’s decision to make sweeping and unprecedented changes. One wonders why Ramaphosa has sought a collection of Mbeki allies for the body,

The two men do not speak, an ANC insider has previously told the Mail & Guardian. Ramaphosa himself made this clear in a leaked audio where he was heard pronouncing his loyalty to Zuma but questioning Mbeki’s support. 

Those who have fallen out of favour with the ANC president often speak of his cunning and ruthlessness. While we continue to speculate about whether the man is decisive and has the appetite to make the necessary changes to the governing party, there are those in the ANC who have already been felled as a result of his ambition. 

The new changes to committees could be another symbol of this ambition. Ramaphosa, with the aid of his allies in the national working committee, is determined to keep a firm grip on the ANC. This extends to the disciplinary committee. 

This committee will see the introduction of Vusi Pikoli, Thandi Orleyn, Enver Surty, and Kerensa Millard. These names have, in some way, been involved with law enforcement and state security. 

It seems logical that Ramaphosa, who has ranked the governing party as the number one accused when it comes to corruption, would bring in these names barely (if at all) blemished by the Zuma years, to oversee the ANC’s biggest challenge — returning the shine to its tarnished image.  

But why would he ordain these names, which were known allies of Mbeki, a man instrumental in his political wilderness? 

It might just be that there is simply a need to fulfil South Africa’s yearning for the ANC to be held accountable without fear or favour. 

It could also be that some of these individuals have an axe to grind with those who so vehemently fought hard for Zuma and were instrumental in the years that defined state capture. 

Whatever the reason, the country will be keeping a keen eye on the developments, particularly on Ace Magashule, who is sure to make an appearance when the new disciplinary committee takes shape.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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