/ 21 April 2022

One-on-one with David Masondo: ‘Review the ANC constitution’

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David Masondo, Deputy Finance Minister. (Photo by Gallo Images/Die Burger/Jaco Marais)

As the ANC battles to curb ill-discipline, the head of the party’s OR Tambo School of Leadership, David Masondo, believes its constitution should be amended to ensure all members undergo political education.

Masondo told the Mail & Guardian that before people receive their ANC membership cards, they must be mandated to do basic courses on the party’s constitution. 

“Because what we do is recruit people. We don’t even really orientate them on what exactly the ANC stand for so as part of organisational renewal. I think we need to constitutionalise and say you’ve got to go through political education … you’ve got to know what the ANC stands for. And you’ve got to provide proof that, indeed, you understand the ANC and that you must have a  track record of doing community work because you’re not joining the ANC to drive your own personal interest agenda, you are joining the ANC in order to serve the people.” 

Masondo has also argued that the ANC must rethink its organisational design, because its committees do not link the party to its constituents. 

He believes the ANC should establish commissions based on sectors of society to better link the party to the people. 

“Organising ourselves around, say, health or economic transformation, I think it has proven not to be very sufficient does not organically link us up to the people. I think we need to organise ourselves in terms of the constituencies that we basically represent. So the issues around health, of course, will arise when you talk about young people, when you talk about workers because the issues that affect workers are slightly different from, if you like, business people. You can even say a commission on the rural people or rural masses. 

“So I think the question around the organisational redesign you’ve got to think it, in my view, along those lines, so that when you report, you deal with the issues in the NEC, you ask questions about, where are we in dealing with the issues of women, of the youth, of the workers, the rural people. And of course, a lot of things will come in their economic issues, health issues. That’s the first thing that I think we should basically do. And therefore that will also have constitutional implications insofar as the way in which you organise yourself.”  

Masondo said that for the ANC to guard against future attempts to capture the party and state, the ANC must build credible, solid branches and members. He noted that if the rank-and-file members are politically educated then the leaders will be held to account. 

Masondo is among the ANC leaders who have expressed frustration over the step-aside resolution. The recent election of eThekwini regional chair Zandile Gumede — who faces corruption charges — and Mpumalanga provincial treasurer Mandla Msibi — who has been charged with double murder — have highlighted the microcosm of the problems plaguing the ruling party, among them, a defiant stance by branches against the step-aside rule. 

“I [dont] seek to suggest that the school will be a panacea for all our problems, because some of the things that are being done — capture and all that — were done by highly politically conscious cadres and leaders of our movement. So it’s for that reason that if we build a critical mass, it’s difficult for even those advanced, highly politically educated members. Members can hold them accountable and say, ‘no, the ANC does not stand for this’.” 

The lack of zeal for political education in the ANC is demonstrated by the poor showing of members who have graduated from the OR Tambo School of Leadership in the three of its existence, said Masondo. Little more than 50 000 have graduated and registration stands about 70 000 in a party that boasts more than one million members. As material conditions changed, the party failed to invest systematically in political education for almost 24 years leaving it open to the decay of ill-discipline. 

“So this school has a huge deficit,” he concedes. 

The school’s curriculum is divided into three parts with 13 registered modules. The first modules centre on strategic courses that consider the development of the continent, the history of colonialism and imperialism. 

The school also offers a more advanced curriculum focusing on the state’s developmental agenda, human emancipation, the Constitution of the country, the history of South Africa, the history of the ANC, and ethics.  

“We also train people theoretically, ideologically, and ask questions: Why would a  neoclassical economist prescribe a different micro-economic policy position to a Keynesian, for instance? Will they say the same things on fiscal policy, monetary policy, labour market policy? And if so, why?… 

“And in that way, you helping your members to be distinct from a DA [Democratic Alliance member], for instance, when they take policy debates whether in council, whether in parliament, you can draw a distinction. And, of course, when people take positions, they don’t say, ‘no, no, I’m coming from a neoclassical point of view’. You do that in the background, you teach them in a class, you teach them in a workshop. So that’s policy education.” 

Masondo said that part of the OR Tambo school’s curriculum focuses on training members in organisational skills to enable party representatives to write minutes, have an ability to make concise arguments and to communicate. 

“Those basic things that sometimes we take for granted — [like] how to campaign, not just for elections but in your community, how to draw up a programme of action, deal with the needs and the problems of our communities. And that we do it through, among other things, a programme called the mass political education programme,” he said, adding that the programme will be rolled out to rank and file members in April.  

Masodo said the school realised early on that it did not have the technical capacity to put together a module and a study guide. The party sought the assistance of the South African Institute for Distance Education to help design the curriculum but the content comes from the ANC. 

“So on the history of South Africa, history of the ANC, you had a Kgalema [Montlanthe] as part of the reference group, you had [Pallo] Jordan as part of the reference group … but for mass political education, we do that internally.” 

On whether he intends to lead the school in the future, Masondo said he believes the party will build the capacity of its members partly through the school. 

“I think my main passion and interest is to really see the school succeed. Because if it succeeds, in terms of its work will strengthen the ANC in different ways and build critical members who would hold and elect proper leaders who will assist South Africa.”