/ 18 December 2022

Existential crisis — ANC membership drops by more than one third in five years

Anc 55 National Conference 8611
The ANC’s membership has dropped by more than 33% since its previous elective conference in December 2017. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The ANC’s membership has dropped by more than 33% since its previous elective conference in December 2017, with the party shedding more than 330 000 members around the country over the past five years.

The governing party now has half of the number of members it had in 2012 — when its membership peaked at the 53rd national conference in Mangaung at 1.2 million — despite modernising its membership system and a number of initiatives aimed at reaching the 1-million membership mark the party has been pursuing since 1990.

According to the party’s organisational report, delivered at its 55th national conference in Johannesburg on Saturday morning by deputy president David Mabuza, membership dropped from 989 736 in 2017 to 661 489 this December.

While membership had ebbed and flowed since 1990, it had increased between 2007 (at 620 964) and 2012, when the membership reached 1 220 057, its highest since the party was unbanned in 1990. 

Since 2012, the dropoff in membership has continued, partially because of the large number of members who were signed up but who had not paid membership fees.

In his report, Mabuza, standing in for suspended secretary general Ace Magashule, painted a bleak picture of a party dealing with what it recognises as an “existential crisis” but constrained by its own practices — and membership — which continued to cling to undemocratic practices that, if allowed to continue, could destroy the party.

Mabuza said that a series of issues including the suspension of Magashule and the death of his deputy, Jessie Duarte, who had acted in his stead, had a “critical impact on the functions of the secretary general’s office and the ability of the centre to hold”.

ANC Deputy President David Mabuza delivered the party’s organisational report on Saturday. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Mabuza said that this “unprecedented situation” had placed strain “on the organisation as a whole” and had illustrated the need to build a standing capacity to support the national officials of the ANC — the top six — as a whole.

While the new membership system had brought positive developments for the ANC, there was a “resistance of some members to discard old practices that the system was built to eradicate”.

“Even post the implementation of the new system, there are still remnants of the culture of gatekeeping and attempts at manipulation of ANC processes,” the report says.

Branches persisted in using “all sorts of tricks” to hold meetings outside ANC guidelines and its constitution.

“This is not so much about the system, but rather a sub-culture that the ANC will definitely have to deal with in order to transform such behaviour. If individuals resist, then the ANC must ensure that appropriate disciplinary processes are followed to rid itself of such behaviour and/or individuals in the spirit of its renewal agenda,” the report said.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the conference, former national executive committee member Derek Hannekom was frank about the party’s membership decline, stating that there is a vast disconnect between communities and ANC branches. 

“There are signs of patronage and corruption. These are issues they (potential members) raise. They say we like the ANC and we want to be part of it, but we need these issues to be addressed,” he said.

Turning to answer questions about attempts at organisational renewal, the report said that to implement the step-aside resolution had been strengthened, but that this had “not been easy” due to the “realities of the criminal justice sector and other factors”.

Processes had been undermined by affected members standing for election and then stepping aside again, which had “resulted in confusion and serious reputational damage to the organisation”.

Organisational discipline had continued to be undermined by members who persisted in taking the ANC to court over leadership decisions they were not happy with.

“This term has seen a significant increase in the propensity of members and structures to engage in litigation arising from internal organisational processes, running from the selection of candidates to the holding of conferences,” the report said.

The ANC’s integrity commission had also been strengthened during the term, but faced “serious challenges” including an “unhealthy political environment” and tardiness on the part of the national executive committee in processing and dealing with the IC’s reports.

The number of members the IC had dealt with had increased exponentially since 2018, and the body was likely to have to handle the cases of the 97 ANC members implicated in the Zondo Commission.