/ 22 July 2023

Bury the demon of factionalism, ANCWL’s Baleka Mbete tells conference delegates

ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete.
Baleka Mbete Mbete headed the national task team mandated with preparing the ANCWL for the conference. (Oupa Nkosi, MG)

ANC Women’s League convener Baleka Mbete has called on delegates to its national conference to set aside the “disease” of factionalism and to focus on improving the conditions under which South African women live.

Mbete made the call in her political report to the conference, the start of which has been delayed due to the process of registering delegates, saying that the ANC had been struggling with factionalism in all its structures since its conference in Polokwane in 2007.

The opening address by ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula, scheduled to take place on Friday night, had to be moved until Saturday morning to allow for delegations which had not yet been registered to do so.

Like the ANC mother body and the ANCYL, the ANCWL has faced serious challenges ahead of the elective conference, called to replace a leadership, headed by Bathabile Dlamini, whose term of office has expired.

Mbete, who has headed the national task team mandated with preparing the ANCWL for the conference, said that the league had also been intensely impacted by the internal battles between factions in the main party.

“The post-Polokwane intensely factional environment had had a very negative effect to all structures of the movement at all levels,” Mbete said.

“The women were also affected as they are part of the movement and all its formations throughout. It is a fact that when history is captured it will show how exactly and how much we reflected this contamination as women,” Mbete said.

Three candidates – current president Dlamini, Sisi Tolashe, who was nominated by the ANCWL structures ahead of the province, and Thembeka Mchunu, the former mayor of Umhlathuze – are expected to contest the league’s top post.

Mbete said the ANCWL needed to re-establish itself at community level, working with local structures, from youth to retirees, on campaigns which were socially beneficial and which would re-ignite its relationship with women in society.

Education programmes about the league and its work needed to be rooted at local level, and should move away from the current format of being celebrity-driven, high cost events.

“My firm proposal is that the location of such sustained education must be a priority for the young women’s desk as it will need the energy and focus. For it to be effective it must be based on easily accessible human resources available in our communities – not to go out and create costs of flying or transporting personalities or experts from far,” Mbete said.

Social programmes needed to be de-politicised – and kept out of the political battles inside the party and with the ANC’s rivals.

“Socially beneficial work does not need to be trapped in the dark corners and confines of party politics where it could stand to quickly be throttled by a disease we know called factionalism and corruption,” Mbete said.

Turning to the experience of the NTT’s work, Mbete said that “anyone who says it was smooth-sailing is not truthful”.

“But we focused on consolidation of the achievements of eras before our own. We did not seek to pretend there had ever been angels among us,”Mbete said.

“We recognized our weaknesses, we even differed on approach on some things, but we never allowed ourselves to be so poisoned by those differences to a point of being immobilised or collapsing,”  Mbete said.

Mbete said delegates had a revolutionary duty to defeat the “demon” of factionalism which had weakened the ANC.

“This will not only strengthen the ANC.  A strong ANC is needed in 2024. The need for the Women’s League to be its best and its strongest cannot be overemphasised,” Mbete said.

“The beginning of this is mending and retracing our steps as the alliance women, not  superficially, but honestly, the truth shall set us free as well as strengthen us fundamentally.”

In a reference to the likelihood of the ANC being forced into a coalition after the 2024 elections, Mbete said the ANC’s “dismal” performance in the local government elections was “accepted as evidence of the reality of the most difficult time for us”  and that “this era that is upon us is unlikely to retreat”.

She said delegates needed to “deepen the lessons” from the ANC MPs who arrived in the first democratically elected parliament and had to learn to work with their former enemies to create a new legislature.

A number of the country’s hung metro councils – and local municipalities – are the scene of ongoing battles between parties using no-confidence motions and other methods to dislodge each other from positions of power, with a similar situation threatening to play itself out at national and provincial level after the coming elections.

“Exposure shows that it is not impossible to work in harmony and in an orderly fashion even when you differ ideologically, culturally and politically,” Mbete said. 

“I am referring here to an era which has arrived that we must open our minds to. The time to learn to do things on the basis of non-partisanship and non-sectarianism as principles, that time is now.”

“This will shift us steadily to becoming truly, in conduct and how we relate to others, the leader of society.