/ 10 January 2023

State failures will persist unless ANC genuinely renews itself

Anc Supporters 3357
The official opposition has accused the ruling party of playing for time after it was ordered to release the record of decision-making on public service appointments. (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

While the ANC is governing, no attempts to turn around state failures, such as power blackouts, water outages and the breakdown of the law, will be possible without party renewal — at its most basic rooting out corruption, abolishing cadre deployment in favour of merit and making the state independent from the party. 

Many also do not understand that, without renewal, the reboot of the state, public services and the rule of law will be impossible with the ANC in power. Many also do not understand how, without renewal, the reboot of the state, public services and the rule of law will be possible if the ANC remains in power. 

The ANC has become a party-state; because of the deployment of ANC members to government, the party and the state have become intertwined. Problems in the party become problems in the state. In other words, the problems of the party — corruption, incompetence, and violence — will be reflected in the state and state failure will continue. 

The talk about renewal has become, like many other promised state reforms, a smokescreen to continue business as usual while pretending to do something. 

Furthermore, many ANC leaders and members benefit richly when the party — and therefore state — is dysfunctional, because they can use the chaos to plunder and get away with it. For this reason they are strongly opposed to any genuine reforms aimed at renewal and happy to keep the subject at the level of rhetoric, slogans and statements. 

The reality is that a root-and-branch shake-up of the ANC will cause a backlash and full-scale rebellion against any leader who introduces such a programme, which may split the party. This is one of the reasons there has been so little political will to implement genuine renewal. 

There are key pillars of renewal and reform President Cyril Ramaphosa should urgently introduce now that he has been re-elected president at the party’s recent national elective conference in Nasrec. While he still enjoys the halo of victory He must act quickly to introduce genuine renewal of the party. 

Ramaphosa will have to start with the party’s constitution, which must be changed to make it align with the country’s Constitution. The party needs to change its constitution to allow members and leaders to vote according to the national Constitution, their conscience and the widest interests of the country and not those of the ANC.

The ANC could not amend its constitution at its recent conference because the meeting did not have the required two-thirds majority as many delegates left after the elections for the top seven leaders were completed. 

The ANC’s constitution was developed when the party was in exile and operated as a liberation movement with limited internal democracy; the leaders make the decisions and the members follow. Democratic centralism is the central guiding principle of the party’s internal organisation. But democratic centralism is against the Constitution. 

Many ANC leaders and members still wrongly believe — from its liberation movement days — that the ANC’s constitution is above that of the country’s Constitution.

The ANC will also have to end the ideology of patriarchy, common in all African liberation movements — whereby authority is assigned based on age, maleness and length of time in the struggle — as one of the central pillars of the party’s organisational culture. 

A key renewal — the principle of merit — will have to be introduced into the ANC so that it becomes a pillar of appointment and election in the party and government.

There can be no renewal of the ANC without appointments, opportunities and ideas adopted based on merit — not age, struggle credentials or the fact that individuals are men. 

Ramaphosa will have to expel members and leaders who are corrupt, violent and misogynists — notwithstanding their struggle credentials, their following in the ANC and their links to the leading faction. 

The quality of leadership at every level, structure and affiliate of the ANC is dire. Crucially, the ANC will have to end its policy of deployment. 

The party will do well to set up an independent interview panel and ask for public nominations for parliamentary, provincial and councillor candidates, and interview a new cadre of honest, competent and ethnically inclusive leaders based on merit. This will bring fresh energy, thinking and competence to the ANC. 

The ANC will also have to change the way in which it elects its president. Every individual ANC member must be allowed to vote for the ANC president directly, not through branches making nominations and sending branch delegates to national conferences to vote. 

The party must build a wall between the party and the state, where the state is independent of the party at the national, provincial and local government levels, including state-owned enterprises. 

The party will have to professionalise its policy-making process. Policymaking in the ANC is largely sloganeering, based on outdated Cold War Marxist development ideology and not evidence-based. The ANC has little policymaking and research capacity. Worse still, the government has closed policy and research units in almost every government department or state-owned entity. Where they do exist, they have been starved of funding and competent staff. 

The ANC is running a modern state with a sophisticated mixed economy and diverse society. It is no longer a liberation movement in opposition to the apartheid state. The ANC urgently need a standalone policy institute that can formulate evidence-based, pragmatic policies. 

It is difficult for the governing party to introduce renewal because it has been responsible for state failure, corruption and the breakdown of law, with many of its leaders corruptly benefiting. There is a natural reluctance to take on its own corrupt leaders and members, fearing a rebellion against the leadership that does so.

Serious renewal might only happen once the party is out of power. But, without renewal, and the ANC remains the governing party, governance failures will get worse. 

William Gumede is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand‘s School of Governance and author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg)

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.