The African National Congress (ANC) is scheduled to hold its fourth (4th) National General Council (NGC) at Gallagher Estate, Midrand from 9 – 12 October 2015. Held mid-way between party conferences, the NGC is convened to discuss and debate the “strategic organisational and political issues facing the movement”. The NGC cannot change policies or resolutions adopted by the party’s five-yearly national conference.

The NGC is normally preceded by discussions at all levels of the organisation, starting at branch level. The following reports will be tabled and discussed in the plenary of the 2015 NGC: the Political Report by the President (Jacob Zuma) and the State of the Organisation Report by the Secretary-General (Gwede Mantashe).

According to Mantashe, the NGC’s “primary task” was to carry “a mid-term review in terms of work done to implement the (53rd) national conference resolutions”.

“It is important to note that the NGC does not amend policy but rather reviews policies and programmes of the ANC. An NGC is convened to identify and respond to existing and emerging developmental challenges post the ANC’s 53rd Mangaung National Conference. It is a platform for critical political engagement amongst its 3000 participants; with 2500 delegates representing ANC branches…the remaining 500 allocated to the National Executive Committee (NEC), Provincial Executive Committees (PEC), ANC Leagues, Military Veterans, Alliance partners, MDM Structures, fraternal organisations, Parliamentary Committee Chairpersons from National Parliament and deployed cadres from government, State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and business,” ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa adds.

The National General Council can however instruct the ANC to conduct more research and formulate resolutions for the next national conference (in December 2017), but it cannot take binding policy decisions.

Elections are generally not held at a National General Council also. If there are vacancies on the NEC they are filled by co-option.
Although delegates are permitted to bring issues to the National General Council that are not within the ambit of the meeting, they must alert the secretary-general at least three months in advance.
Previous National General Councils

The last NGC was held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in September 2010.

The first NGC was held in Port Elizabeth from 11 – 15 July 2000; and the second event took place in Tshwane from 29 June – 3 July 2005.

At the 2010 NGC, some 2000 ANC branch delegates, 800 invited guests and 450 VIPS attended. The provincial breakdown of branch delegates in 2010 was: KZN (300), EC (383), LIM (254), GP (195, NW (161), MP (138), WC (136), FS (128), NC (119). The eight-hundred (800) invited guests were drawn from the ANC leagues (Women, Youth, Veterans), alliance partners (Cosatu, SACP, Sanco) and other bodies such as the South African Local Government Association, the South African Students Congress and the Congress of South African Students. For the 2010 National General Council, approximately 300 members of the media were accredited.

By the time Zuma went to the 2010 NGC, he faced a hostile reception on a number of fronts. Party factions that rallied behind him in their struggle to have Mbeki ousted at Polokwane, Limpopo in 2007 turned the heat on each other, in the hope of using the 2010 talk-shop to test the balance of power ahead of the party’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung, Bloemfontein. When Zuma defeated Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007, he did so with the support of the left—Cosatu and the SACP—as well as the ANC Youth League and other so-called “nationalist” groupings who felt aggrieved by Mbeki. But the left and nationalists were allegedly at each other’s throats in the lead-up to the 2010 NGC; and the ANC president found himself in the awkward position of trying to appease both camps.

Importantly, although the 2010 Durban NGC was not an elective conference and had no power to take any policy decisions, there was general consensus that it would be a litmus test for Zuma’s ambition of leading the party beyond its centenary, in 2012.
Zuma eventually won a second term in Mangaung, capturing approximately 75% of the vote.
The 2005 NGC and why it was so controversial

Former ANC president Thabo Mbeki attended his last NGC as head of the party in 2005. The gathering proved to be a turning point for Mbeki as delegates, representing ANC branches from across the country, openly revolted against him and his NEC. From then on, analysts argued that Mbeki’s dream of serving a third term as party president began to fade. At the event, Mbeki had to endure a number of protests when supporters of his former deputy Jacob Zuma openly sang “Zuma, my president”. The chorus rang out soon after Mbeki gave his opening address. Many of the delegates from Zuma’s home province, KwaZulu-Natal, also donned t-shirts emblazoned with the words “All shall be equal before the law” and “Innocent until proven guilty”. Zuma was subsequently reinstated to party activities and structures after voluntarily stepping down the day he was charged with corruption.

“Delegates to the NGC felt very strongly that the deputy president should be active and not withdraw from party structures,” then ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said, confirming that Zuma had addressed the council and had agreed to return to party activities.

ANC’s Coast of Dreams in 2010

Costs for the five-day gathering in 2010 reportedly cost approximately R7-million;

Businessmen and parastatal bosses had to reportedly cough up R24 000 to attend the NGC. Ordinary members only paid R900. The party’s top six officials, ministers, premiers, members of executive councils and mayors paid between R5 000 and R7 000. MPs paid R2 000, and parliamentary committee chairpersons shelled out R2 500.At the party’s 2010 NGC, it hosted a ‘Coast of Dreams’ to interact with the business community and other interested stakeholders;

At the time, R500 000 secured seats next to President Jacob Zuma at the gala dinner; this was referred to as the ‘Titanium Package’;
Ministers and premiers hosted tables of 10 at R2 500 a plate, but for those whose pockets were not quite as deep, there was the R1 000 option at an MP’s table;

Other packages available during that time included R25 000 and R12 500 targeted at individuals and Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs);

In 2010, a gold (R100 000) and platinum (R250 000) package bought a table hosted by a minister or premier. A silver and bronze deal included only one major government representative. Additionally, each platinum, gold and silver package participant qualified to exhibit at one of the 32 stands for 60 companies at the NGC. This was not extended to the bronze deal;
At the 2007 Polokwane conference, exhibition spaces in the upmarket tents reportedly brought in R5 million for the ANC.

Fast facts on the ANC’s National General Council

One of the main purposes of the NGC is policy formulation for the next conference – with discussions based on the set of policy docs drafted beforehand;

The NGC cannot change policies or resolutions adopted by the ANC’s five-yearly national conference;

The NGC is NOT an elective conference…if there are vacancies on the NEC they are filled by co-option;

Although delegates may bring issues to the council that are not within the ambit of the NGC, they must alert the secretary-general at least three months in advance;

Members can also propose motions from the floor, including a vote of no confidence in leaders;

The NGC is however seen as the main starting point for any kind of lobbying within the party…2005 case of Zuma leading up to 2007 Polokwane national conference.

Ronesh Dhawraj is a Specialist Researcher (Politics) with the SABC News department. He is currently engaged with his Ph D in political communication through the University of South Africa (UNISA).

– By ANALYSIS: Ronesh Dhawraj