ANC branches in the time of NGC 2015: lifeblood and heartache

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Branches are the lifeblood of African National Congress (ANC) organisation – and ANC conference time is when they step into the limelight and help determine the future of Africa’s oldest former liberation movement.

As much as the ANC has changed in its two decades plus in power, so the branches have also metamorphosed.

The ANC branches interface with constituents and carry the ANC organisationally. There is an increasing demand – seen in the National General Council (NGC) discussion documents – for branches to ensure that their members actively use government services and propagate ANC virtues. When the ANC laments “factionalism and ‘money politics” … as some of the critical weaknesses sapping the very revolutionary core of the organisation” both insiders and citizens trying to get into branch meetings know that the problem is rooted at that branch level.

This time around roughly 2 500 of the 3 000 NGC delegates will come from the branches. Some are well organised and form virtual cell structures, perhaps even using social media at street level to foster links between the movement and the people.

Others are powerful local patronage structures that sow and grow the seeds of money politics and factionalism, as alluded to in the Balance of Forces document (according to insiders drafted by Joel Netshitenzhe).

This year we see only the fourth of ANC NGC meetings, following from Port Elizabeth (2000), Tshwane (2005) and Durban (2010). Whereas the NGC is mainly a forum to monitor government delivery in terms of ANC policy and ANC progress on previous resolutions, the 2005 events also ensured that the NGC is seen as a potential forum for revolt against or endorsement of leadership. In their 2005 uprising against the regime of Thabo Mbeki the branches sang “Amandla Asemasebeni”, demanding that the leadership should never take the role of branches for granted.

Branch mobilisation in 2005 was light years away from 2000, when there was no revolt and branch delegates and leadership alike lamented the opportunism and decay in the quality of membership. It was clear (even at that early stage) that many were flocking into the branches for reasons of patronage and financial benefit. Continuation of a noble struggle – which was to be denoted the “second transition” from the ANC’s 2012 policy conference on – was playing second fiddle.

By 2010 the NGC’s magnifying glass included emphasis on the ANC branches and its leagues as important schools of socialisation for the reproduction and maintenance of the “revolutionary movement”. Hence the branches were tasked to mobilise and organise communities and act “as a political school for members of the ANC”. Discipline and conformity are preferred words in branch organisation at the time of NGC 2015, in the time of President Jacob Zuma Progress was modest – if ethics of selfless struggle and service to the people of South Africa are the criterions. The 2010 discussion document averred: “The Political School and Policy Institute are critical institutions around which to build a confident ANC in a theoretical and ideological sense”.

This formal political school (as opposed to branches being the virtual collective political school), the NGC of 2010 continues, “should focus on the rapid and sustained development of the ‘New Cadre’ in accordance with 2000 NGC resolutions: a cadre with the knowledge, competence, outlook, attitude, skills and ethics required for this new phase of the struggle”.

The centrality of ANC branches in the ANC’s organisational sustenance runs through the 2015 discussion documents, starting in the introduction: “As the governing party, the ANC relies on the strength of its branches and their ability to work among the people, mass participation of communities in programs of the ANC and those of government, and its ability to use state power to advance speedily its goal of realizing the ANC’s historic mission”.

This year’s discussion documents are largely silent on the formal political school, although we know that land has been acquired and the planning is taking shape. Explicit mentions are reserved for the Former Liberation Movements’ (FLMs’) joint political school in Tanzania – as “an important initiative in retaining the legacy and heritage of our liberation”. The Tanzanian government has donated land.

While these political schools remain on the agenda, the internal and organisational task of political education resides in the branches. Since 2012 the ANC had made it a priority task to deepen political education in the branches, says this year’s Balance of Forces document. The syllabus, according to the 2012 ANC conference resolution would include media training, research and ICT skills.

A new feature that arises, circa 2015, is the integration of ANC branches with grassroots governance, be it in the domains of health services and healthy life style, or school sport and recreation. The Battle of Ideas document wants all branch members to become active ambassadors of ANC ideas. The activity must be controlled by the ANC’s internal communication policy, which is to provide for political discipline, framework, protocol and coordination of ANC approach to communications and the battle of ideas. If there is still uncertainty, the document spells out: The premise of the policy is that all ANC structures must operate within the discipline of the ANC.

This brief ‘discussion document story’ of ANC branches is that of an ANC that still yearns to be the liberation movement, holding out that the liberation ideals are being realised continuously as the ‘second transition’ (from the 2014 policy conference) unfolds. The terrain, however, has changed and ‘new enemies’ are identified in opposition parties, the media and foreign forces. As the NGC documents show, however, dangers also seen to be lurking in the branches. They have to be politically educated, mobilised and controlled. Discipline and conformity are preferred words in branch organisation at the time of NGC 2015, in the time of President Jacob Zuma.

Susan Booysen is the author of
Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma and Professor at Wits School of Governance

– By ANALYSIS: Susan Booysen, Wits