Looming 2016 local elections, NGC’s task to add meat to the bone

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The ANC is readying itself for the 2016 local government elections and its multipronged strategy emerges clearly from the discussion documents that will drive this week’s National General Council (NGC) meeting.

NGC positions are a powerful and well publicised medium to communicate with the electorate – voters who will be looking for tell-tale signs to help them to continue trusting the ANC, both organisationally and as predominant governing party.

The ANC is setting out renewed criteria for its aspiring councillors. It is urging further attention to local government structures and financing, and is cautioning against the “micro management of municipalities by ANC structures” in the provinces, regions and branches.

It is holding out hope that this time around its emphasis on the ANC occupying anti-corruption high-ground will bring the required turnaround. The substantial task for the NGC deliberators will be to show that new resolutions will be really new, and will carry more weight than earlier editions that covered roughly the same territory.

Through the NGC discussion frameworks the organisation warns its own members of the lurking dangers of further decline in the metropolitan areas. The ANC has been shedding support in the metros “among the lower and upper middle strata among Africans as well as the poorest of the poor”.

The NGC documents, however, highlight few new initiatives on how, for example, to stop Gauteng voters from punishing the ANC. ANC metro support declined by an aggregate of 10.3 percentage points, with the EFF establishing an 11.4% foothold, and the DA support increasing by 6.5 percentage points.
The NGC documents shed light on an ANC that is approaching these predicaments from all angles. There are multiple proposals on how to improve both policy substance and governance practice.
The discussions also go much further, pinpointing the role of opposition parties, the media and other hostile forces in inflicting damage on the ANC. The NGC documents, however, highlight few new initiatives on how, for example, to stop Gauteng voters from punishing the ANC. On e-tolls it refers to the “fickleness … among the middle strata”.
On inequality and poverty, twin-issues that are bound to be central to the 2016 election campaign, the ANC sees citizens’ “weakening sense of hope and optimism”. It argues for determined policy implementation to realise more substantive transformation. But it shows little confidence in its ability to retain citizen loyalty through forceful policy implementation alone.
The organisation takes aim at party political opponents. The NGC documents talk about the self-declared “revolutionary elements” who “assail the legality and the legitimacy of the system”.
The documents proclaim that right-wing political forces and the “self-proclaimed” left are harming ANC leadership and status: “Opposition parties who lost the elections … question the outlook of the mass democratic movement … There is a ganging up on the ANC and the movement’s representatives by the media analysts, media commentators, the ultra-left and ultra-right forces. All the media outlets including unfortunately the public broadcasting outlets are dominated by the persistent attack on the NDR (National Democratic Revolution). These cocktail of forces of the right and the self-declared ‘left’ thus find alignment of tactical objectives”. Acknowledgement of the root of the problem follows, although sparing: “What seems to be new, with major implications for state legitimacy, is how deeply entrenched corrupt practices (driven by a few state employees, public representatives and the private sector) and arrogance by some in leadership positions have become, directly affecting social delivery.”
The documents go for the hearts and minds, arguing that the “flammable social tinder” of community protest needs to be managed by “continuously infusing the hope that tomorrow will be better”. The documents thus reveal a Zuma-ist ANC that is ready for fight-back. The ammunition includes trained ANC communicators, more state information about delivery, control and occupation of media space brought via debates, and new appeal mechanisms on fairness and accuracy in media coverage.
There are powerful critiques in the documents as to the role of money politics and factionalism in the heart of ANC branches. These phenomena are “sapping the very revolutionary core of the organisation”. They are amongst “the weaknesses that have resulted in disruptions of some ANC meetings, worsened the ructions in the Leagues and presented the spectre of violent conflict among tripartite alliance partners. Public officials, leaders and members “who face damaging allegations of improper conduct” need to be dealt with firmly, the ANC argues – before reminding the NGC delegates that action until now has been insufficient. The NGC documents concede, in effect, that opposition formations have had reason to criticise.
The ANC acknowledges that too little has been done to solve intractable problems, or implement the integrity committee proposals that emerged from Mangaung 2012. “When there is repetitive poor management of allegations of corruption and patronage within high leadership echelons, the legitimacy of the state and the polity as such are undermined. Indeed, over the past few years a general impression of systemic corruption has been created…”
It is an extended confession: “When the general impression referred to above can be directly linked to poor capacity within state agencies which is also a consequence of high turnover in the management echelons; poor decision-making that suggests patronage and cover-ups; and appointments that defy any rational logic, the state as a whole starts progressively to lose the confidence of the people.”
The documents refer to training and deployment, both generally in terms of public service and to handle the media: “There is a need to train ANC communicators at all levels of the organisation and continuously train all deployed cadres in media handling. ANC cadres deployed in government must be obligated to attend media coaching and training.”
But what if action to stamp out corruption and patronage in government remain without adequate impact? The documents offer few answers. It is over to the NGC meeting itself to add the meat to this bone that needs to entice the 2016 voters. Susan Booysen is a Professor at Wits School of Governance and author of Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma

– By OPINION: SUsan Boyysen, Professor at Wits School of Governance