The ANC’s ‘second liberation war’ on the NGC pages

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As the African National Congress (ANC) approaches its fourth National General Council (NGC) meeting it faces the question of how to keep the spirit of struggle going. It faces the dilemma of how to differentiate between tasks that simply have been too huge to accomplish in its two decades in power, and tasks that it could have achieved had it organised and governed better.

This complex task – in effect the second ANC liberation struggle – takes shape on the pages of the series of NGC discussion documents. The trilogy of the documents Balance of Forces, Legislature and Governance, and Communications and Battle of Ideas give the outline of how the ANC is approaching its third decade in power.

This brief analysis highlights three aspects of the ANC’s approach to the future, drawing on the details that are contained in these three (out of a total of nine) discussion documents:

• The ANC in state and government and how it is working through a morass of problems to leverage better state organisation and get better service delivery;
• The ANC positioning itself against the opposition, hoping to retain the hearts and minds of the people; and
• The ANC fighting to retain public information space to ensure that its message does not get dwarfed in contested spaces.

Judged by the Legislature and Governance paper, the ANC knows exactly how much its continuous rule depends on using the levers of state power optimally. After all, as long-term past and present governing party it is being judged by how well it serves the people of South Africa. It has vast state resources at its finger tips. There should be no problem in getting these resources to work for the organisation and thereby further solidify its hold on power.

However, evidence of confusion leaps out, as the document drafters try to configure and perhaps reconfigure the state apparatuses. To Illustrate, the 53rd ANC National Conference (Mangaung, December 2012) had resolved that the municipalities must be strengthened. Some provincial functions also ought to be devolved to the stronger municipalities. The provinces need to be revisited (or at least investigated), as per unimplemented conference resolution. This act, as explained in 2012, would not entail the abolition of the provinces – a valuable source of patronage – but rather reorganisation.

Such structures no doubt advance ‘federalist’ tendencies, which are lamented in the document. The ANC wants to see multiple spheres of government structures, even strengthened structures, but wants them to be centrally controlled. It denounces the nine provinces and 284 municipalities often setting their own priorities and plans. It ascribes uneven performance and delivery to such independent actions.

Phrases like ‘not been implemented’, ‘has not met the required targets’, ‘not been adequately addressed’ or ‘has been lacking’ follow when the document assesses performance within the available frameworks. Most of the outstanding tasks would not have required architectural redesign.

One of accomplished tasks, for which the drafters claim credit, was the NEC subcommittee on Legislatures and Governance strengthening the interface between party and state. This is an essential component of the ANC building and retaining its power base: power will regenerate power. If the ANC ensures that it remains well entrenched and dispenses positions and privileges it might remain unassailable – as long as the state remains accountable to the party.

Such ANC control over the state is evident in the 2015 reiteration of the 2010 NGC resolution that all strategic bills must “go before the relevant [ANC] NEC sub-committee for processing prior to them being submitted to Parliament. The same principle applies for Provincial Legislatures and Provincial Executive Committees …”

The ANC’s approach to opposition and opposition political parties specifically bedecks multiple pages. The ANC’s second liberation struggle 20 years plus into democracy requires that the opposition challenges be subdued. Categorising opposition assaults as destabilisation and ill-discipline has been part of the ANC’s counter-opposition repertoire. The Legislatures and Government document reminds loyal followers that the opposition has been “destabilising” parliament, for example, through attempted motions of no confidence.

The Balance of Forces document signals that the ANC is edgy of the damage that the left is inflicting on its status generally, its popular support base and its control over the state. The self-declared left is presented as inimical to social transformation. They are self-declared “revolutionary elements seeking to set the social tinder alight”. They “assail the legality and the legitimacy of the system”. Their “disruptive and near-illegal campaigns” in parliament and some legislatures, along with campaigns to occupy land are meant to “undermine the legitimacy of the ANC, government and ultimately the state”. They may have “the effect of initiating mass uprisings or other actions that may goad the state into precipitate action”.

The ANC, for now assessed through the lens of the discussion documents, sees much of these threats being manifested in local politics and looming local government elections. The party “must be decisive in addressing” the calibre and quality of deployed councillors, their accountability to their communities, and dealing with fraud and corruption, to name a few of the tasks that are to be embraced towards local election 2016. The fact that these tasks remain on the ‘to do’ list means that they have not been conquered in the period since the 2010 NGC and 2012 conference. The documents nevertheless offer little by way of recommending incisive corrective action. It acknowledges that too little has been done to implement the integrity committee proposals that emerged from Mangaung 2012, and spells out dire consequences: “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.”

The NGC has a phenomenal task on hand. The documents outline the tasks but hardly offer hard-hitting and decisive solutions. Will the NGC fill in the spaces? Thus far there are silences on the repercussions for leaders and structures should the tasks, again, remain unaccomplished. If the ANC suffers at the 2016 polls, will there be consequences for those who have not effected the ‘must do’s’ on the NGC list?

The NGC documents recognise that for the ANC to remain unchallenged their second (and continuous) liberation struggle needs to let the people keep on hoping for the future that is unambiguously better. To illustrate, the documents argue that the “flammable social tinder” of community protest needs to be managed by “continuously infusing the hope that tomorrow will be better”.

Communications and Battle of Ideas hence packages these challenges in terms of an information war: “The war of ideas must be fought like a real war…” It argues that the “quality of journalism continues to deteriorate”; there is “weakness in the substance of intellectual and public discourse”; and cadres should strengthen “the ANC’s own network of [a] sympathetic circle of analysts and journalists…” Zealous recommendations follow on cadre media training: “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.”

In the mind of the ANC that comes to life on the pages of the NGC documents the hitherto vaguely defined actions, along with the information wars, will go a long way towards countering the ANC’s loss of “the moral high ground when it comes to state capacity and effectiveness, dignity and gravitas…”

The challenge is on.

– By OPINION: Susan Booysen