By Pinky Khoabane
Chairs fly at a provincial elective conference
IN a crowded ANC Regional Office on the day membership audits were taking place, a scuffle broke out between a branch secretary and the regional membership officers – a fight which later included members of that branch hurling punches at each other and threats to burn each other’s cars. A woman was slapped and it was said some branch members had gone so far as to kidnap her in a previous incident that took place at the branch. Such is the acrimonious relationship of comrades these days that the word comrade – which signified close bonds of friendship among a group of people, so strong in fact that comrades were willing to die for each other – has become a farce.
At issue was the membership files of the branch which it was said, were removed by the deputy secretary from the “safe room” where they were being kept. In one fell swoop the deputy secretary had removed hundreds of membership forms belonging to a faction he didn’t belong to leaving names of those he knew would vote for his preferred candidates in the leadership contestation at the ANC National Conference in December.
Stories of membership forms disappearing from files or not being submitted into regional offices to be captured abound in the ANC. This old political party, 105 years this year, uses the most archaic system in registering membership, leaving it open for abuse by its leadership. Membership is still captured manually – you complete a form, go into the bank and have it stamped, and hand over the form to a representative of the branch.
Such is the power of those who handle membership – generally the branch secretary and his/her deputy – but in some cases the chairpersons of branches also get involved – that they can decided which members will be registered or not. Some of the members are simply ghost members – names thumb sucked with false addresses and submitted to make-up the numbers that determine if a branch qualifies to be classified a branch. It takes only 100 members to qualify as a branch but for power mongers who want full control of their branches, it is easier to have “ghosts” and the rest the not so literate people that can easily be manipulated.
In the past week, the audited lists of members who stand a chance to represent branches at the national conference were released. And lo and behold, even there – after audits – membership forms have been removed from files and names of members have been removed from the lists. These are members who threaten the preferred outcome of the leadership in branches or it is simply a means of settling scores with those with whom the leadership disagrees on issues.
Even at this stage the system is open to human manipulation – the audited membership forms are placed in envelopes and sealed. Anybody with a nefarious agenda can simply open it, replace the names in there with other membership forms or simply remove those he/she doesn’t want.
Such is the desperation to win and brazen thuggery that when all the manipulation of the membership fails, leaders resort to simply removing the entire branch file and collapsing the branch. A branch chairperson was heard telling some of his executive team that he “had lots of money and would disband the branch”. UnCensored has seen the SMS. And his branch’s file mysteriously went missing from the “safe room” where it was kept. These stories of branches whose membership files have gone missing abound but it is the helplessness of the victims that accompanies them that pulls at the heart strings.
Just days ago a member from Lejweleputswa in the Free State posted pictures of a bleeding branch co-ordinator who had been stabbed by the chairperson of the branch during a Branch General Meeting (BGM) over differing views on the names to be put forward as the next leadership of the ANC.
Coupled with this crassness in attitude is the lack of will to hold anybody accountable. We’ve seen the disruptions at conferences where those who don’t get their preferred outcome hackle, disrupt and ultimately collapse the conference. It’s the attitude that says I only must win and if not, no one else will. I am yet to hear of any disciplinary hearings into those who conduct themselves this way. There are also no responses to complaints of lost membership.
The ANC is faced with the challenge of modernising its membership and electoral systems in the face of massive illiteracy among its loyal members. But given that these are also the same people who vote in the country’s local and national elections, there should be a way in which this old party gets onto the electronic world and cut-out the sharks that have captured the movement for their personal and financial agenda.