Ramaphosa Needs Grit To Midwife ANC Rebirth

Like Reverend Zaccheus Richard Mahabane, 80 years before him, the new ANC leader faces upheaval as he tries to steer the party into a new era, writes Dr Zamani Saul (LLD)
When the Reverend Zaccheus Richard Mahabane was elected ANC president in 1937, he took over from Pixley ka Isaka Seme, whose leadership antics had completely paralysed the organisation and robbed it of its strategic vision.
In the 106 years of its existence, no ANC president inherited the organisation in a worse state than Mahabane. How he dealt with it will provide beneficial lessons to newly elected ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa.
When Seme was elected in 1930, the ANC was in its formative stages, having been launched 18 years earlier. He had an erratic leadership style and struggled to consolidate the party’s ideological outlook. Historian Peter Limb suggests that from 1930 to 1937, Seme almost sank the ANC ship.
Mahabane spearheaded the arduous task of rebuilding the organisation almost from scratch. He inherited an ANC with structures that were dysfunctional, provinces that were not properly co-ordinated and deep-seated ideological degeneration to the extent that the vision and character of the organisation had been distorted into some kind of “society”.
He embarked on a tedious process of convening “revival meetings” in all provinces that discussed problems at branch level and the recruitment of members. At all those meetings, he urged for “complete reorganisation and stability”.
Mahabane got the national executive committee functioning properly again, strengthened provinces and built ANC organisational capacity to co-ordinate African protests. Mahabane’s achievements over a very short period helped the ANC to recapture the wide public support it enjoyed previously.
Unlike Seme, whose leadership was marked by degenerative internal strife and a personality cult, Mahabane was a courageous and resolute leader who was firm on principle.
Addressing the national executive committee in 1939, he said that “congress is not going to die, it is moving ahead”.
The renewal was not a matter of choice: the colonial government promulgated the Slums Act in 1934 that gave the authorities wide-ranging powers to expropriate, in the main, properties owned by black people that were deemed to present a health risk.
In 1936, the African franchise was abolished with the promulgation of the Native Representation Act. The collective effect of the two acts on black people was severe.
Mahabane’s courageous leadership style and commitment to principled renewal laid a strong foundation for his successor, Dr AB Xuma.
In 1940, Xuma inherited a better organised and functioning ANC. This gave him a good platform from which to promote new thinking. He improved the membership system, established the working committee and the ANC Youth League and re-established the ANC Women’s League.
The positive outlook in the ANC during the early stages of Xuma’s leadership emboldened the executive committee and sharpened its strategic focus.
Like Mahabane 80 years ago, Ramaphosa inherited a haemorrhaging governing party that is deeply fractured, with weak structures, massively shedding electoral support and with public confidence waning.
Its degeneration is a cumulative outcome of many years of tactical mishandling of internal contradictions, such as the failure to manage succession, weak responses to scandals, the disastrous HIV/AIDS denialism and weak deployments.
This resulted in the deterioration and impairment in the functioning, character and structures of the ANC. While the degeneration gradually set in over time, matters got worse after Polokwane.
Every member of the ANC yearns for organisational renewal to halt the degeneration. Hence, delegates at the December conference and the national executive committee’s first statement in 2018 call for organisational renewal to unite and restore the integrity of the ANC.
Delivering the keynote address at the ANC Northern Cape conference in May 2017, Ramaphosa drew striking parallels between the ANC’s renewal and the tale of rebirth by eagles.
According to this tale, when an eagle reaches a certain advanced age, it becomes weakened as its claws loose the flexibility to grab prey, its beak becomes bent and its wings become heavy and stick to its chest, making flight difficult.
The eagle is left with only two options: die or go through a very painful process of rebirth, which requires a retreat to its nest on a mountain top.
The rebirthing process is difficult: the eagle will knock off its beak and grow a new one, pluck out its claws so sharp, new ones can grow and pluck out its feathers so fresh ones can take root. Thus renewed, the eagle can take its “flight of rebirth”.
In 2007, the ANC resolved to embark on a process of renewal to restore its revolutionary prestige and recapture the imaginations of the people of SA.
Unfortunately, more than a decade since this resolution was taken, the ANC finds itself in a more precarious position that threatens its control of state power. This was demonstrated by the dismal electoral performance in the 2016 local government elections and the decline in previous three elections.
To establish the cause of these misfortunes, the national executive committee commissioned its internal research unit to conduct a post-election survey among ANC supporters.
The survey’s outcomes highlighted 13 areas that were a great cause of discontent for ANC supporters. For more than 70% of respondents, the top three concerns were divisions in the organisation, corruption and political arrogance. The national executive committee’s recent statement eloquently responds to these three ills and makes a striking call for renewal
and reconnection with the ANC’s values.
There is an appreciation in the statement that the ANC is at a crossroads and left with only two options: die or renew. Like the rebirth of the fictional eagle, renewal in the ANC will require embarking on a very painful and protracted process to pluck out all the three ills.
This task demands a courageous and resolute leader who will not exchange principle for political expediency.
Tactical leadership over-consumed with politics of survival will be unable to take the ANC through a rigorous process of renewal. At this decisive moment of rebirth, the ANC requires a leadership whose conduct is steeped in the revolutionary values of honesty and hard work.
Due to poor and erratic leadership in the recent past, the three ills were allowed to fester within the ranks of the ANC. To pluck them out requires a leadership that walks the talk and is prepared to suffer a backlash.
Mahabane’s stance on renewal made him unpopular with certain groupings that derived benefits from the malfeasance and paralysis in the ANC. With his unwavering commitment to principle, he stood his ground and was prepared to pay the price, losing his position to the Xuma faction in 1940.
To renew the ANC will not be an easy matter as the beneficiaries of the malaise will generate a spirited fight and stir up a whirlwind to retain the status quo. To counter this would require a Mahabane style of leadership: courageous, resolute and firm on principle.
The first test of Ramaphosa’s leadership is to unflinchingly deal with the three ills. Confronting them is not only about tackling the pervasive perceptions of a divided and self-serving organisation, but it is for the ANC’s survival.
How the allegations of state capture threaten the very foundation of the ANC is astonishing. As part of the struggle to pluck out corruption, the ANC must support the efforts of law enforcement agencies to root out state capture.
For the promised renewal to take place, the ANC needs a president who will serve as a strong example of incorruptibility. Renewal of the ANC is not a matter of choice, but an imperative for its longevity.
Only a renewed ANC can lead the struggle for radical economic transformation to deal with SA’s embarrassingly high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Since the election of the ANC’s new national executive with Ramaphosa as party president, there is renewed hope in the country.
The new leader must seize the opportunity and painfully pluck out all the three ills to ensure the ANC does not die but takes the “flight of rebirth”.
Dr Saul is the ANC Northern Cape Chairperson
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  1. I thought “Moderation” meant correcting sentenves which didn’t were incomplete like “ZUMA a POISONED” which is supposed to be “ZUMA RECEIVED A POISONED CHALICE” and what we see in these Committees “are aggrieved”. “AN EVIDENCE LEADER Ask a question which to any reasonable South African is biased”. I THOUGHT PART OF THE MODERATION PROCESS IS TO MAKE COMMENTS MORE SENSIBLE THAN JUST TO DISMISS THEM.

    1. I think I’ve already dealt with this matter. The number of comments vis-a-vis the human resources. It would help me a great deal if readers who want to comment shortened their comments and read through them to make sense of what they are saying. Correcting grammar is one thing, trying to make sense of incomplete sentences and making sense of someone’s thoughts is pretty difficult and I dont want to insert my interpretation on someone’s thoughts. Let’s help each other by reading through our writings and shorten them otherwise write a coherent article looking at all the aspects you want to address.

  2. If you listened to Mr Matshela Koko in Parliament today and you can see that Matshela knows ESKOM PROCESSES like the back of his hand. The MPs kept on asking about TEGETA even if the question had been answered a 100 times before. There is a HIDDEN AGENDA: NOT IN THE OPPOSITION PARTIES BUT WITHIN THE ANC ITSELF.

    ZUMA received a “POISONED CHALICE” not from the Oposition Parties but within the ANC itself. What we see in these Committees are aggrieved Thabo Mbbeki supporters who have got nothing to do with the wellbeing of the citizens of this Country.

    The Evidence Leader asked whether at that time “WAS IT A GLENCORE OWNED OPTIMUM OR A TEGETA OWNED OPTIMUM”? And this has got nothing to with who owned Optimum at that time but which Company supplied the services at a lower cost and saved us TAXPAYERS AND POOR PEOPLE MONEY AND WHICH THE FACT THAT THE COMMITTEE SEEMED OBLIVIOUS OF BUT ONLY WANTED TO GET THEIR MAN AND NAIL HIM.
    He is ill advised.

  3. PK I want to request an explanation on why most of my comments awaits moderation and end up not being published.
    I want to correct whatever I am not saying right.

    1. Hi Mzi

      THere are 54,226 comments awaiting moderation. I have to read through, edit and post these comments. Some I try to edit but find I have no idea what the person is saying. On those occasions that I have sent emails to readers, I often times find the email bounces back or the people dont respond but apart from that I dont always have the time to then send an email requesting a rewrite. Running a blog is a lot of work let me tell you more so if it’s voluntary work. I do have to do work that puts bread on the table.

      I’d suggest you go through the comments re-read them and ensure that they are coherent because some comments take up a lot of my time. I can always deal with grammatical errors but I dont have the resources to as I say, go back and ask for some information to corroborate some of the information written, etc. The shorter letters are easier to deal with.

      I can tell you it is not personal…it’s an issue of resources. One day hopefully UnCensored will be self-sustainable & I can have help.

  4. The ANC renewal is a must for the sake of Black people. What is going to be challenging from the new leadership, revolve around how to renew it (ANC). It is unfortunate that, individual interests are going to influence the shape of renewal. I am not sure how Mr Ramaphosa is gonna deal with the likes of Oscar Mabuyane’s ilks who ensured ANC is divided in the Eastern Cape to support him. The same has happened in the Northern Cape, KZN, NW, Free State etc. I wish the principle my honourable Dr spoke about will be a moral character going forward. The people who corrupted the ANC are its members who turned business people. It is/was obvious they would get tenders using political cards. When talking about corruption in government one cannot look further than, ANC comrades themselves. How do you change that, is going play bare and subject to casualties and name dropping. I hope the ANC President won’t have to answer to some malacy happening in government tenders and SOE’s calamities.

  5. Look who is talking, he stole the Nothern cape conference, and what is this thing of elevating the individual, Ramaphosa this and Aamaphosa that, it wont work. The conference gave the new leadership collective clear marching orders, they divert, we will be on top of them.

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