The ANC is widely credited for leading South Africa to democracy through a negotiated settlement. But many are justifiably wondering why the same party that employed dialogue to save the country from descending into civil war cannot embrace the same mechanism to save itself.
Many are asking how can the same party that shared the negotiation table with the party that banned it, executed and sent thousands of its members to jail not sit down around the table with its own members?
The truth is trouble has been brewing in the ruling party for years, primarily over the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, corruption and state capture by private business. But things came to a head after the party’s dismal performance in the August local government elections that saw the ANC subjected to the humiliation of losing key metros.
That the ANC is in turmoil can no longer be disputed. Previously, party stalwarts who raised concern about the direction the country was taking under the current ANC leadership were branded ill-disciplined. But that’s changing. Many who still hold positions both within the party and government and the ANC’s young people are starting to publicly raise their displeasure.
This past weekend something unprecedented happened. In articles in weekend newspapers, a record number of leading figures within the ANC bemoaned the state of their party. ANC MP and chair of parliament’s committee on justice and correctional services Mathole Motshekga, once a Zuma ally, wrote in the Sunday Times: “The party has been captured by a faction that has no capacity to lead government and society – and has no respect for internal democracy.”
At the same time, former KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu wrote in City Press newspaper that there were two camps in the ANC, one of which he described as “thriving on corruption, arrogance, corrosion of the values of the organisation and its traditions, internal fraud and manipulation of all systems”.
Also at the weekend, ANC Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile warned party leaders that the ruling party was in tatters and was heading for “a calamity of unprecedented proportions” unless major changes were made.
But it is the chaos that erupted on Monday when young ANC members, labelled hooligans by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, came face to face with members of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association. These clashes were a manifestation of the ANC’s failure to deal honestly with the issues being raised by members.
That prominent ANC leaders and its young people are choosing other platforms, such as the media and marches, raises doubts about the party’s internal dispute resolution mechanisms. Perhaps this explains why the party split three times in less than a decade.
Ironically, this is the shortcoming of a party that is globally admired for the peaceful conflict resolution process that ushered in democracy in a country the world was convinced was heading for Armageddon.
The ANC should learn to engage and listen to its own, failing which it risks joining a long list of once-respected African liberation movements that quickly lost legitimacy and are now confined to the dustbin of history.