Essop Pahad, an African National Congress (ANC) luminary and former Minister in the Presidency during the reign of Thabo Mbeki, says that all members of the ANC must vote in leadership elections.
This proposal came at the end of a two-month-long leadership nomination process that, depending on one’s vantage position or political interests, was less tumultuous or peaceful than expected.
In the North West, Limpopo, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape provinces, nomination conferences were as uneventful as a brawl at a shebeen. In the North West, the comrades managed to hold the same nomination conference in two different geographical locations. In the Eastern Cape, the nomination conference was, in the language of factional warfare, ‘collapsed’. The Western Cape nomination building suffered the same fate. No one can accuse ANC members of lethargy and voter apathy. The same, however, cannot be said of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who, during the period in question, displayed the symptoms of candidate apathy and dangerously high levels of principle and gravitas.
Why are ANC members prepared to pummel their opponents to a pulp in pursuit of preferred political outcomes? First of all, too many in the ruling party owe their allegiance to a faction and to an individual leader the faction honours, worships and propitiates. This tendency and the sycophancy that goes with it neither started with President Jacob Zuma nor did it end with former President Thabo Mbeki.
In other words, members of the ANC have become ‘members of other members’, and factional interests override the interests of the party. What ties members of the ANC to a faction and the ambitions of their leaders is self-interest and its older cousin, patronage. Access to political power, or to the powerful, is no longer an end in itself but has become the means towards the achievement of narrow economic ends. Factionalism has distorted the relationship between ANC members to such an extent that comrades have become the feudal lords of other comrades.
In provinces such as Limpopo, the North West, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, battles for power and money and the feudal relations they produce are more intense because the State in these provinces is the main instrument of middle class creation. To choose the wrong faction can, therefore, be the difference between penury and the affluence that comes with the ill-gotten gains of corruption, patronage and other things nefarious.
When ANC members disrupt and collapse a nomination conference, they do so not to better the lot of our people – they do so because they believe that it is either their turn to eat or they must continue to eat. These base political instincts are well represented in both the Zuma camp and the Motlantheless anti-Zuma lobby. Under these circumstances, victory in the Mangaung leadership battle will be achieved either democratically or by any means necessary.
But the landlord of Luthuli House has assured us that the Mangaung conference will be peaceful. I believe him. The police in the Free State informed the media that they had received intelligence that some would go to Mangaung with the aim of disrupting the conference. I assume that what the landlord of Luthuli House was trying to tell us is that effective countermeasures are already in place. Put differently, the defeat of Motlanthe by Zuma is going to receive all the protection such an election victory deserves. In short, the Mangaung conference will either be peaceful or will be peaceful eventually.
So, what is the ABZ (Anything But Zuma) camp – not the ABZ (Abantu Bafuna uZuma – Zulu for ‘people want Zuma’) camp – praying for? There are times in cricket when the rain is the difference between victory and defeat. If I were a Motlanthe supporter, I would have practised the rain dance by now, or would have kidnapped the rain queen to make sure that she is part of the Limpopo delegation. The way things are going suggest that only torrential rains (figuratively) can save Motlanthe from defeat. For Motlanthe supporters, it seems the Mangaung conference is going to be a watershed moment indeed.
If Motlanthe wins this one, his victory will be one of the greatest comebacks in the history of factional politics. This most remote of possibilities must, however, not be dismissed out of hand. You see, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe says that political analysts do not know anything. If he is right, then I am wrong, and this means that my assumption that Zuma has already romped to victory is incorrect. Anyway, everybody knows that political commentators are nothing but a bunch of pretentious astrologers.
Back to the man who knows a lot about being on the losing side at an ANC national conference – Pahad. I suspect the Mangaung conference is not going to change the manner in which the ANC elects its leaders.