I have often heard that the African National Congress has an incredible capacity to renew itself. Those who know it well enough say it is like an ocean and can clean itself. I sincerely hope this is true. The ANC today is in trouble and needs self-renewal.
The organization has existed for slightly more than a century now. There has to be something in its DNA that has made it survive for this long. It weathered tough conditions in exile, came back home and emerged as a leader of society. It boasts some of the finest leaders this country has ever produced. At the time when this country facing the abyss and civil war seemed inevitable, it was largely the political maturity and wisdom of the ANC that saved the country.
For some time in post-apartheid South Africa, the ANC inspired hope and seemed to be the only organization that could unite South Africa. Its one-time president Nelson Mandela pioneered efforts to build a united nation. He never denied our diversity but instead taught us unity in our diversity. Then, the ANC was itself united and single-minded in building a united and prosperous nation.
Today the ANC is tearing itself as members and leaders alike fight each other. We recently saw how deep the divisions go when the Eastern Cape elected a new provincial leadership. The footage of delegates throwing chairs at each other, with some landing in hospital, showed the fracturing of the ANC. The spectacle was a shame.
The divisions within the party have also played themselves out in our courts. In KwaZulu Natal, members took the party to court contesting the legitimacy of the provincial leadership and won. In the Eastern Cape there were attempts to interdict the recent held elective conference. In the Free State, there are members who are threatening to approach the court if the provincial executive structure is not disbanded. When members turn to the courts it suggests they do no longer have confidence in the party’s internal dispute mechanisms.
More critically though, these divisions have implications for the country. The ANC is not a monolithic organization with everybody thinking alike but it has lost the art of managing diversity within itself. Can it manage the diversity within our society? One does not see how a divided ANC can build a united country. And this where ANC internal politics become of interest to ordinary citizens.
Our country has a divided past and a history of racism, the latter of which is still present in our society both attitudinally and structurally. For our country to overcome these, we need a strong ruling party that is united in purpose and inspires confidence. In its current state, the ANC is none of the above. It will take some thorough organizational renewal for the ANC to once more inspire confidence.
One of the reasons the ANC does not longer inspire confidence – and we saw this when it lost support in the local government elections last year – is the perception by citizens that it is corrupt and is soft in dealing with corruption. At its policy conference held about three months ago, the ANC’s own diagnostic report makes the point that society expects it to take a firm stand against corruption. For too long now the ANC has made big pronouncements against corruption but people have become skeptical especially when they do not see action being taken against those who are allegedly corrupt.
But one of the reasons the ANC seems to be helpless in the fight against corruption is because it runs so deep within its ranks that it may not be able to deal with it decisively without taking a significant number of its leaders and deployees through a disciplinary process. Take, for example, the number of its Cabinet ministers implicated in the state capture report. Its own frontman is deeply implicated in state capture allegations.
The ANC will be going to its elective conference in less than two months. What is clear is that it must change if it is going to survive. The reality is that when an organization fails to change, the cost of failure may mean its survival.
The ANC needs an approach and a culture that can adequately handle the challenges it faces. A culture that was adequate under one set of conditions may become progressively less effective under changing circumstances and this is where organizational renewal becomes important. If the ANC is to survive in what is becoming an increasingly competitive political environment, it will have to adapt or die. Without renewal, it is facing imminent demise.
The renewal dilemma is that stability is necessary but is also the major obstruction to change. For most organizations, it seems, the more effective they have been in past, the more likely they are to resist change. In this regard, the ANC’s historical strength and effectiveness may be its biggest threat today.
Those who are experts in physics tell about the principle of entropy which states that everything that is organized will break down or run down unless it is maintained or renewed. The ANC needs to renew itself in order to prevent political entropy.
Renewal requires changing old patterns and people altering not only their behaviour but also their values and their views of themselves. Is the ANC capable of this? Its elective conference will show us.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL ( NRLC )