Can the ANC afford to let unity be a person?

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Is disunity not a disguised tool to frustrate the implementation of adopted resolutions?

When the ANC’s 54th conference convened it was under the theme, “Remember Tambo: Towards Unity, Renewal and Radical Socio-economic Transformation”. The articulation of this theme was if paraphrased, to remind those who gathered of the legacy of Oliver Reginald Tambo, defined as ‘selfless service to his people.’ The conference, therefore, considered and accepted its duty ‘to emulate Tambo in working for the unity and renewal of our organisation.’

The case for unity in the ANC thus was made long before its 54th Conference, since the previous leadership, responsible for organising the Conference made its analysis and concluded on the need to work for unity.  The rationale for a united ANC is more than self-evident and is duly captured by the following adopted conference statement, “An ANC that is united and committed to the people’s interests remains the best vehicle to bring about fundamental and radical socio-economic transformation of society to create a better life for all South Africans.”

When the ANC in its 54th Conference concluded to make unity stand, it was not an empty call. It was a call rightly and duly contextualised and cognisant of the contests against this unity.  Its call for unity also was a conscious attempt to overcome the challenges of disunity and factionalism that has ravaged the organisation for an extended period of time.  The need for unity is furthermore underscored by the reality of upcoming elections earmarked for 2019, anticipated in many circles to see the ANC for the first-time dip under the usual +60%. These factors contributed to the organisation’s resolving on unity.

It, therefore, made more than sense to make unity an organisational cry, call and mission. Unity for any organisation proves important for it affords the opportunity for the true vision, mission, values and programmes of the organisation to find meaning as actualised by those who have surrendered themselves to an ideal bigger than self- interest.

The 54th Conference, therefore, concluded with unity as its fundamental aim and committed its leadership to strive to work for it by modelling that and by leading on this score. The reality is to attain unity is not an easy assignment.

Despite the grave need for unity and its and unequivocal call, the ANC appears to struggle to find the path to this unity. It seems the divides dug over an extended period of time evidenced by the mistrust runs deep. You know this when you hear the accusations levelled in the unfolding North West Province ‘service delivery protests’. We have heard claims of this being an orchestrated plot to pay people to protest with the aim of getting rid of the ANC Chairperson and Premier. Daily we hear the laments of efforts to castrate the aims of unity.

There are many things the African National Congress stands accused of some rightly so others out of convenience. There is also an ongoing debate in restoring the ANC into what some have deemed it to prior to its assumption of political power and proximity to capital. Often when this debate of renewal is raised, it is not free from a claim by some to place themselves as the centre of the definition of that organisation. What the ANC cannot deny is that disunity continues to prevail and the lines are daily more emphatic.

What then went wrong, on the unity call? While a litany of things can answer the rhetorical question of what went wrong, the subject of unity appears to have suffered its fate in a combination of it becoming a person and secondly in the manifestation of an onslaught on those who supported Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.  It can be argued that what went wrong at the ANC conference in December 2017, is unity became a person with an identity number. Unity became a means to a political career end. Unity became the kingmakers that in this season dictates the direction of the ANC. Unity became an intricate web of manipulation that delivered an accidental outcome.

We know unity for it to work cannot be a person. It cannot be an individual who has for his or her own reasons outfoxed political players for own gain, Unity cannot be a pact between some individuals in the ANC top six who seeks to determine an outcome of a post-2023 era that will deliver themselves as president and deputy president respectively.

Unity if it is organisation based has to be centred on the principles of what makes the organisation. The ANC must free unity from the identity of a person immanent in its deputy president David Mabuza and what his election meant in delivering the ANC leadership. It cannot be held carceral by him understood as the signpost of its unity.

The ANC will need to ask itself is the ongoing perceived targeting of certain leaders who apparently supported NDZ an effective means of finding the path to the elusive unity? It must engage honestly as to what an honest fighting of corruption means.  It stands accused of firstly, dealing with its Secretary General Ace Magashule who came under severe attacks for corruption claim. This is now followed by the North West Chairperson and Premier Supra Mahumapelo. The ANC stands accused of having been silent on the tragic scandal of a Life Esidemeni with over 140 deaths as a health and loss of life crisis did not warrant any sanction from the ANC on the leadership of Gauteng be it its chairperson or premier. It now is blamed for seeking to use potentially orchestrated violent protests as a means to attain a specific political outcome,  the removal of a premier. It becomes difficult not to see the inconsistency. Particularly since some argue the claims of corruption levelled against the deputy president and treasurer general in their respective provinces over the period of times of their tenures appear not the subject of any investigation in dealing with corruption.

The ANC, therefore, will need to answer how the prevailing disunity serves its building of the organisation and ultimately its overall elections goals. It would seem entertaining the ongoing polarization of its members and supporters while hoping to attract new supporters from markets that have a history of not voting ANC confirms a recipe for failure come 2019.

Until the ANC affords unity a legitimate, true chance and space it will continue to hobble as an injured bird towards the elections and this may have disastrous consequences. It will continue to afford the media carte blanche space to direct its internal affairs. It will continue to have opposition parties leading it in divide and rule tactics.

Unfortunately, unity cannot come by virtue of mere words, speeches don’t produce unity, it has to be an honest action. Honesty will bring unity and honesty appears a scarce commodity in the ANC, where self-interest and careerism despite OR’s famed legacy of selflessness remain the dictating reality. Should the ANC not free unity from the person it accidentally became, deliver it from the wanton abuse it may be used to serve in narrow political agenda aim, desist talking it and become honest about what is at play as it relates to the 54th conference adoption of unity as designated vehicle to deliver all its resolutions.

Permit us to reiterate the rationale of an ANC unity dictates, “an ANC that is united and committed to the people’s interests remains the best vehicle to bring about fundamental and radical socio-economic transformation of society to create a better life for all South Africans.” By the same token, a divided ANC equally must remain the worst vehicle to bring about fundamental and radical socio-economic transformation of society or to create a better life for all South Africans. It, therefore, must be that all in the ANC strive to work for unity since the entire resolutions of the 54th Conference are anchored on this fundamental aspect of unity; the latter can never be individual.

How serious are the efforts at uniting the ANC, or is the upkeep of disunity a disguised though powerful weapon to ensure the frustration of the adopted resolutions, resulting in the non-delivery of what some consider too controversial a mandate for the existing leadership?

Clyde Ramalaine

 Political Commentator