Why the ANC’s call for unity, almost three years later remains unanswered


By: Clyde Ramalaine

As the ANC celebrates 108 years of existence as expected we will hear its president and leaders in public spaces repeat the rhetoric of calls for unity. The gatherings and walkabouts in Kimberley, Northern Cape this weekend will intermittently be known for calls of unity.  From the famous Big Hole will be heard echoes of calls for unity. Perhaps we are compelled to ask why unity remains framed only by calls and seldom manifests in true action.
The ANC’s 54th Conference Report and Resolutions articulate resolutions for Unity, Renewal and Radical Economic Transformation. There are of course those who at a philosophical level will argue for unity in the ANC as self-evident in its diversity. These will find the ease of comfort in its self-identified  ‘broad church’ notion. Unpacking that diversity and arguing its necessity for this  organisation is however not always understood. It would be an error to seek a monolithic ANC. Given the lived experience of opposed views of what unity means it is tantamount to sell itself short in practical realisation.
Unity than becomes a noble call given the fact that it is Africa’s oldest liberation organisation. While there was always a general call for unity in the 108-year-old liberation organisation, I wish to postulate the most recent calls for unity came birthed in the conclusion of the 54th Conference. Unity became a call with a poisoned webbed political agenda that ultimately wrongly had an individual David Mabuza as its face. We have lived long beyond Nasrec to know that the unity advocated by Mabuza, for some the Emperor of Mpumalanga, was in self-serving of being seen as the king-maker of the ANC’s 13th president, Ramaphosa.
The practice of kingmakers in ANC presidential elections always existed, yet they assumed recognised League and Provincial definitions. At Nasrec for the first time, the kingmaker status became a solitary individual who tactically straddled both major campaigns [NDZ 17 and CR17] in promises.  It is now common history that Mabuza was up until days before conference on the NDZ17 campaign side. He was going to officially announce his position around October of 2017 at a mass rally in Mpumalanga.
Mabuza strangely on the day remained silent on that.
We also must remember the Jane Dutton interview of a young ANC comrade who was concerned about vote rigging at branch level in Mpumalanga and took refuge to speak to then Free State ANC leader Ace Magashule who assured the young comrade that the numbers for NDZ looked good.
Let us also dispense an attempt of managing history on unity in the ANC with particular reference to this singular moment at the 54th conference. What we know is that NDZ 17 predicated on a true reading of what was unfolding was walking away with the presidency by all measures. CR17 was trailing and very desperate, Ramaphosa’s face when he was announced winner said it all – shocked. We know that should the CR17 have failed to make the cut another COPE was on the cards already planned by ardent CR17 supporters.
Unity in sense then is located in the interstice of a single conference day [Saturday] of NDZ 17 leading as favourite and a Sunday pronouncement of CR17 victory. It’s a given that DD Mabuza betrayed the NDZ17 (people’s) campaign when he pledged loyalty to CR17 and facilitated a Mpumalamga split vote scenario.  That betrayal was so real since at the conference he deceived the NDZ group by bringing his Mpumalanga support base to the Amphiteatre (meeting place of NDZ group at Nasrec) meetings where he was allowed to address the group.
We also know Mabuza was instrumental in ensuring the NDZ 17 do not challenge the questionable court findings that impacted severely on the NDZ numbers.  There is little doubt that the NDZ campaign took comfort since he was always present, yet by that time he had long sold the people’s campaign for the proverbial thirty  pieces of silver. This politician being the origin and farcical face  of an arbitrary ANC unity is exactly the problem why unity remains a utopia , since it was wrought in deep fried betrayal.
At a personal level Mabuza had nothing to lose because on both sides he was going to be deputy president. Yet he opted to define his betrayal of the NDZ campaign as for the sake of unity. Right here unity for Mabuza became contingent on and only possible in a CR17 victory. Meaning the unity Mabuza was now prognosticating could never be substantial in essence but remained until now suspect for its hollowness.
Can someone tell the ANC no organization has  these water-shedding political moments of betrayal and then wake up one morning and take easy refuge in an attempt of plastering it with a cheap adhesive named in an antithetical frame of ‘betrayal unity’. Mabuza’s unity came anchored with certain preferable outcome for one candidate over the other, necessarily a candidate with very deep pockets. ANC Unity at this moment was because Ramaphosa in defeat would have led another split. Given this reality, unity adopted a suspect, subjective taxonomy for the ANC since its conference.
It does not take rocket science to see that unity as a singular word since Nasrec is more frequently used in calls and meeting statements. Is it because the ANC knows how disunited it remains because it opted for a kamikaze unity that simply cannot be actualized in practical every-day life given its origins? Yet no one has hitherto critically engaged this taxonomy of unity born from the fear and threat of a split. The ANC in none of its many gatherings, NEC- NWC meetings or Lekgotla’s ever has  taken the time to unpack this it’s the new mantra of unity. Unity, therefore, remains a whiff in the cheapness of a perfume. Unity evidences a slogan readily used for political means to pretend leadership when it may never really be desired.
Unity is often misconstrued in desire for an absence of categorical differences in opinion among leaders as we saw between Mboweni, Makhura and Mbalula on the tollgate saga. The ANC and its leaders often act like the proverbial next door neighbours who audibly fight the whole night with each with the evidence of abuse on bodies yet when they open the door to leave they are sworn to a pretense of silence not to share what happened inside, deceiving   itself to assume  the fight was not audible. Maybe unity will be possible when the ANC becomes more honest in introspection and be bold enough to accept the challenge of this betrayal and it’s known internal index of differences on this administration’s  diluting and non- implementing of adopted ANC resolutions.
There are tons of examples of the practical misconceptions of an ANC in unity.  The SACP deputy secretary General Solly Mapaila also an ANC member is notorious for his need to attack former president Jacob Zuma and or anyone that in his mind he remotely associates with the former president. There has hitherto been no public rebuke from ANC top six leaders  to unequivocally tell Mapaila and his crew he is not respecting ANC resolutions to work for unity.  He is allowed free reign to shoot his proverbial empty factional scud missiles because some have remained in CR17 campaign mind-sets almost three years after Nasrec and sees Zuma as a useful economy and means to remain relevant.
We have seen these calls for unity for example when DSG Jessie Duarte berate some leaders equal to her in the ANC accusing them of being divisive when they differ on social media platforms, yet Duarte herself arrogates a liberty when angry with Pravin Gordhan, for example, to be public about calling him out as part of a cabal that is out to destroy her.  We lived through Duarte’s audible  silence when Derek Hanekom openly abused Carl  Niehaus thus defying ANC resolution on unity. Equally so Duarte has never publicly rebuked Derek Hanekom for his defiance and known Baasskap mentality. What does the ANC resolution on unity mean in these instances? Shall we take Duarte and others serious when unit y for them adopts a ambivalent one-dimensional practice?
The same leaders in the top six are silent when its current president Ramaphosa continues the perpetuating of fallacies against his predecessor in the intention of blaming him while absolving himself from his so-called ‘nine wasted year’s’ rhetoric. We all know Ramaphosa has failed dismally [in uniting the organization, implementing ANC resolutions, in white interest at the expense of a black deficit, in  keeping the Eskom provided lights among others] in many ways since February 2018 and yet he is allowed to escape due scrutiny  in taking refuge in rubbishing his predecessor. Why are ANC leaders silent to reprimand the Ramaphosa for these cheap tactics? Yes Mantashe did speak up to call Ramaphosa’s ‘ nine wasted years’ a myth but we needed to hear the ANC in leadership condemning a out of order president obsessed to want to look always good.
 If the ANC is one it will be sensitive to the fact that there are people in and outside the ANC that see what they have done to former President Zuma as an ongoing injustice. How do you deal with those who are of the firm persuasion that the ANC remains hypocritical in whom it seeks to blame it defend if and when it matters? How is unity forged in this landmine soiled environment that defines the ANC in lived experience?
If unity is the objective why was a meeting the secretary-general Ace Magashule had with the most recent former ANC president, a loyal member to the Movement, allowed to become a means of attack in claims of toppling a sitting president? Why does it entertain a president that goes to a COSATU gathering and use that platform to attack his equally elected secretary-general Ace Magashule? Likewise, when Magashule was back in his stomping grounds of a Free State  he took a serious and calculated swipe at Ramaphosa calling him out as not an authentic ANC member.  When journalists like Max Du Preez and Peter Bruce in no uncertain terms can tell the ANC president his only way of having control is to ensure the charging and arrest of the Secretary General Ace Magashule, neither the president or any of the Top 6 who loves media attention rise to defend the SG and the ANC from this glaring attempts of keeping it in disunity.
Unity in this sense remains the most abused word and equally grossly manipulated call in the post-Nasrec epoch.  It is exactly a call on deaf ears because the ANC in its deformed DNA is now factionalized eternally contaminated by the interest of capital and laced with self-interest.
It’s time we ask the taxonomy of this advanced ANC unity. What is the economy of this frivolously called for unity? It appears unity is called for hardly in honesty; it’s called for less in personal and corporate admission to the roles played by the very ones who are loud in calling for it. Unity is a convenient call to dominate others in the fig-leaf presence of positional-leadership.
There can’t be unity when radical economic transformation an equally adopted resolution in whimsical fashion is daily sacrificed at the altar of this makeshift betrayed-unity. There will not be unity while radical economic transformation is made a curse word in frames of the obdurate mind of ‘those who want to loot’ as coined by signpost of white apartheid economic benefit Johann Rupert who convinced ANC leaders and members what RET is.  Unity will remain a pipe-dream since it is a disposable commodity in the ANC. It is merely used to pretend oneness, check some into order while giving others a free pass. There cannot be unity because unity itself is factionalised and serves individual and group interest as and when it suits some. There cannot be unity since unity was repurposed to be a individual namely David Mabuza.
Unfortunately, ANC unity erroneously got stuck in the identity of its now deputy president DD Mabuza. Unity is used as a convenient sjambok to herd those you want to rebuke and may, in any case, have a bone to pick. Unity is a call, yes it’s a call nothing less nothing more. A call never answered because the noise of factional self-interest protests an honest engagement of what unity should mean, not in a history of exile, nor the spaces of negotiations talks in Dakar, or a CODESA but in a lived experience where the ANC is entrusted to lead more than 25 years post-apartheid. Is this ambivalence of interpretation and regular misconstruing of what unity means even sustainable?
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA