ANC Watch - opinion

Slate-driven factionalism destroying the ANC

ANC in bits and pieces

Nothing will stop the leadership battle in the ANC anymore and, driven by slate-politics, factionalism is fast developing into an existential threat to the party. (Read more)

There have been a good number of warnings from within the ANC ranks in recent years, among others from its own National Working Committee, that the party should take steps to curb a ‘culture’ of slate politics. Very little has, however, been done and under President Jacob Zuma’s leadership it has become more entrenched than ever.

As recent as this week, its deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, said after a NWC meeting: “The National Working Committee agreed that no one should continue to raise names in the debate around succession. The structures of the ANC in the NWC were present. We are hoping that, going forward, this name raising will end and we will go back to discuss the value proposition.”

But the horse has bolted and the factionalist succession race is already in full swing. The political news scene is set to be dominated until December this year by ‘the battle of the slates’, organised on factional lines, inside the ANC.

It’s been coming since 2007

Despite repeated warnings and declared intensions otherwise, factionalism and its accompanying slate politics bloomed in recent years.

In early 2011 for instance, then Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe raised the matter sharply in his Walter Sisulu Memorial Lecture to SASCO, and warned that “slates have the tendency to take on a life of their own. Long after the elective conference is gone comrades still see themselves through the prism of slates, and act accordingly.”

He added that “While the winning faction indulges in triumphalist euphoria, the losing side, smarting, begins to prepare itself for the next elective conference, and acts in a manner consistent with this intention.” 

But it goes back much further. In a long, hard-hitting article on the blog portal, History Matters of the website South African History Online, Kgolane Phala, speaker of the Limpopo Provincial Council, pleads for the banning of slates at ANC elective conferences.

Phala, who is also a member of the Limpopo Provincial Executive Committees of both the ANC and South African Communist Party, in his February 2015 article warns: “The negative phenomenon of the use of solid factional lists in the run-up to elective conferences is one of the most dangerous practices that has emerged and evolved in the recent period.” (Our emphasis.)

Under Mr Zuma’s leadership the ANC seems to be back to a similar situation it was as far back as the 1930s. Phala writes in his article: “Factions and factionalism are not a new phenomenon at least in the ANC. During and almost throughout the 1930s the ANC was hung by [its] neck by factional groupings.

“This creature’s roots can be traced back amongst others to (the) 1929 ANC Conference in which President JJ Gumede lost the position of President to Ka-Isaka Seme being pushed essentially by a bloc of the House of Chiefs.

“This development led to the ANC becoming a moribund body existing only in the form of National Conference and held ransom by divisions. The organisational texture of the ANC improved in the 1940s with new political geography.”

He goes on to describe how, within the ANC, “factions reared their ugly head hugely again in the 1950s. In one Transvaal provincial conference in which Selope Thema stood against Alpheus Malivha for the presidency of the Province, the factional fight took a very ugly turn to an extend of having tribal under-tones.”

There are clearly some loud echoes of events of years gone by in the politics of today. The big difference is that today it does not have implications for only the ANC, but for the whole nation.

As Phala concludes in his article: “With the ANC, acquisition of state power in 1994 exaggerated the potential for factions to emerge and gain ground within the movement. As an old African saying would profess, ‘Mo go lewago go goka dintšhi’. (Flies go where there is a lot to eat.) Acquisition of state power has attracted to the ANC all manner of political scavengers.”

In his conclusions, Phala also recommends that the practice of slates should be banned.


With the ANC, and especially a particular faction within it, having captured state power, slate battles and factionalism do not only have dire implications for itself as an organisation. It seriously impacts on the wellbeing of the South African nation as a whole.

It is too late to get rid of this evil now, but hopefully they can contain its fallout in the run-up to the 2019 election. If they don’t, they can be sure that the electorate will replace them with a government that puts the interest of the nation first.

by Piet Coetzer

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