Political Watch

ANC structures becoming increasingly frayed


The ruling ANC increasingly looks organisationally in disarray after its Youth League became the latest one of its formations to postpone an elective congress.

The conclusion in the week before last of a rather chaotic ANCYL national elective conference, downgraded at the last minute to a "consultative forum”, was symptomatic of the organisational weakening of the mother body. At the same time its alliance the SA Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) is steadily imploding.

The official reason for the downgrade of the ANCYL-conference was “to avoid chaos”, which nonetheless occurred, due to the downgrading. A golden opportunity for the league to recapture its influence and esteem enjoyed prior to the expulsion of the Julius Malema-led leadership was lost.

Instead of electing a new leadership, delegates were expected to discuss policy issues. Many failed to participate. The occasion became a R18-million slanging match and party, despite the league being broke.

The ANC’s other two leagues are also in a shambles. July last year the Women’s League also had its elective conference postponed, provisionally until April next year. Its structures were in too much disarray to organise it.

The ANC Veterans’ League, an autonomous body within the overall ANC structure, is also in disarray. It has become badly divided and riddled by factionalism. The same goes for the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association (MKMVA), which has also suffered some serious corruption in its ranks.

In September the ANC in Gauteng had to postpone its elective conference to October. President Jacob Zuma then failed to show up to deliver the closing speech, most likely as a result of the factional divisions in the ANC around his leadership. The Gauteng ANC continues with a low-key revolt against Zuma.

The ANC Limpopo is also riddled with factional infighting which, among other things, resulted in the expulsion of 22 ANC Mogalakwena councillors.

Earlier this year Limpopo held an uncontested leadership election, but not before pressure had to be put on an opposing candidate to withdraw and an ANC task team had been running the provincial ANC for some time.

The faction-plagued ANC Western Cape’s previous elective conference was postponed several times and eventually held more than a year late in 2011. The next one is due in 2016, the year of municipal elections.

Other ANC provincial and regional structures suffer similar problems.

Alliance partner COSATU

Similar divisions in ANC alliance partner COSATU, further complicated by additional policy and ideological differences, saw the labour federation’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) first withdrawing from the tripartite alliance and then expelled from COSATU.

While the ANC and COSATU are now desperately looking for ways to cobble things back together minus the rebellious leadership of NUMSA, several other unions are poised to follow NUMSA out of COSATU.

There is much talk of a new labour federation, a left wing front and a new workers’ political party to be formed.

The ANC itself is as good as broke (although it denies it) as the party's financial report tabled at its recent national executive committee meeting – leaked to the Mail & Guardian – showed.

It had spent R429 million on the May election campaign and still owed 16 creditors some R31 million. Its election losses saw its parliamentary funding reduced by R20 million. The party is said to be unable to pay bonuses or salary increases and staff may have to be laid off.

Probably forgetting he was speaking in public, Zuma deviated from his prepared speech at the ANCYL conference divulging information from the ANC’s recent national executive committee (NEC) meeting.

Before party officials Gwede Mantashe and Jess Duarte could stop him, he said the party was “shaken” and “in trouble”.

This admittance comes as the party prepares for its mid-term national general council (NGC) in June next year and the local elections the year thereafter.


Clearly the ANC is organisationally in deep trouble – as conceded by Zuma – less than 17 months before the next municipal elections.

Much of it has its origins in the factionalism that developed in the 2007 palace revolt against Thabo Mbeki, dotted with purges of those not loyal to Zuma and attempts to centralise and tighten control over the party and alliance structures. It has also been compounded by the many controversies surrounding Mr Zuma, attempts to shield him against it and whispers about a succession race developing.

Further complicating matters has been the rise of three centres of power, one in the presidency, one in the ANC secretariat at Luthuli House headed by Mantashe, and a third in the SACP which exerts influence by infiltration and remote control.

Some observers see parallels to Robert Mugabe and the Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe as a control-obsessive political brand distinct from their party’s founding principles, moral fibre and previous leadership calibre.

Although secretary-general Mantashe maintains the party structures are intact and in good shape, in truth it faces serious organisational challenges. It will probably try to resolve these at it NGC next year, but at its previous two NGCs of 2005 and 2010 dissent erupted from the floor and, especially at the latter one, chaos reigned.

At worst the ANC may be terminally ill; at best it will struggle to recover sufficiently before the municipal elections to prevent further setbacks in voter support.

With talk of several new political formations to its left, a considerably more complicated parliamentary scene than ever before, and given its organisational and financial challenges, the hole-riddled ship ANC will have difficulty steering a clear course.

But it is not about to disappear. Troubles and all, it is too big, too historically ingrained in the national consciousness and too well dug in at the levers of power to suffer such a fate any time soon. But that the South African political scene is in for some turbulent times, there can be no doubt about.

by Stef Terblanche

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