Lessons Learned In Polokwane Are Crucial In Shaping The Way Forward

Thabo Mbeki speaks with Jacob Zuma at the African National Congress conference in Polokwane, South Africa, on Monday, Dec. 17, 2007. PICTURE: Greg Marinovich/Bloomberg News

The much publicized Polokwane Conference held in 2007 will stand out as a watershed conference wherein the branches of the ANC reclaimed the power of the movement and returned it to its rightful place, the branches of the ANC. Branches are the custodians of the movement and the base from which the ANC draws its strength, writes NDABEZINHLE SIBIYA

Looking back during the period between Polokwane and Mangaung conferences, the ANC as a whole, was able to deal very well with the national challenges that the organization and the alliance faced before that 52nd National Conference.

Fast forward to the post-Nasrec era, the ANC NEC met on Monday 18 June and subsequently issued a statement which, for the first time since the unbanning of the organization, detailed plans on how to deal with court cases and disputes that have been piling up over the past few months.

Yesterday, 21 June the ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule further reiterated the ANC’s commitment towards the Unity in Action. The appearance of North West former Premier Supra Mohumapelo together with Premier-elect Professor Job Mokgoro during a press briefing held at Luthuli House is an indication of deepening unity within the leadership. I sincerely hope that this will filter down to the structures of the ANC in the province.

Importantly, it is very encouraging that the ANC NEC devoted time to strategize on how to resolve challenges faced by the organization in provinces and regions across the country.

The road shows to regions as announced today will be very critical not only in terms of stabilizing the organization but in also reminding structures of the ANC and its alliance about the core objectives of the organization and its values.

Perhaps members of this glorious movement across all levels need to be reminded about the conditions under which the ANC approached the last conferences held in Polokwane and Mangaung respectively. There is an urgent need to draw lessons from these conferences.

I believe that sharing lessons learned and observed ahead of Polokwane will help inform how the ANC should move forward. It is often stated that there are life-giving lessons we can learn from our past. Our past experiences offer so much potential for the present.

The Polokwane experience tells me that, the leadership must strive by all means to demonstrate and maintain the unity of the leaders as well as that of general members of the organization. This is what the recent NEC and NWC meetings in my view sought to achieve, especially by directing officials and NEC deployees to listen and resolve leadership disputes across the country.

Another important lesson to draw from the Polokwane conference is the fact that the ANC leadership needs an accountable leadership, that listens to the concerns of members and which is responsive to the needs of the organization.

The ANC NEC Members is holding its three day meeting in Cape Town. PICTURE: ANC Twitter

Humility, discipline, respect for the decisions and policies of the movement are the characteristics of leaders that have steered the ANC over many decades. It is also important for leadership to be sensitive, and not to generate a reaction of the membership in the manner that we saw, as we approached the Polokwane conference in particular.

This is important because a level of desperation had arisen towards Polokwane conference in the manner in which matters of the ANC were handled. Divisions in the leadership and a sense of paralysis had gripped the leadership then, creating distress amongst the membership.

This is probably one main reason why a number of errors were committed as the ANC was approaching Polokwane conference. These errors still need to be acknowledged and corrected because failure to do so will result in them becoming a permanent part of the culture of the ANC. These must be pointed during political education classes in order to empower the branches to root them out in cases where they occur.

The ANC emerged from Polokwane conference with much better working relations within the National Executive Committee as well as members of the ANC in general and within the components of the alliance. It was still turbulent times with the trial that President Jacob Zuma was going through.

The recall of President Thabo Mbeki was a serious test of the capacity of the ANC to manage its internal affairs and maintain unity. The trauma of the time and the challenge in managing that crisis resulted in the formation of the Congress of the People (COPE).

This came as a shock and was a serious test of ANC unity and cohesion. That the ANC successfully navigated this tumultuous period is a remarkable feature and triumph of its strong membership support base amongst our people.

This period was significant in cementing of the working relations of Alliance partners. The Alliance resolved the issues that previously plagued it, leading to calls for the South African Communist Party (SACP) to contest the elections as an independent party which was subsequently reviewed. The Alliance was restructured and new structures of improved communication were set up resulting in broadening of the cooperation base for the Alliance.

The ANC was able to successfully heal and lead a strong and vibrant campaign for the 2009 National General Elections. The ANC scored a landslide victory and confounded the prophets of doom who had prematurely announced that the ANC would be thrashed. This was again testimony to the strong centre and the Unity in Action of members of the ANC and its Alliance.

The appointment of President Jacob Zuma resulted in the restructuring of the government and emphasis on more effective service delivery processes and the introduction of the National Planning Commission (NPC) and the Ministry of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation of government departments. The call was strong for government to be reconfigured, integrated and effective by acting on indolent and corrupt public servants as was made by the then-President and obviously supported by the public who had overwhelmingly voted the ANC into power.

The ANC and its government recorded significant successes in the first year of the first term of Zuma administration – demonstrating unity of purpose and focused attention on the priorities that were part of the electoral mandate: rural development and agrarian reform; fighting crime and corruption; better health and education and provision of decent jobs and growing the economy.

Our most serious of challenges as the country have remained that of grinding poverty and unemployment exacerbated by many external conditions. The challenges of access to land, education and poor skills base remain a constraint; similarly is the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and TB resulting in high mortality and declining life expectancy.

It is these challenges that must remain a point of focus of the leadership under President Cyril Ramaphosa and which our struggle for democracy was about. If under the democratic dispensation our leaders are unable to ensure that a significant progress is made, the level of desperation of ordinary members of society will escalate, leading to instability.

In conclusion, it would appear that in both the NEC and NWC meetings President Ramaphosa and the leadership collective were critical in their analysis of the state of the ANC.

The two meetings will stand as one of the turning points in terms of confronting many activities that are increasingly becoming part of the daily conduct of the ANC members and yet are strange to the culture of the movement.

Court cases and conducts that undermines internal processes of the movement and its policies need to be given attention and corrected as they will destroy the ANC.

ANC members should not stand by and allow these tendencies to cripple the movement. They must unite and make the call for the real cadres to come to the fore!

Sibiya is a former Spokesperson for KZN premiers: Dr Zweli Mkhize, Senzo Mchunu, and Willies Mchunu. Now works as the Head of Content and Knowledge Management in the KZN Office of the Premier. He writes in his personal capacity.