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Few serious political parties vying for power would admit that “every aspect of the movement has become so deeply flawed that it is producing deeply flawed results”.

It’s this kind of brutally honest analysis that makes the recently released ANC policy documents fascinating reading for all South Africans, not just for policy wonks and political pundits. They cover areas ranging from economic policy to culture, health, housing and education, as well as international relations.

The ANC aims to host its policy conference by end-July/early August, and its structures are expected to discuss the policy documents in the lead-up to the December elective conference.

The chapter on the “balance of forces” is a perennial favourite, especially because it reflects the ANC’s stance on domestic and international issues. It sets out the key elements of the context, such as Covid-19 and “its unprecedented devastation on the global community and the world economy”.

Domestically it includes “a deterioration of national security and stability engendered by the orchestrated insurrectionary destabilisation plan of July 2021”, and the ANC’s “reduced support at local government level in November 2021”. A key global contextual issue it identifies is the possibility of “the breakout of large-scale war in Europe with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.

One of the puzzling areas in this section would be its long treatment of what it regards as “lumpen elements”, defined as “hustlers who pursue narrow material self-interests and offer their services to the highest bidder”. To be found among the middle strata and social elite, the ANC lays the blame of its own problems, and of crime and corruption in SA, on this class.

One appreciates the detailed treatment if we recall that the term describes the kind of membership that now has a stranglehold on many parts of the party. Leaders such as former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe have blamed the dropping of criteria for admission into the party and the uncritical expansion of the party’s membership base for such elements thriving in the organisation.


Sadly, the working class itself is not blessed with such detailed treatment, despite it being accorded the title of one of the motive forces of the revolution. Scant attention is paid to its changing composition and its organisations, apart from references to union federation Cosatu, the ANC’s traditional ally.

Perhaps most worrying is the limited reference to what has always been regarded as the ANC’s cardinal principle of nonracialism; it is mentioned only twice in the 187 pages of the document.

The “existential crisis” the ANC faces takes up much space. The issues of “renewal, reengineering and reimagination”, as formulated at the ANC’s previous conference, have already been seen to be divisive, with different factions slugging out what the renewal agenda actually entails, and whether it is just a ploy by the Ramaphosa faction to sideline others.

The document emphasises that the ANC is capable of deep fundamental change, as it has done over its 110-year history. It describes its current situation as a burning platform akin to that of losing an election, which has led many other parties to carry out the root-and-branch changes that are required.

It identifies two problems to be dealt with, “a distant inward-looking ANC which is out of touch with its constituencies”, and “an ANC that is increasingly losing credibility and trust because of its performance in delivering a better life for all, corruption and state capture”.

The organisational renewal section is drawn from a number of inputs made by its veterans league and emphasises that “the ANC’s renewal must be dealt with as a multifaceted and multidimensional process”. A particular suggestion that could have wide ramifications is that it should consider moving away from only geographically based branches to including sector and interest-based ones.

Will such frank assessments be matched by resolve at the ANC’s December conference, helping the governing party rise from the wreckage of its current membership and structures, or will it simply glide into oblivion after the 2024 elections?

• Abba Omar is director of operations at the Mapungubwe Institute.


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