"The ANC faces declining fortunes," the party declares in its policy discussion document on organisational renewal.
"Internal squabbles, money politics, corruption and poor performance in government all conspire to undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of the broader public," reads the document. Huffington Post South Africa has obtained a copy of the document.
"Some progressive formations and individuals who historically have been part of the broad front of forces for change are challenging the movement on important current issues, particularly corruption," the party acknowledges.
The document says that while South Africans have a better quality of life now, the "fundamental essence of apartheid colonialism" — such as inequalities, particularly within the black community — remained. This is the ideal time for the ANC to adapt and push for a "second transition", but it is exactly at this moment that the party, its alliance partners the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), as well as the government it leads, "are at their weakest since 1994".
Workers have successfully fought for more rights, but there is less organisation amongst the working class now, and the "progressive trade union movement" is in disarray. "The sense of hope in broader society has dissipated," the document reads. "Social cohesion seems to be withering. Rampant selfish interests, in broader society and within the liberation movement, are the stock-in-trade.
"More and more, an impression of reliance on security agencies is taking root. Instead of being the centre of transformative and ethical rectitude, increasingly the ANC and the government it leads have occasionally to be directed from elsewhere — in the manner of 'lawfare' — to do right."
The party is here possibly referring to the increasing number of police officers and soldiers deployed at President Jacob Zuma's annual State of the Nation Address, as well as court cases brought by opposition parties and lobby groups about constitutional matters such as Zuma's failure to adhere to the recommendations of the Public Protector's report on irregular state spending on his Nkandla homestead.
"The moral suasion that the ANC has wielded to lead society is waning, and the electorate is starting more effectively to assert its negative judgment," according to the document.
The document says it isn't inevitable that a liberation party should decline two decades after it comes to power, as is the general theory. Weaknesses should be identified and corrected, rather than accepted as the natural order of things, and electoral performance should be about emancipation and the quality of life of especially the poor, it says.
If the ANC weakens, it "can undermine the state and the democratic system as a whole" because the party "still contains the main ingredients of the glue that holds South African society together" — at least in its formal policy posture, the document reads.
Most people still want "fundamental transformation" but they may be losing their confidence in the ANC to lead this. Referring to the Democratic Alliance without calling it by name, the document says parties who have historically opposed such transformation now "embrace both the content and symbols of reconstruction and development".
Also, "pretentious radical left rhetoric has found fertile ground within significant sections of the electorate," the document reads, with reference to the Economic Freedom Fighters which it also doesn't name.
The document warns that the ANC could suffer further losses at the ballot box, but it also warns that the ANC should be seen to be delivering in government all the time, not just at elections time. "In fact, our people resent seeing ANC leadership during elections time," the document warns.
It also takes note of the fact that the party has recently lost three major metros — Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg — in last year's local government elections, and obtained a reduced majority in three more of the total of eight — Mangaung, eThekwini and Buffalo City.
The document quotes an unnamed senior leader in the ANC as saying "in South African politics, any political party of consequence must have the backing of the metropolitan municipalities".
The document further outlines certain dangers the party faces, saying the party has seen "a silent retreat from the mass line (serving the people) to palace politics of factionalism and perpetual in-fighting".
These circumstances have produced "a new type of ANC leader and member who sees ill-discipline, divisions, factionalism and in-fighting as normal practices and necessary forms of political survival".
The ANC will on Sunday release the discussion documents for its policy conference in June in Gauteng. This conference is in preparation for the party's national conference in December, where a successor for Zuma, who has led the party for a decade, is expected to be elected.