13/03/2017 05:01 SAST | Updated 13/03/2017 06:35 SAST

One Thing the ANC Is Prepared to Learn from the DA, And One Thing it Won't

ANC is mulling open elections and an electoral college.

"Part of the dangers we are faced with is to elect people that we don't know."
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
"Part of the dangers we are faced with is to elect people that we don't know."


Two things ANC organiser and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Sunday were somewhat unusual. The first is that he conceded the ANC's "challenges" with its elections became really challenging circa around 2007. He omitted to say he was then the enfant terrible who was leading the battle in the trenches and gutter for President Jacob Zuma.

To put it nicely, Mbalula at that time made the most of the ANC's electoral processes in the branches, knowing exactly how to use these to the advantage of the man he wanted to see president. All grown up and ministerial a decade later, he considers branch manipulation to be a problem.

The second thing he said is that the ANC was mulling an "electoral college", a phrase more likely uttered by those riding the blue wave. Granted, it was dressed up in a beret by adding the prefix "revolutionary", but the concept is the same as in the Democratic Alliance: the ANC wants to vet the candidates standing for leadership election and more, it wants open contestation in the party. This isn't for this year's leadership contest, however. It's first for the branches to say if they want it, and then for the necessary amendments to be made to the party's constitution and processes.

The issue is up for discussion and finalisation at the party's national policy conference in June, with the thoughts around this jotted down in the ANC's "Organisational Renewal" document, publicly released as part of a handy 202-page book in Luthuli House on Sunday. All nine of the party's subcommittees were represented by their big shots, Mbalula being there as head of the organisational renewal committee.

He explained that the "revolutionary electoral college" would help deal with "the dangers that we are faced with as a movement".

He continued: "Part of the dangers we are faced with is to elect people that we don't know. It is a result of an objective reality, that the ANC is a growing political party, and that there are new members who need to be socialised in the culture and the traditions of the organisation.

"Factionalism is part of the dangers that we're faced with, and it has got a potential to undermine everything else that is positive out of the growth of the movement," he said, adding gate-keeping to this list of dangers. "The danger of electing people we don't know arise because the dominant faction is the one that determines who becomes the leader." This implies that the faction backing the losers wouldn't really know the other faction's leaders.

The discussion documents refer to it as a "Revolutionary Electoral Commission", to check on the candidates nominated by branches as there has been a "manipulation of branch processes" which were "geared towards achieving pre-determined outcome[s] in terms of the elections of leadership in various conferences.

Mbalula said: "The electoral college is the one aspect that does not undermine democracy but seeks to say 'where do you come from, what is your tradition, do you meet the criteria'. Whereas the branches would have elected on the ground and made their pronouncement on their preferred candidate, the electoral college ... would then do an assessment and release those claims back to branches for people to be considered for a position in the movement so that they've gone through proper examination without undermining the internal organisational democracy."

The electoral college would be something different to Eisa, the elections agency responsible for the elections administration at party conferences.

The issue of a more open process of contestation in the ANC -- as opposed to the secretive one that is still in place (despite the ANC Women's League, for one, already openly declaring its support for a candidate) -- is not a new thought, but it is perhaps the first time that the dominant lobby group within the ANC is paying serious attention to it. Previously it was mooted by presidential hopefuls who stood almost no chance, like Tokyo Sexwale.

Mbalula said: "This is not a new proposal. We have simply dusted it from the cupboard and brought it back with new perfume and all that given the new challenges that are ever present. Because when we considered it in 2007, some of the challenges that we are facing now were not as rampant as they are.

"We are bringing it back because we think as a dynamic and modernising organisation which is what renewal seeks to respond to."

Modernising, however, does not quite yet extend to working out a strategy for the ANC's role as an opposition party - something which was previously only a reality in the Western Cape, but which had dawned in three metros (Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg) after last year's local government elections.

"I can tell you we are preparing to remain in power forever, and that is not a statement of arrogance, it is our stated objective," Mbalula said, quickly adding: "It is not in the paper though."

He explained the ANC's planned renewal would make it capable of responding "to all challenges and all material conditions, whether in opposition or not. That's why we are not on the back foot even when there is a coalition, (if) we are forced into being in opposition we are not on the back foot because our movement is ever ready to respond to such challenges when they arise."

Whether ANC supporters will agree in the City of Cape Town, where the DA majority has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, is another question.