08/11/2017 11:34 SAST | Updated 08/11/2017 11:34 SAST

Former ANC Presidents Now Party's Biggest Critics

Increasingly, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe have both taken to condemning the current state of the ANC.

Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko (SWAZILAND)
Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko (SWAZILAND)

Opposition parties don't have to savagely criticise the ANC any longer –– the ruling party's former presidents are doing a good enough job.

Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe have both taken to condemning the current state of the ANC and the actions of its leadership during public appearances around the country. And they are not mincing their words.

Factionalism, corruption and slate politics are some of the points on which their criticisms are based.

In his keynote address at the 2017 Helen Suzman Memorial Lecture on Tuesday, Motlanthe said the ways in which South Africa has regressed from the dream of a united democratic, nonracial, nonsexist state was "regrettable".

"The burden on our collective shoulders was too heavy a weight to carry; the expectations too high to fulfil... Those in power in various sectors failed to live up to the oath of office in terms of business and moral consciousness attached to their positions," he said.

READ: Motlanthe: The Present Is Untenable, But South Africans Can Change That

But he was more confrontational in September, attacking President Jacob Zuma directly.

In an interview with Radio702, Motlanthe said if his successor were to be removed, it would give the country the opportunity to "create a new environment".

"Each one of his mistakes and indiscretions, the ANC takes it upon itself to defend [him], as though he is the ANC," said Motlanthe.

He also told the BBC that the ANC needed to lose power to realise the depth of its problems.

"Those elements who are in it for the largesse will quit it, will desert it –– and only then would the possibility arise for salvaging whatever is left of it," he said.

Even Nelson Mandela warned the ANC about factionalism nine years ago.

In 2008, at a birthday celebration in his honour at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, Mandela said: "Let no individual, section, faction or group ever regard itself as greater than the organisation and the common good of all our people."

"Let us never through our deeds or words take our people back down that road," he said.

But Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, now believes the party faces the threat of outright destruction.

Giving the keynote address at a packed OR Tambo Centenary Memorial Lecture last month, Mbeki said flat-out that the threat emanates from acts of commission originating from within the ANC itself.

"The ANC contains within its ranks people who are absolutely contemptuous of the most fundamental values of the ANC . . . These are people who only see the ANC as a step-ladder to enable them to access state power for the express purpose of using that access for self-enrichment," he said.

READ: Mbeki: ANC Crisis Direct Result Of Polokwane Putsch

The comments from the former presidents are echoed by senior members of the party's current leadership, like Pravin Gordhan and Derek Hanekom, who have been outspoken about problems within the ANC.

The ANC is, by its own admission, going through an exceptionally problematic period, scrambling to affect some sort of organisational renewal before South Africans go to the polls in 2019. For the first time, many of its detractors form part of its own ranks, as factions battle it out for political power.

The party is trying to keep its chin up ahead of its national conference in December, but with its former leaders having such a despondent view of the current state of play, it leaves many wondering whether the ruling party has the political will to pick itself out of its current slump.