Unity of the African National Congress (ANC) is a concept that has occupied conversations across the country. For most of the lifespan of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the ANC was centred on the liberation of black South Africans from the oppressive system of apartheid.
But now, with the battle won and a constitutional democracy in place, many have questioned the relevance of the "broad church" of the party today.
Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of a liberated Ghana, reminds us that attaining freedom is only the first step towards liberation:
"The struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence. Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist controls and interference."
While the political battle against apartheid was won, the war remains. South Africa, in its 23 years of democracy, has been unable to restructure the economy or social constructs of society to deliver all its people from the legacy of apartheid and colonialism.
Nkrumah poignantly reminds us that the end of apartheid was not the end of oppression and injustice in South Africa. While institutionalised racism and oppression by the state ended in 1994, the second wave of liberation must still take place -- economic emancipation and the restructuring and social transformation of our communities. It is paramount that this becomes the focus of real unity within the ANC.
Effecting the necessary change within the country is impossible without the cohesion of all parties within the congress movement. But before the ANC fully embraces this unity of purpose, antagonisms within the congress must be resolved.
To resolves these antagonisms, the ANC needs to understand why they exist, and from where they emerge.
The growth, development and maturation of the ANC, as a governing party, has not been a linear process. A delicate balance that sustains continuity but offers political space for new initiatives and the emergence of novel ideas has been a vital part of the ANC. Historically, it maintained that delicate balance. However, in recent years the liberation organisation has become out of sync with some of its traditional systems.
Without a clear common enemy, it has become difficult (some would argue impossible) for the ANC to cultivate an environment for debate and to have open discussions on how to handle the inevitable tensions that accompany development and growth within the organisation. As such, discontent and dissent has been simmering just beneath the surface for the past few years.
Factionalism within the ANC was not created in a vacuum by the unfettered actions of disembodied political actors. It evolved inexorably from pre-existing social structures that define the nature, number and type of social cleavages such as class, region, religion and ethnicity.
These social cleavages have been politicised by the factions and bundled into coherently articulated political interests for electoral mobilisation in the lead-up to the December conference. The core of this mobilisation has been centred on radical economic transformation and land expropriation.
This has inadvertently constructed what seem to be colossal ideological divides in the ANC. These rifts appear to be positioned around ANC presidential candidates, resulting in the belief that a split in the ANC is evident if either front-runner wins.
However, what is often forgotten in the quest to assert a presidential candidate is that ANC policies are not determined by the president. They are determined by the branches.
The ANC must guard against a culture of a mechanical uniformity, which poses the threat of stifling, undermining and curbing the creative thinking and innovation so necessary for the growth and adaptation of the ANC.
Despite media reports saying the ANC policy conference showed deep ideological divides, the outcomes of the commissions showed that the ANC, despite being a broad church, has relative agreement about prioritising radical economic transformation and land expropriation. This is not to say that there are no remaining ideological differences.
Unity is possible. However, the ANC must guard against a culture of a mechanical uniformity, which poses the threat of stifling, undermining and curbing the creative thinking and innovation so necessary for the growth and adaptation of the ANC.
This unity of purpose should centre on radical economic transformation and land expropriation.
Unity of purpose is thus not a given, nor is it constant. It is the outcome of ongoing political and ideological struggles. But because the terrain on which the struggle unfolds is unstable and continuously shifting, unity remains uncertain. There are no pre-ordained formulae, no textbooks on infallible unity that are applicable in any and every situation.
As such, the task of the new president of the ANC will be to examine the unfolding realities, encourage open debate, not punish those with divergent views and ensure that the movement remains focused on radically transforming the economy and land expropriation.