Can the ANC self-correct?

Theuns Eloff on the factors hindering a clean-up of the ruling party

The future of South Africa is (humanly speaking) still closely linked to the condition of the ruling ANC. It is not that opposition parties are unimportant, but but for the time being the ANC still attracts the majority of votes – for whatever reason – and is therefore in political power at national level, in eight provinces, and in the majority of municipalities. As an organisation the ANC, however, still experiences major problems – bitter and often deadly faction fights, an endemic culture of corruption and entitlement and a lack of morality.

Can the ANC as an organisation self-correct and repair itself? Some within the ANC think (and hope) that it can, others keep up appearances but seriously doubt it and many outside the organisation are convinced that it is not possible (any more).

According to the dictionary “self-correction” is a process whereby an individual or organsation spontaneously correct mistakes, without external help or intervention. In the case of organisations, leadership, a positive and ethical culture, and good systems are necessary to make self-correction happen.

If the ANC’s behaviour and actions of the past few years are judged by these criteria, there are mixed signals. One could argue that the fall of Zuma and the defeat of his crown princess Dlamini-Zuma was an example of self-correction. And that is partially true. The next question is why informed ANC members did not realise earlier that the Zuptas were at work and why did they did not act sooner?

In addition, the degree of self-correction in December 2017 must be questioned. Why are there still so many Zuptas in the Ramaphosa cabinet, even though some had been shown the door? Can the ANC at the end of 2017 and the middle of 2020 be described as self-corrected? Not by far.

This is confirmed by the events of the past few weeks – some positive, some negative, but two steps forward and one-and-a-half backwards.

- A while ago President Ramaphosa announced the establishment of a multilateral and multi-disciplinary body that would be able to investigate and prosecute corruption in an integrated manner. A good plan, but nothing has been heard since.

- The massive Covid-19 looting (especailly around personal protective equipment) was the last straw that broke the corruption camel’s back – at last.

- The secretary-general of the ANC and one of the top six, Ace Magashule said that all ANC leaders did business with the state and that there was nothing wrong with that.

- During the last ANC NEC meeting the body endorsed Ramaphosa’s corruption letter to members, rejected Zuma’s attack on Ramaphosa and supported the decision that ANC members who were charged with corruption, should “step aside” and that those who are tainted in public by claims of corruption, should explain themselves to the Integrity Commission (IC) of the ANC.

- Days after this, an ANC delegation flies to Zimbabwe for party business with ZanuPF at the cost of the state. Ramaphosa asks for a report and Magashule denies any abuse of state resources. Shortly after, the top six announce that the ANC apologise for their actions and promise to repay the money. What is extremely worrying – to say the least – is that many ANC leaders see nothing wrong with the fact that a political party uses a military airplane to fly to a neighbouring state, especially while the borders were still Covid-closed.

- A few weeks ago, Andile Lungisa (ANC member in Nelson Mandela Bay), at last goes to jail for the assault on a fellow DA member with a water jug. He initially refused to resign, but was suspended by the ANC in the Eastern Cape. However, he is treated as a hero by ANC members accompanying him to jail gates. Even though Lungisa is not in jail for corruption, his comrades’s actions reflect their lack of values.

- In the weeks after the NEC corruption decision very little happens. On the contrary, in some provinces there is even resistance to the implementation thereof. In the Northwest, the Interim Provincial Committee directs five municipal managers charged with corruption to resign, but the provincial ANC Women’s League states that they need not resign. In Limpopo, Florence Radzilani and Danny Msiza (they of VBS notoriety) are back in their positions in spite of the NEC decision. Bongani Bongo (former deputy minister) and Zandile Gumede (former mayor of Ethekwini and ANC member of the KZN provincial legislature) are also still in their positions.

- According to the NEC decision the IC of the ANC should have received more and stronger powers, but it has been deathly quiet and it is not clear whether anyone has so far appeared before them. If someone has, the lack of information and transparency are problematic anyway.

It is clear that the self-correction is happening very slowly – if at all.

What stands in the way of ANC self-correction?

A first factor is divided leadership, with the president and secretary-general of the organisation clearly on different sides. The weak mandate given to its leader Ramaphosa at Nasrec is also problematic. But the public information and perception about Ace Magashule around the Estina matter and especially the Free State asbestos contract, as well as his public views about state tenders (especially concerning his sons), make it impossible for him to be seen to support the process of self-correction – and for anyone with a morsel of integrity to trust him.

The second factor is the endemic corruption and culture of entitlement in the ANC. Described by Ramaphosa as “accused number one”, the scale of corruption and the number of members involved are just too great. If an organisation wants to self-correct, there must be a majority of good people, who can isolate and oust the minority of bad people. This is not possible in the ANC anymore.

In addition, there is a lack of accountability, integrity and an ethcial culture. The political commentator Stephen Grootes points out that the legal principle “innocent until proven guilty” is being used (abused?) not to “stand aside”, and that the concept of a greater moral responsibility for public officials does not even feature in ANC thinking. The legal principle becomes “innocent until the last possibility of an appeal is exhausted”.

A fourth factor, in this instance applicable to the NEC decision, is the lack of discipline in the ANC and its capacity to implement. The attitude and conviction is that as soon as a decision is taken, the issue has been dealt with. The almost total lack of capacity to implement can be attributed to three factors: the lack of political will to implement becaase my faction does not agree with the decision, bureaucratic red tape (it is too difficult and time consuming to implement) and general administrative and managerial capacity to implement.

What can be done?

The fact that the ANC cannot self-correct, does not mean that nothing could or should be done. Good and strong leadership from the president, the top six (five?) and all other levels of the organisation is necessary. Ramaphosa has started the corruption fight and must see it through ruthlessly. He will have to motivate his supporters to do the same.

The Veterans played a significant role in the process to get rid of Zuma and will have to keep on playing their watchdog role. The IC of the ANC will have to get more teeth urgently, especially at national level. And it must be made known widely that an IC recommendation to the top six of the ANC would not be easily rejected.

But it is clear that the moral recovery of the ANC would not happen if it only depended on its own internal actions. On an external level, the impementation of lifestyle audits (LSA’s) is one of the most important mechanisms to expose and prosecute corruption. Obviously, the decision to subject ANC members to LSA’s is an internal one. And the concept of LSA’s is not a new one. As early as July 2019, Pravin Gordhan issued a directive that board members and management of SOE’s would be subject to LSA’s.

However, no feedback in this regard has been given. In 2018 Gauteng premier David Makhura promised to do the same with his cabinet, but nothing has happened yet. And yet, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, Western Cape premier Alan Winde had LSA’s done for his cabinet through an open tender process and by an independent forensic company. No discrepancies were found, after the assets and bank statements of the whole cabinet (including Winde) had been scrutinised.

Why does the ANC not do the same at national cabinet and provincial government level? It would be even more important at local government level, where corruption and maladministration are rife. If the Treasury would decide to make funds available for this purpose (and oversee the process of LSA’s itself), it would be money well spent.

The second external mechanism towards recovery should be the findings and recommendations of the Zondo Commission, as these are followed up by the NPA, the SIU and the (not yet established) special coordinating body for prosecutions. The deadline for the Zondo Commission’s report is fast approaching.

However, preliminary reports on themes and organisations (such as Eskom) could help to speed up the prosecution process. When the final report is published, the various bodies should already be on standby to investigative and prosecute all culprits, but especially ANC members. Without these external interventions and clean-ups, the ANC cannot recover.

True and spontaneous self-correction for the ANC is not possible anymore. However, a combination of leadership and strong decisions on the powers of the IC on the one hand, and external LSA’s and the fearless folow-up of the Zondo recommendations on the other, can assist the ANC to recover. A good strategy would be for President Ramaphosa to work on two fronts: inside the ANC to root out corruption and get rid of corrupt members, and inside the state to establish better, cleaner and more effective government. These are two sides of the same coin.

In closing: it would be good for the country in general if the ANC could recover morally. But it must be remembered that, even if this happened, the ANC is not necessarily the best party to govern South Africa and its provinces, cities and towns.

The organisation’s ideological views on issues such as the economy, socio-economic policy, (true) non-racialism, the place of minorities and language- and cultural rights, and race-based transformation, leave much to be desired. Even if the ANC should recover and win back some integrity, it does not mean that the organisation’s policies would be accpetable. That will have to be determined at the polling stations. But at least South Africa would have cleaner government and less corruption.

Theuns Eloff is an independent commentator. A version of this article first appeared on Netwerk24 in Afrikaans, 28 September 2020