Absence of exiles in ANC top six for first time could herald change in style of government

14 January 2018 - 00:00

The election of the ANC top structure has produced an interesting hotchpotch which may ultimately point the organisation in a different direction. For the first time since its unbanning, the organisation does not have a single individual from exile elected to its top six. It's a remarkable development.
The so-called "inxiles" have taken over. In a sense, the ANC has finally come home.
It's a break from the past which could have implications for the tone, texture and character of the organisation - and how the country is ultimately governed.
One of the major talking points of the conference was the glaring lack of women in the top leadership, an embarrassing outcome for a party that prides itself on its record on gender equality. Which may suggest policies don't accurately reflect feelings on the ground.
But the outcome which seems to be exercising the minds of the new leadership a great deal is the fact that KwaZulu-Natal, the most powerful province in terms of support - and President Jacob Zuma's backyard - emerged from the conference empty-handed. Whereas in the past it had three members in the top six - Zuma, Zweli Mkhize as treasurer-general and Baleka Mbete as chairwoman - it now has none. Incidentally, those three were the exile brigade in the top six. The other three - Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe and Jessie Duarte - had honed their skills in the labour and civic struggles inside the country.The ejection of KwaZulu-Natal from any position of national influence has its own implications. Of immediate concern is how the party handles the thorny issue of Zuma's future and how that could be interpreted on the ground were he to be removed from office. Alienating his supporters could affect the party's performance in next year's national elections.
Sidelining KwaZulu-Natal from national politics could also revive the spectre of Zulu nationalism and play into the hands of those harbouring secessionist tendencies. Such tendencies have powerful supporters, King Goodwill Zwelithini among them.
The ANC has always been something of a three-headed animal. After the mass arrests and bannings of the 1960s, the leadership decamped into exile and others went to jail. This meant that for more than three decades the struggle against apartheid was prosecuted from three locations: in exile, in jail and inside the country.The UDF would probably eventually have disappeared from the face of the earth. But there was surely a need - after decades operating in different, hostile climes - for the three factions to meet formally, do a thorough postmortem and understand each other before mapping the way forward.
But as it so happened, the ANC simply took over what rightly belonged to it, and once in office continued to behave the way it had in exile.
Life in exile was obviously hard and hostile, everything was at a premium. Moreover, the organisation was under constant cross-border attacks by the regime and fear of infiltration by its agents. That created a siege mentality which bred a culture of intolerance within the organisation.
Those of its members who spoke their minds or challenged or questioned decisions were detained, tortured and even killed.

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