ANC doesn't have to lose an election to reflect and self-correct
Tanzania's ruling party shows how to stay in power and stay honest
Dear comrade deputy president Motlanthe,
During the course of the week, we read ad nauseam about a statement that you made during a BBC Hardtalk interview with Stephen Sackur in 2017.
Perhaps, in the pursuit of sensationalism, the statement resurfaced this week as a headline: "ANC needs to lose elections to reflect." It brought this statement to life again.
We could have written to you in 2017. Luckily for us, Karl Marx comes to mind: "History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce."
We sit with an election, so do we let the farce continue or should we arrest it? We have elected to discuss the tragedy and the farce.
You still hold membership of the ANC and continue to associate yourself with it. You are a member who has had the privilege of serving in the liberation movement's top six in two different capacities, first as secretary-general (SG) and later as deputy president (DP).
As former SG and former DP (though in ANC language we seldom use the word "former" when referring to officials because we acknowledge that the expertise and experience gained serving in a particular position become part of one's makeup and is never lost to the organisation), we assume and appreciate that your utterances come from a place of great love for the ANC and deep concern over the state of affairs within the organisation and the governing party.
In your September 2017 interview, which was conducted ahead of the December 2017 watershed 54th national conference of the ANC, you said: "The ANC has the opportunity to renew itself but that will take lots of courage and, failing that, it has to hit rock bottom, it has to lose elections for a penny to drop."
You then proceed: "For as long as it is associated with corruption and failure, people will vote it out. It would be good for the ANC itself if it were to be voted out because those elements who are in it for the largesse will quit it. They will desert it. Only then will the possibility arise for salvaging whatever is left of it."
We agree with the thrust of your problem statement. Our interpretation is that the ANC was formed with one of its main objectives being to transform SA as rapidly as possible into a united, nonracial, nonsexist, democratic and prosperous country, and as a result of the sins of incumbency, we have veered from this objective.
It is true that an ANC that is self-involved and inward looking, divided and occupied with factionalism, unaccountable to the electorate, and viewed as corrupt is not the vehicle with which one would deliver a national democratic society. The ANC needs to realign itself with South Africans and its historical values.
Where we differ is the "solution" you present that says we must lose elections in order to reflect.
Having scoured texts and platforms, we have not found a substantive argument to explain how the total loss of confidence by the electorate in the ANC will lead to its renewal and/or reflection. In our view it is a fallacy. The statement attributed to you on two occasions assumes that losing an election is a precondition for self-correction.
Borrowing from the organisational report you delivered as secretary-general to the 52nd national conference in 2007: "The ANC has always [been] truthful to the people and never [hidden] or [concealed] its own shortcomings and weaknesses, or the extent of the challenges that we face. Consequently, our people continue to hold the ANC in high regard and demonstrate their confidence by coming out in even greater numbers in support of our movement in each successive election."
One can argue that 2007 was a long time ago and things have worsened since then. However, the ANC's ability to honestly self-critique is evident in the organisational report delivered by former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to the ANC's 54th national conference in 2017.
Therefore, comrade DP, perhaps you ought to pen your ideas as to how you moved from the illustrated position to the one where the very same organisation "should be voted out because [of elements] who are in it for largesse". We believe we will benefit from such a text as the absence of it has left us to interpret your thoughts as presented in the media.In proving that self-correction while in government is possible, we can look to the Chama Cha Mapinduzi movement that's been in power in Tanzania since the 1960s. The party introduced strong internal processes that ensure its leaders and deployees are assessed not only by members but all society. The party has also demonstrated high levels of intolerance with corruption within the party and the government that led to the party's ability to continuously self-correct.Again borrowing from your 2007 organisational report to the Polokwane conference: "A profound and popular movement, which is also a ruling party such as we are, will never be immune from negative tendencies, and elements which are in direct contradiction with these values of courage, generosity, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, truthfulness, integrity and temperance."The point, however, is to ensure that through continuous political education the noble values and norms of the ANC remain the dominant and defining characteristics of our movement. In order to achieve this, we must devise mechanisms that will enable the membership to combat and defeat the negative tendencies that Lenin, José Marti and countless other revolutionaries have identified and warned us against. We must always strive to correct each other's weaknesses and reinforce each other's strong points."So no, comrade deputy president, we do not need to lose elections to be able to reflect and self-correct. All that is needed is for the leadership of the ANC and membership alike to have the courage, generosity, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, truthfulness, integrity and temperance to carry out this historic task. We shall therefore be counting on your vote on May 8.• Phiri and Mhlauli are ANC activists and write in their personal capacities