The African National Congress held a media briefing on Sunday 23 April 2017 at Chief Albert Luthuli House in Johannesburg on its Policy Conference Discussion Document with the chief aim to provoke robust debates within the structures of the ANC and its Alliance partners on the perennial questions of the Organisational Renewal and Organisational Design challenge in view of the ANC National Policy Conference slated for the 30 June to 5th of July 2017 and ultimately the 54th ANC National Conference in December 2017.
In our context, given the Rector of SWAPO Party School, Marco Hausiku, calling for an end to the prevailing culture of cliques and factionalism in SWAPO, the question is posed to find out if the party will embark on organisational renewal of its own?
Indeed, organisations operate within a social milieu and are impacted by the local and global balances of forces that are a function of subjective and objective conditions. The human anatomy is an example that best describes the interdependences’, connectedness and inseparability of the body organs from one another. Like all species, organisations exist in a niche, within an ecology wherein the struggle for sustenance and survival are the order of the day. In essence, organisations are synonymous with living organisms, form and content. They metamorphose, punctuated by change as a permanent constant in life, from coming into being, growing, maturing and decaying. Throughout this process organisations contend and must adapt to ever-changing conditions to avoid stagnation, political irrelevance and death.
It is this changing environment that the former liberation movements turned ruling parties must respond to intuitively and understand to remain true to their ability and character of adapting to new conditions to continue to be leaders of society and avoid paralysis. Since their formation, the former liberation movements have been able to attract into their ranks new members and trained new leaders and organisers who are playing a critical role in their day-to-day work in communities and in all sectors of society. Among these are younger generations, women, workers, black professionals and business people and white compatriots. This is a major strength that should be harnessed through strategic sectoral work. There is however an emerging threat to these Parties’ influence and appeal to young intellectuals and black middle class particularly the ambivalence of young people towards their reported apathy which must be studied. In this regard, I agree with the view of the ANC’s Discussion Document that there are organisational shortcomings and dangers that the former liberation movements turned political parties have to overcome post-independence: Firstly, the challenges of governance and political management of state power which impact on the character and values of these political parties. Due to the preoccupation with managing internal conflicts, these political parties do not seem to mitigate the ten dangers that any governing party has to contend with and manage.
These are; 1) The danger of social distance and isolation of the parties from the masses; 2) The danger of state bureaucratic and demobilisation of the masses; 3) The danger of corruption and sins of incumbency; 4) The danger of institutionalized factionalism, ill-discipline and disunity fuelled and inspired by the battles over the control of state power and resources; 5) The danger of using state institutions to settle inner-party differences; 6) The danger of neglecting cadre policy; 7) The danger of lack of capacity and capability to implement policies; 8) The danger of gate-keeping and bulk buying of membership; 9) The danger of divisive slate electoral politics and wedge-drivers and 10) The danger of character and political assassinations. Secondly, the political life of the former liberation movements turned political parties revolves around insidious internal strife and factional battles for power, rather than differences on how to implement the policies of the parties. This is a silent retreat from the mass line to palace politics of factionalism and perpetual in-fighting. This situation shifts the focus of the members away from societal concerns and people’s aspirations and produces a new type of members who see ill-discipline, divisions, factionalism and in-fighting as normal practices and necessary forms of political survival.
These Parties’ ideological orientation, policy positions and the vision they pursue should therefore be diametrically opposed to neo-liberalism and informed by the morality of caring and human solidarity leaning towards the poor like social democrats. In this context, they must conduct a consistent struggle in pursuit of a caring society in which the well-being of the poor receives focused and consistent attention. Accordingly, they should change colonial production relations and advocate for a developmental state that carries out a thorough-going transformation agenda.
Some of the major lessons from SWAPO’s history on matters pertaining to internal renewal and redesign of structures in response to changing conditions or the shifts in strategy of the struggle, shows that the turn to mass mobilisation as the principal form of struggle in the 1960s, required the movement to re-organise so as to concentrate on mass political mobilisation and diplomatic action. Coordinating structures were introduced followed by the formation of the Peoples’ Liberation Army. The Tanga Conference confirmed the centrality of the three pronged strategy of mass mobilisation with the diplomatic campaign and the military form of struggle while wings were established to direct the struggle. This was followed by threats of rebellion and defection compounded by the rough terrain in which guerrilla warfare had to be executed. The bold steps taken to renew the movement were re-enforced by swelling of the ranks of PLAN, the military wing, by the early 1970s generation of militant youth and combat inspired activists, as an off-shoot of the students’ uprising and workers’ strikes. The struggle for liberation reached a crescendo during the decade of the 1980’s as organs such NUNW and NANSO, including the church gained momentum. On this platform, SWAPO constructed the final assault and consolidated the machinery that broke the back of apartheid at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The key lesson from this history is that principles are sacrosanct while strategies, tactics and structures have to adapt.
Surely, the former liberation movements now ruling parties remain the leaders in the processes for social change. Many citizens across their countries continue to place hope on these Parties regarding their own progress across the length and breadth of the land and every sector of society. That said, the parties must readjust their organisational machinery to be more responsive to the new demands of the current conjecture without losing their traditional outlook in order to achieve their historic mission. Former President Mandela warned that “One of the temptations of a leader who has been elected unopposed is that he may use his powerful position to settle scores with his detractors, to marginalise them and in some cases get rid of them, and to surround himself with yes-men and women… The leader must keep the forces together, but you can’t do that unless you allow dissent. People should be able to criticise the leader without fear or favour. Only in that case are you likely to keep your colleagues together,” but Mbeki did not heed this advice and this was to be the very reason for his downfall coupled with slate politics. For this reason, the ANC is looking at a more open contest and the vetting of candidates through an electoral college and proposes for a careful balance or combination of experience of tried and tested cadres, on the one hand and bright young minds, on the other, to bring a new dynamism.
Although the Party School stimulates open debate and a culture of critical thinking as its rector said, unless the issue of slates politics is addressed, it might bring divisions that will drive some good leaders with brilliant ideas out of politics as it happened elsewhere as slates are lists of members who are preferred for certain leadership positions and are circulated within factions. That is why it is high time we put an end to the throwing of stones into random bushes in the hope that we will find some imaginary enemies as this makes the call for unity and the talks of media freedom to sound hollow when we are suspicious of one another and are censoring some journalists while giving others carte blanche despite the fact that some of these highly vaunted newspapers today were the ones who were trying to drive a wedge between leaders. In this regard, I recall that it was one editorial of a certain newspaper which was critical of the remarks that said: “these sycophants, who surround the President, are interested in their own survival and seek to please the President by informing him that he was very popular with the people… the sycophancy may be reflected in their behavior of promoting omnipotence of the presidency”. The remarks further said: “perhaps, the President, now having been elected directly by the people, thought that he was mandated to rule and was accountable only to the people, however, a brave cabinet and also the last SWAPO Party Congress held in August 2002 proved that the President could still be called to order in Namibia”.
The editorial of the 9th of August, 2012, then concluded that “these diatribes would serve as political indices to determine the tolerance” of some people and whether they would “spare their vengeance to revisit the past and resort to retributive action.”
If these comments were not meant to drive a wedge between leaders, I don’t know what their purpose were but fortunately peace and cordial relations continued as usual. My point is; let us not revisit the past and resort to retributive actions turning former friends and comrades into opponents but chart a new path forward away from palace politics wherein internal strife and factional battles over power and resources define the political life. One can only hope that we have within ourselves a unique innate resilience and the ability to self-correct. This entails retracing our steps with a view to draw from the lessons of previous generations and continue to preach reconciliation, unity and inclusivity as well as transformative politics in order to pull in the same direction. ]
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.