Cyril Ramaphosa’s so-called slate: does the ANC want democracy or not?

The ANC is wrong to say that Cyril Ramaphosa should not announce a running partner for his ANC presidential campaign, says Ebrahim Fakir.

Over the past weekend, Cyril Ramaphosa, a nominee and contender for the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) at its December national conference, released his “slate” of preferences for the ANC’s top six leaders. Such an expression of preference is not anathema in a democracy or in democratic organisations, which the ANC claims to be, yet it caused a fit of hysterics from other contenders for the ANC presidency and sent their supporters into fits of apoplexy. It also attracted the mild reproach of Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters. In a statement released on Monday 6 November, the party’s leadership said: “Such pronouncements are unacceptable, whether comrades have a preference or not, and seek to usurp the entrenched right of the branches to nominate candidates of their choosing.”

But this is patent nonsense. Expressing a preference does not preclude the right of branches to nominate candidates, or affect the voting preferences of the delegates to the ANC conference. If anything, Ramaphosa’s internal detractors and the ANC’s statement itself demonstrate the party’s irredeemably contorted and convoluted logic in condemning Ramaphosa’s release of his “slate”.
The horse of slates in the ANC has long bolted. Slates have been a thing in the ANC since at least 2004. It reached its silent peak at the Polokwane conference in 2007. The idea of slates and preferred people for designated positions, was previously underground. Now it is out in the open. Declared, visible and known. Ramaphosa has brought the cleaning antiseptic of light in an otherwise diseased and decaying process of murk and secrecy.

But this declaration, it is purported, flies in the face of its 2015 Mangaung resolution which states:

“Conference emphatically condemned factionalism as well as the practice of slates during conferences. In addition, delegates called for the ANC to tackle the underlying roots of these problematic practices which undermine the unity and cohesion of the movement. A clarion call was made on the organisation to collectively develop new measures to stop these negative practices and not just condemn them while practically allow them to take root.”

But this resolution says nothing, really. It seeks to condemn disunity and the practices that give rise to factionalism and disunity. The reality is that the factionalism and disunity in the ANC are spawned not by factions based on different ideas – but by corrupt and unethical performance by deployed cadres in government. Latterly, this factionalism and disunity is based on diametrically opposed policy preferences which even extend to fundamental differences in the nature, shape, form and character of the ANC and of the government itself. It is caused not by the expression of preference, but by the expression of difference. Different conceptions of policy, economy, state and government, corruption, unethical and poor government performance of the ANC’s deployed cadres are what undermine the unity and cohesion of the ANC.

So the much-vaunted disciplinary stick of the ANC’s 2015 resolution on slates and factionalism can’t help it through this conundrum. The resolution is, in any case, anathema to the democratic pretences of the ANC, inhibiting the liberty of its leadership contenders and its ordinary members to express themselves and engage in the political cut and thrust of democratic deliberation and exchange. The resolution is platitudinous, mechanical and erroneous. It is devoid of any content. It serves no useful purpose. Even taken literally, Ramaphosa’s expression of preference defies neither the letter nor the spirit of the 2015 resolution.

On the contrary, Ramaphosa’s expression of preference is a measure which entrenches democracy in the ANC. Like having multiple contenders competing for the presidency of the ANC, this is a positive development (the ANC does claim that it is a democratic organisation, after all). Publicly expressing a preference for who you would like in which position is equally a part of the democratic process. Exercising choice, and giving voice to that choice, is a key aspect of democratic practice, giving leaders an opportunity to exercise influence over branch nomination processes and voting delegates. This does not preclude the participation of branch members and voting delegates in the deliberative processes, nor does it hinder who branches nominate and who voting delegates vote for.

The ANC must decide whether it is democratic or not. Unless it can demonstrate how Ramaphosa’s public declaration of a set of choices undermines the voice, choice, participation, deliberation and voting decisions of branches and conference delegates, then Luthuli House and the increasingly contradictory and confused ANC is merely making unnecessary noise and generating more needless heat.

If the party is unable to be cogent and make any sense it is perhaps better it keeps quiet. We understand that it is collapsing under the weight of its multiple and unmanageable internal contradictions, and the haplessness of corrupt conduct, institutional and process manipulation, incompetence and corruption in government. These are the sources of it disunity. Not expressions of preference and choice.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.

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