Thabang Motsohi: Why The ANC Fails

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with South African Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary Blade Nzimande at the SACP’s third special National Congress at the University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus. (Photo: GCIS)

“The African National Congress (ANC) is going to be divided, it’s going to split. The split is inevitable when you have ideological gridlock,” Thabang Motsohi says. As an organisational strategist for the past 23 years, Motsohi knows what he’s talking about. His job is to assist CEOs, of all types of organisations, with evaluation and valuation of their organisational strategies, especially within the dynamic context they operate in. In his book Fit For Purpose: Why Leadership With Contextual Intelligence Is Key To Sustainable organisational success, Motsohi shares his insight.

Thabang Motsohi

Inspired by the challenges that impact the growth and success of organisations, Motsohi writes about these organisations’ failure to understand the changes in the dynamic operating context and how to adapt in a way that ensures sustainability. The book also grapples with the organisational structure of the ANC. In Fit For Purpose, Motsohi says the ruling party is not ideally organised or structured to govern in the post-apartheid era.

Successful organisations: organisational purpose and strategy

There are universal characteristics any successful organisations must posses, Motsohi explains. These are clarity of purpose and strategic intent, clear understanding of competencies required to achieve intent, an appropriate structure which forms the basis of business model going forward, a key understanding or contextual intelligence of the dynamics of context you operate in. These factors are expounded upon in his book.

“It’s about asking if the strategy is pointing in the right direction, and if it’s taking into account what’s happening in the operating context because it changes all the time. If you make provision for these changes, if you know about these changes, if you anticipate them, what are the constraints that you follow, do you know those constraints. A number of companies have been deleted from existence because CEOs could not foresee the threats in their operating contexts,” he says.

Fit For Purpose resonates and reflects the difficulties of any organisation whether it is a business, an NGO or a political party. All organisations begin with a purpose. “When you have decided to create this organisation the next question to ask is: what competencies do I need to achieve my stated purposes? What objectives do I have in mind to achieve? These are pivotal questions to ask because it says: if I want to get here I need these kind of competencies, I need to invest so much money. But more importantly, how do I structure the organisation to grow in the manner that I anticipate? It’s always a question of structure,” Motsohi says.

The structure of the ANC is fundamentally flawed

As far as the structure of the ANC goes, Motsohi says the organisation’s structure as government was fundamentally flawed. “It is fundamentally flawed because of the ideological fragmentation consistent within the structure,” Motshohi says. “They were destined to be confused because they have irreconcilable ideological members as key decision-makers,” he adds.

By this, he is referring to the gaping ideological inconsistencies between tripartite alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress Of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). While the ANC operates in a neoliberal context, SACP is decidedly communist and Cosatu “serves the interests of a specific constituency, employees, that espouse different politics,” Motsohi says. “How do you then become a partner in an alliance when you are representing people of various interests? It doesn’t make sense,” he adds.

The problem with the structure is that it prevents the ANC as government to provide coherent and consistent, stipulatory policy information on controversial issues. Indeed, Motshohi says, this is exactly the ANC’s affliction. “For example, they have failed to agree on real definitions of unemployment in South Africa, they have failed to agree on job creation strategies. Up to now the ANC still does not have inclusive job creation strategies. If they put a strategy on the table, it is knocked off by Cosatu,” says Motsohi. Take the National Development Plan (NDP) for example.

“The NDP everyone from the ANC talks about has not been agreed upon by the other members of the alliance,” Motsohi says. Cosatu, for instance, says the NDP is a neoliberal strategy. “As citizens, what then should we believe and accept? Is there an NDP? If I ask you to tell me three things that are the national strategic vision for South Africa, no one can tell you. It is because the constituent paths of the tripartite alliance, the coalition we’ve been living under for the past 25 years cannot agree on ideological and political outlook,” Motsohi adds.

The alliance, Motsohi says, has long surpassed its contextual relevance and utility and isn’t suited to meet South Africa’s development challenges and aspirations as a uniting force.

The differences between organisational structures of businesses and political parties

While ideology is a key factor in determining the structure of political parties, it’s quite different for a business. Business is about satisfying the needs within a market and is profit-driven, Motshohi says. “In business, you don’t need to love each other to start a company. It’s easier in the business sector because you are motivated by one thing, the desire to grow wealth. It’s a fortifying objective,” he says.  

In politics, however, there are many demands. Political parties have to gather the issues on the ground that people want to be dealt with. “If you are a party that is able to make resolute decisions about the social, economic needs of the people then you are able to say this is my belief and therefore I am putting it in my manifesto, this is what I would like to do for you,” Motsohi says.

There are also various ways of reading failure in an organisation, Motsohi explains. A business organisation fails when the progress of markets decline. An NGO fails when it no longer resonates and people decline the services offered. For a political party, failure is declining support.

The key message in Fit For Purpose is what Motsohi calls “multidimensional thinking” which is important because of the dynamic and increasingly complex context we reside in. “Let’s adopt a new thinking methodology. We need to think not in a linear fashion, we need to think in a multidimensional fashion to consider different factors, small or big,” Motshohi says. The book requires the reader to question fixed allegiances and consider a variety of perspectives, Motsohi says.

In Motsohi’s next book, which will be announced in June, he will explore the South African universities and other “controversial” and “conceptual” issues as a continuation of Fit For Purpose.

Published by WoodRock Publishers, Fit For Purpose can be purchased online for R279.

Featured image via GCIS on Flickr, in-text images via WoodRock Publishers