The Veterans Could Be The Key To Altering The ANC

They want a proper national consultative conference, not some gimmick at the back of the national policy conference.
Frank Chikane, one of the leaders of a group of ANC veterans.
Frank Chikane, one of the leaders of a group of ANC veterans.
Gallo Images

Gwede Mantashe must sometimes feel he'd rather be on his farm Bloemvlei, near Eliot in the Eastern Cape, herding his Dormer sheep or looking after his cattle than trying to manage the hot mess that is the African National Congress' (ANC) leadership succession.

As if Bathabile Dlamini and her ANC Women's League playing truant isn't enough, the Youth League's Collen Maine said the country needed a second revolution to distribute wealth to black South Africans.

He might be able to steer Dlamini and co to safer waters and bat away Maine. It is, however, going to become increasingly difficult to sidetrack a group of veterans who don't seem to be going anywhere soon.

On Tuesday, representatives of the more than 100 ANC veterans told a press conference at St. George's Anglican Church, in Parktown, Johannesburg, it is not happy with the ANC's suggestion that a national consultative conference should be appended to the national policy conference in July.

When the aggrieved veterans met the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) at the end of last year, the impression was that they were placated by President Jacob Zuma and his NEC colleagues into accepting the combining of the consultative and policy conference. This happened at the same meeting where the Zuma faction beat back any suggestion that he should step aside.

But the ANC seniors, led by Frank Chikane, Sydney Mufamadi and Murphy Morobe told the media they weren't falling for it. The consultative conference needs to happen before the elective conference so that whatever happens at the former influences the election of new leaders, the veterans said.

The vets aren't happy with the sop that is an appended policy conference. They felt the two days added to the policy conference was merely done to appease them and can easily be manipulated by the organisers and swamped by policy deliberations. The veterans are pretty clear about the extent of the crisis the ANC finds itself in and believe only a full-blown consultative meeting, like the ones at Morogoro, Tanzania (1969) and Kabwe, Zambia (1985), can save the party.

Chikane, Mufamadi and Morobe didn't mince their words, saying the frenzy around the succession needs to die down. They also added the veterans' intervention goes beyond mere loyalty to the party, but loyalty to the country -– the instability in the governing party now has implications for the country as a whole.

"The overwhelming majority of ANC members clearly want political conduct that is ethical and moral ... Must public representatives be accountable to the party or to the country? These questions, these systemic issues which may constrict us, need to be addressed," Mufamadi said.

Chikane added: "Our concern isn't necessarily about the party, but about the nation."

The veterans' doggedness might be a game-changer. Zuma probably hoped the NEC put a lid on the meddlesome geriatrics at the last NEC, but now they're not only rejecting the policy-consultative conference combo, they're also planning to engage party structures to discuss leadership issues.

It's easier for Mantashe (and Zuma) to resist and discipline errant leagues and individuals who are bound to organisational structure and culture on a daily basis, especially if they are known to be divisive or "ill-disciplined" (here's looking at you, Bathabile Dlamini).

The veterans are different. Chikane, the cleric, Mufamadi, now a respected academic and Morobe, a soft spoken intellectual (along with a number of others), won't easily retreat or be dismissed. They've raised issues around the ANC's constitution, the calibre of leader and party versus country.

And now they're pushing back about the consultative conference.

If Mantashe is serious about reforming the ANC, maybe the veterans can be a useful tool to achieve that.