Historical evidence…has shown that if the ANC wants to maintain and strengthen its unity and cohesion in a modern democracy whilst ensuring internal party democracy, it needs an electoral process which ensures an outcome that is inclusive of all factions/caucuses. Equally though, the system must not kill the democratic ethos and processes of the ANC. The ANC must find a way to strike a balance between its democratic right to choose leaders vis-n-vis its ability to maintain unity and cohesion of the organization after the leaders are elected.
The concept of organisational renewal covers a myriad of areas including how we address sins of incumbency such as corruption, organisational discipline as well revolutionary and ethical morality. This article is confined to the key issue of ‘’Winner Takes All’’ Slate (hereafter referred to as the WTA) Slate approach.
It is trite that the ANC is at its strongest when unified. This was evident in the struggle against Apartheid and since the advent of democracy. All case studies indicate that when the ANC is united, its electoral fortunes increased and when divided, it has impacted negatively. Furthermore, there is sufficient body of evidence that indicates that when the ANC went a WTA slate route at regional, provincial or national conference, a pattern of negative consequences follows. It ultimately divides the movement causing cadres who supported the losing slate to withdraw or continue with an internal fight back factional war or it leads to splits which ultimately results in a drop in electoral support at the next election. There seems to be a direct correlation between the WTA slate outcome and the ANC’s decline in electoral support nationally and provincially.
However, this article is not arguing for an idealistic approach of doing away with lobby groups and caucuses that usually merge into slates in run ups to conference to elect leadership. Rather, it accepts the reality of ‘’realpolitik’’ that caucuses and lobby groups (that eventually merge into slates) are an inherent feature of political parties. It accepts that it is part of the democratic contestation process in respect of both leadership and policy. However, the greater evil is the phenomena of a WTA slate and its negative unintended consequences.
Over the past decade the consequences of a WTA slate have included negative campaigning against individuals, law fare, triumphalism, purging, corruption, use of state and private sector resources including intelligence, parliament, think tanks, academia, authors, the judiciary, civil society, the media (both traditional and modern) amongst others as mediums for fights. The result has been splits in the ANC and a downward spiral in electoral support
Historical Context of the ‘’‘Winner Takes All’’ Slate & Lessons Learnt
An objective analysis of the ANC’s history indicates that the practice of a “WTA” slate approach is a recent phenomenon and contrary to the ANC’s historical inclusive and accommodating culture at elective conferences. Prior to this negative tendency, the ANC always ensured that its leadership was inclusive of all groups and caucuses. Including the losing caucuses and its leaders. This was done throughout its history at a national level and post-1994 at a provincial one.
The negative tendency of the “WTA” became a predominant culture in the mid-2000s. Its outcome has resulted in the ANC splitting at a national level in 2009 and 2014. These splits and breakaway parties emerged from losing factions who felt purged. More importantly, the subsequent impact that these splits had on the ANC and its drastic decline of ANC electoral support in the 2009 and 2014 national elections (NE) as well as the 2011 and 2016 local government elections (LGE) was damaging.
Emergence of Factions and Slates
Before and after 1994, factions of ideology existed within the exiled movement as well as within the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) structures. After 1994, these factions later morphed into spoil factions/factions of patronage as the ANC took over government.
In the mid-90s these factions became much more pronounced across many provinces. Historically, the leadership acknowledged that as the ANC developed into a political party, caucuses were a natural consequence of political parties that has a democratic ethos culture and a broad mass base. Leadership realized that they could never completely get rid of caucuses. Particularly as the ANC neared elective conferences as it would inhibit party democracy and the right to choose leadership.
Instead it developed informal practices to manage the negative unintended consequences of factions and slates to avoid “WTA” zero-sum approach. Leaders of caucuses normally merged into 2/3 slate lists in the run up to conferences and try reach a consensus compromise. This approach was thus characterized as one of contestation and co-operation and became informally known by some as the ‘’Zebra’’ approach as it incorporated and accommodated some leadership of all caucuses and slate lists. This was done nationally and provincially including in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Gauteng Province, to mention but a few. At the time, ANC debates centered on what mattered i.e. the organization’s growth, affirming the notion in practice that “no individual is bigger than the organization”.
Case Studies of an Inclusive ‘’Zebra’’ Approach- National Elective Conferences 1991-2017
During exile days the ANC was able to ensure its elected leadership included representatives of all factions of ideologies. By 1985 it ensured demographic inclusivity as it related to the national question (race, gender, ethnicity, etc.).
At the first national conference after it’s unbanning in 1991, i.e. the 48th national conference, the ANC leadership continued with its inclusive and accommodating approach. It increased the numbers of the National Executive Committee to reflect the changing dynamics of a recently unbanned organization. One that was preparing to govern to ensure maximum unity and inclusivity in respect of the national question, (race, ethnicity, gender), the “in-ziles” and “exiles”, “the islanders”, the underground, Umkhonto We Sizwe , the leagues, the alliance, the Mass Democratic Movement, rural, urban, generational, provincial and regional divides.
It further created the position of National Chairperson for the outgoing President Oliver Tambo in order to avoid a potential fall out between those supporting the late President Mandela and the late President Tambo. The ANC then had the foresight and flexibility to amend its constitution to adapt to the changing material conditions of a once banned organization returning from exile to prepare to contest elections and govern. Proving that constitutions are living documents
In addition, at the 48th National Conference another potential fight emerged between factions supporting Comrade Thabo Mbeki and the late Comrade Chris Hani for the position of Deputy President (DP) which threatened to divide the ANC. The leadership intervened and a compromise was reached that the late Comrade Walter Sisulu be elected DP. He was elected uncontested and both Comrades Thabo Mbeki and Chris Hani acceded to the wise counsel of the elders “that no individual is bigger than the organisation” by stepping aside. The outcome of these politically mature interventions resulted in the ANC receiving an overwhelming majority in the 1994 Elections.
During the 50th National Conference, whilst there was broad consensus as regards the positions of President, DP and Secretary General (SG), numerous slates emerged contesting the positions of Chairperson, Deputy Secretary General and Treasurer General. In order to avoid a “WTA” approach, the outcome included leaders that did not necessarily support the dominant slate. A similar consensus approach was used at the Stellenbosch National Elective Conference in 2001. As a result of this inclusive approach the ANC emerged more united and was able to increase its majority nationally at the 1999 and 2004 Elections respectively.
However, the Polokwane Conference in 2007 was a culmination of a negative WTA culture that emerged in the mid 2000’s at branch, regional and provincial level. It went the “WTA” slate route and was an aberration of the ANC’s proud history. It resulted in a split in the ANC and the formation of COPE. Whilst the ANC still won the elections with an overwhelming majority in 2009, it lost significant support in 7 of the 9 provinces. The breakaway political party Congress of the People (COPE) took approximately 7% from the ANC national support directly and possibly another 3 to 5 % through potential voters that did not vote and became disillusioned and or disgruntled by infightings. Thus, began the downward electoral spiral.
The same applied ‘’mutatis mutandis’’ at the 53rd National Conference in Mangaung in 2012 which further entrenched the culture of a “WTA” as it resulted in another split in the ANC and a further decline in its support in the 2014 National Elections and 2016 Local Government Elections.
The 54th National Conference (also referred to as NASREC) in December 2017 was also expected to go the route of a WTA slate approach. The intensity of the campaign and all the negative unintended consequences of a WTA slate were evident in the run up to NASREC reaching newer and higher levels of depravity.
Given the ANC electoral trends since 2009 and the outcomes of the 2016 Local Government Elections, the organization was treading on dangerous water. Should the outcome have been a WTA slate approach there were real threats of all the negative unintended consequences of a WTA after conference including another split by whichever slate lost. All the trends as well as the polls had put the ANC at between 48-52% prior to NASREC.
Had the ANC ended with a WTA slate and the movement further divided almost equally with another split, there was a very high probability that the ANC was going to go below 50% in the 2019 national elections.
Some delegates recognized that this would be a pyric victory for the winning slate. The National Office Bearers (NOB) as well as additional members were consequently broadly inclusive of both slates and all the pre NASREC caucuses. Those candidates who lost as NOBs and or who withdrew their candidatcy were elected as additional members. Whilst there remained some disgruntlement and anger on all sides, the tensions were manageable because all caucuses and slates were part of the leadership collective. There were no official splits and the ANC was able to focus on rebuilding its brand and the elections rather than the usual consequences of the WTA such as mourning, splits and law fare. Few individuals who tried to create breakaway parties or join other parties were unsuccessful.
The outcome of the elections confirmed that whilst the ANC had lost support from 2014, it had neutralized its drastic downward spiral and in fact increased its support since the 2016 Local Government Elections to 57%. Which was much more than the projected 48-52% hovering just prior to NASREC.
It is thus trite that when ANC has ensured an inclusive and accommodatory outcome that includes all/or most of the leadership of the various caucuses that merge into slates. This creates conditions for unity after conference which in turn ensures an increase in electoral support.
However, the outcome of NASREC did not end the tendency and culture of a WTA. The vast majority of delegates at NASREC wanted a WTA but 200+ delegates decided differently and ensured a more ‘’mixed masala’’ inclusive outcome. That they were successful in achieving this outcome was a miracle and very dangerous gamble. Thus, it begs the question whether the ANC should, going forward, leave the outcome of conference to such chance. There is no guarantee that the ANC will be able to ensure such an outcome again and there remains real danger that it may revert back to politics of WTA slates in future conferences.
Conclusion & Way Forward
Historical evidence during exile years, the 1990’s and early 2000’s as well as the 54th conference outcomes has shown that if the ANC wants to maintain and strengthen its unity and cohesion in a modern democracy, whilst at the same time ensuring internal party democracy, it needs an electoral process which ensures an outcome that is inclusive of all factions/caucuses. Equally though, the system must not kill the democratic ethos and processes of the ANC. The ANC must find a way to strike a balance between its democratic right to choose leaders vis-n-vis its ability to maintain unity and cohesion of the organization after the leaders are elected.
The ANC cannot continue to maintain a particular democratic process/principle that allows for a “WTA” approach because it is anathema to its historical culture of compromise. Also, empirical evidence has consistently indicated that this approach leads to the organization becoming more divided and weaker after its elective conferences.
The ANC’s historical experience has also shown that the argument made by those propagating a “WTA” approach, that they will be able to heal the wounds and eliminate factions and slates immediately after the elective conference, is a fallacy. Rather, evidence reveals that almost every leader of a “WTA” slate claimed that they would be able to unite all factions after conference including the losing slat. But in reality, no matter their bona fides, they were unable to unite the ANC and bring aboard the leaders and supporters of the losing slate when such leaders were not reflected in the leadership.
Instead what happened is that the ANC experienced breakaway parties, members becoming disillusioned and moving out of activism, continuous infighting and perpetual division – above all, weakened ANC branches, the cornerstone of the ANC.
The ANC should instead accept the current reality of caucuses as an inherent consequence of party democracy in a modern democracy, particularly in the run up to elective conferences. It should rather be working to manage and regulate caucuses in the run up to conferences as these, if managed correctly, do not necessarily have to be the enemy. If correctly managed and regulated, could become a tool for healthy expression of democratic ideas, ethos and party tension, particularly when they are caucuses of ideology.
The 54th Conference of the ANC recognized the dangers of slates and attempted to start the process of ending the ‘’WTA’’ slate by including the following resolutions:
- Nominations processes should make slate nominations impossible, by limiting the number of leaders each branch can nominate for positions in NEC, PEC, REC (for example 20 for NEC out of 60 to avoid block votes or nominations).
- Slate voting should be outlawed and practices that allow for unifying voting should be encouraged. One is separating the vote for each official and announcement of result for each position, before voting for the next one.
- The IEC must ensure that those contesting leadership positions declare their interests, including the amount and sources of money for campaigning, in line with ANC Finance Policies and Code of Ethics. Also deal with conflict of interest issues in candidate selection of public office.
- The election of leadership in all structures must ensure continuity as well as renewal.
- The NEC must agree on a formula to cap the percentage of NEC members deployed in government.
- Nominations and elections should result in better representation for the motive forces and we should consider ways of achieving this
- Agrees on the Youth League proposal for a quota (25-40%) in all leadership positions to be reserved for youth.
- Consideration should be given to extend the provision for gender equity to the top officials positions in all structures.
However, whilst this is a good start addressing the issue of the WTA slate, it begs the question whether these resolutions are sufficient to end it. Whilst the NASREC resolutions now calls for separate voting of office bearers, there is still a danger that the WTA slates may still emerge. Thus, in addition we need to develop more detailed constitutional and policy mechanisms to augment the resolutions.
There were many good proposals in the past by various provinces, leagues and individuals to neutralise the WTA Slate phenomena. Regrettably, many were in the run up to elective conferences when tensions were high and those presenting such proposals were regarded with circumspection. Resulting in the ANC ‘’throwing the baby out with the bath water’’.
Proposals included increasing the National Office Bearer (NOB) positions from 6 to 9, with 1 additional Deputy President (DP) and 2 Deputy Secretaries Generals (DSG). Flowing from this was that the 1st DP position not be contested but the runner up automatically becomes the 1st DP.
The argument made by some that the approach of not contesting the Deputy positions undermines the democratic process is mischievous. The reality is that the current culture of contesting all NOB positions is in fact only one (1) version and for that matter an extreme version of democratic electoral processes given its consequences.
In reality, it could be better described as “democrazy” as opposed to democracy. There is nothing undemocratic about contesting only the positions of President and SG and that the runner ups in these contests automatically become the Deputies. The ANC used similar out of the box options in our approach to ensuring an inclusive government of national and provincial unity in 1994 as the times dictated it to address an immediate threat to the unity, peace and stability of our country. Therefore, there is no reason why the ANC cannot do for itself what it did for the country when it is for own self-preservation, survival and sustainability.
This proposal may not be the panacea for ending all the negative tendencies of factionalism and slates and it too may throw up new unintended consequences. But it is a good point of departure to create an enabling environment for the future unity, cohesion and sustainable survival of the ANC. Perhaps now is the time for the ANC to build on this debate by creating Deputy Chairperson and Deputy Treasurer General positions to ensure that all deputy NOB positions go automatically to the losing/runner up caucuses. Also, where there are more than 2 contestants for an OB position, those that are in 3rd place or lower could be automatically included as additional members of the NEC provided that they meet a minimum threshold of support.
The above-mentioned options are merely recommendations and no doubt there will be many more other recommendations and or variations of the above. What is important when discussing different scenarios is that we always bear in mind that the purpose is to find practical ways of ensuring unity and inclusivity.