FORTHRIGHT: Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe says ANC cannot rely on its past alone. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA

THE African National Congress (ANC) could not afford to be sentimental about its 100 years of history as problems linked with power and arrogance threatened its status as a ruling party, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said last night.

The ANC is battling a tide of problems that threaten its growth and policy direction, 18 years into its reign as the ruling party in SA.

Mr Motlanthe, who is seen as a possible rival to President Jacob Zuma at the party's Mangaung conference in December, said the ANC was grappling with which direction to take, as it tried to renew itself.

The ANC member now was "no longer the same" as during the struggle against apartheid. The era of selfless comrades, who were prepared to die for a just cause, was gone.

"They were a different calibre altogether," he said at a gala dinner in honour of late intellectual, Harold Wolpe. The party realised in 2000 - six years into its reign - that the post-1994 ANC was seen as a "legitimate stepping stone to opportunities for self-enrichment".

Old and new members were being "overwhelmed by the temptations of power". The party had to guard against being overloaded with dead ideas.

The ANC should not behave like it had "monopoly on wisdom" and should use the best available talent so that it could better tackle its problems and lead SA to becoming a non-racial and successful country.

Prominent academics, speaking before Mr Motlanthe last night, criticised the ANC's policies, which they said would not dent SA's poverty and growing inequality, largely because they increased the dependency of the poor on a nondelivering state.

Mr Motlanthe said the ANC also suffered because the South African Communist Party, its ally, no longer helped with the training of members. The absence of training in the values of the movement that dethroned racial oppression was one of the ANC's "weaknesses", he said.

Without training, the ANC would lose character and its leadership role, and "South Africans will of course choose to associate with other parties other than itself".

"We hear from time to time, even at leadership level, where leaders harp on the note of racism, yet the responsibility of the ANC is to lead SA towards the strategic goal, a nonracial, nonsexist and prosperous country."

Leaders needed to desist from communicating the massage that they had a majority in Parliament, and had the support of the masses. The onus was on the ANC to "use the force of persuasion, mount more compelling arguments in the House, than to rely on superior numbers".

Mr Motlanthe also took apart the party's "second transition" document, which has been prepared for its policy conference this month.

"Second transition! Second transition! Second transition! From what, from where to where? What constituted the first transition? What were the tasks of that phase, have all those tasks been accomplished or not?" He said the latest policy document was packed with "smatterings of Marxist jargon".

The ANC could not afford to be "reckless with words, because unfortunately, words are not like a finger . once you have uttered a word, you can't pull it back".

"My own view is that the ANC has to renew itself, and the process must be preceded by rigorous analysis of the ANC as it exists today, as well as an assessment and evaluation of how successful we have been in implementing the decisions and resolutions adopted so that strong points and weak points can be laid bare and prescribed remedies should be informed by informed analysis."

It should "stand back, pull back and take a hard look at itself and free itself of sentimentalism".

"If we don't do that, if we don't renew the ANC, the reality is that there will be a realignment of forces. Nature doesn't allow for inertia, nature exists in motion, all the time."

It was easy for parties with glorious histories to leave things as they were, and become suspicious of new ideas. "When your celebrate the past as the beginning and the end, then of course you are conservative, you are preserving the truths of yesterday."

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za