Gauteng ANC provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile (R) and deputy chairperson Gwen Ramokgopa (L).   Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Gauteng ANC provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile (R) and deputy chairperson Gwen Ramokgopa (L). Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

IN AN interview with Business Day at the weekend, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe returned to a now recognisable theme of his politics — an intensely supportive but equally intensely critical view of his own organisation. Mr Motlanthe clearly has deep concerns about how the African National Congress (ANC) is developing as the party of government. As he has before, he says this month’s ANC national conference could be a "tipping point" in relation to compromised election contests, the ANC’s diminishing appeal and growing intolerance in its ranks.

His concerns are not fabricated. In the past two years, more than 40 politicians have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal alone, according to one report. One of the consequences of the party’s lax approach to corruption, is that the premium involved in being appointed to even a junior post in local government has been magnified. In the past, local government officials were part-time representatives doing the communities’ bidding. Now they have become crucial dispensers of patronage and tenders. The result is that ANC membership is becoming attractive not only to the politically motivated, but also to people who have no interest in politics, but seek a quick route to riches.

This is not a criticism from the outside; it is a reflection of the organisation’s own assessment of its present state. In a report commissioned by the ANC’s national executive committee after last year’s local government elections, a task team was appointed to examine allegations of irregularities in the list process for determining candidates. The task team was chaired by then home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and it is impossible to read the final report without sensing the alarm of its authors.

Among many other shortcomings, the task team found rampant manipulation of membership lists, either at the point of recruitment or by manipulating membership administration. For example, "instances of ‘bulk membership’ or ‘gatekeeping’ were a common feature of the complaints investigated by the task team". Bulk membership involves creating a large group of fictitious members and voting on their behalf, while gatekeeping involves declining to register the membership applications of foes.

The intention of this process is to establish a kickback system for preferred candidates. The report says the task team "came across instances of candidates only joining the ANC after being nominated. In certain instances, the candidates (now councillors) have shockingly little knowledge of the ANC".

What should the ANC be doing about this, apart from the obvious of organising itself better and disciplining errant members? One other measure is to ensure that party membership is not a route to doing business with the council. It should be a route to service, not to being served. That requires laws banning public representatives from participating in government business.

The second measure the ANC could consider is to make an independent organisation responsible for overseeing membership. Membership should fall under the auspices of the national ANC, not of branches, and membership fees should be small, but paid regularly, to facilitate membership audits.

One of the reflexive aspects of the Dlamini-Zuma report is a suggestion that branches should be "reasserted" as the basic unit of organisation. There are good reasons to question this. In exile, the ANC required a diverse "street-level" organisation simply to ensure its survival. It has understandably sought to maintain that ethic.

Yet, in the democratic era, it is becoming clear it is too easy to manipulate branches for nefarious purposes. The basic unit of the organisation should not be the branch, it should be the member. There is really no need for members to vote for members who vote for leaders: that is plainly a path to what the ANC sits with now: a rigged game.