Muhammad Khalid Sayed: ‘Petty palace politics’ fly in the face of the need for unity
Instead of looking inwards the ANC must start to concentrate on the issues that we face as a country.
In a sit-down interview following the Sunday Times reports of a secret meeting between himself, former president, Jacob Zuma, former North West premier, Supra Mahumapelo, ANC Women’s League secretary-general, Meokgo Matuba, among others, ANC Secretary-General, Ace Magashule, quoted former ANC president Oliver Tambo, when he said: “Beware of the wedge-driver.”
The quote is useful when read out in full. In closing the first National Consultative Conference in 1969 hosted in the Tanzanian town of Morogoro, Oliver Tambo said:
“Wage a relentless war against disrupters and defend the ANC (and the Alliance as whole) against provocateurs and enemy agents. Defend the revolution against enemy propaganda, whatever form it takes. Be vigilant, comrades. The enemy is vigilant. Beware of the wedge-driver, the man who creeps from ear to ear, carrying a bag full of wedges, driving them in between you and the next man, between a group and another, a man who goes round creating splits and divisions. Beware of the wedge driver, comrades. Watch his poisonous tongue.”
The consultative conference at Morogoro was called at a difficult time for the ANC. Compounded with a national leadership serving in prison, a newly launched military wing, an organisation in exile, the ANC was also grappling with questions such as the national question (how to allow members of other races to serve in the ANC), co-ordination of the political and military wings as well as the building of a new leadership echelon.
Besides questions of whether the headquarters of the ANC should be in Africa or Europe, the organisation also had to deal with issues such as the lifestyle and operating protocols of the leadership in exile. Morogoro had followed a conference in Lobatse, Botswana, while an earlier attempt had also been made in Morogoro in May 1965.
But Morogoro also happened after the Wankie and Sipolilo military campaigns and could not ignore the subsequent infamous Hani memorandum following these two military campaigns. In this memorandum, addressed to Tambo, Chris Hani and his fellow comrades complained about the incompetent leadership of the ANC and criticised their luxurious living in exile. It lambasted the conditions in which comrades were living in the camps while those in the political wing were living it up.
There was retaliation against Hani and his co-signers by the likes of Joe Modise, then a military commander in MK, who wanted Hani and his comrades to be disciplined for raising such divisions. All these issues were then to be discussed at Morogoro but Tambo’s warning was poignant and pitched at the right moment.
It would not be far from the truth if one were to suggest that the ANC today is facing a serious crisis as it did in the late 60s. In fact, some may even suggest that that crisis was even worse. Despondency and depression among comrades and leaders was the order of the day. Coupled with this was the sharp divisions that had set in between the various entities of the ANC’s struggle: those in prison, in exile, the military and those in the country. It was this particular conference at Morogoro, one may suggest, that the role of the president of the ANC was clearly defined: keep the unity.
Fast forward nearly five decades later and one could assert that unity was the winner at Nasrec. None of the two factions won an outright victory. Many fingers have hit the keyboard in the last few months chatting about this unity. Yet this unity, it would seem, is portrayed to be thread thin in particular by the media.
There could be a number of reasons for the small supply of unity juice running through the ANC. The Sunday Times report of a plot to remove the President reminded one of the 2001 alleged plot to have former president Thabo Mbeki removed. Even more so, the Sunday Times report threw a divisive cat among the unity pigeons.
As a result, Magashule’s quote of Tambo is appropriate. Beware of the wedge drivers. Without necessarily intimating who these wedge drivers may be, it is important that sober minds be kept, as Oliver Tambo would have encouraged. Despite the almost natural inclination to point a finger and to accuse, it would assist for all ANC members to refrain from creating smoke screens and ghosts where they do not exist.
The reality is that president Zuma is part of our past. The ANC must move on.
Those who create illusions must refrain from doing so and must resist from feeding into a frenzied narrative that is not backed up with facts. Take for example the rumoured suggestion that President Cyril Ramaphosa could be removed from office at the National General Council (NGC) to be held mid-term in 2020.
While the Constitution of the ANC makes provision for the NGC “to ratify, alter or rescind any decision taken by any of the constituent bodies, units or officials of the ANC, except the National Conference, including the evaluation of the performance of members of the NEC”, it does not clearly indicate that the NGC is the highest decision making body between National Conferences, that is the prerogative of the National Executive Committee.
Furthermore, is is not within the tradition of the ANC to allow for members of the NEC to be recalled or a vote of no confidence to be passed in the elected officials or additional members of the NEC. Rather NGC provides a platform for vacancies to be filled provided that such vacancies are not more than fifty percent of the NEC. If the NGC were to be used to remove from office an elected official, for example the president or the secretary-general, it would ipso facto become an elective conference or council. It is not so.
The same logic could be applied for elected officials or additional members on a PEC or REC level.
As a result, we know exactly who the leadership of the ANC will be for the next four to five years. The ANC must accept this and the country must accept this. Instability talk on leadership creates confusion in policy perceptions and this has devastating effects on the confidence we have on policy and our institutions. Our country will be better off, if the ANC stops this narcissistic obsession it has with itself.
The words of Oliver Tambo, quoted by the Secretary-General, are therefore apt for ANC members. Instead of looking inwards the ANC must start to concentrate on the issues that we face as a country. If only a call, with the same vigour and haste, for an emergency NEC meeting was made for our economic recession and/or crime statistics.
Rather, we are subjected to petty palace politics. DM
Muhammad Khalid Sayed is the ANC Youth League Western Cape Provincial Chairperson