Ignore the voice of veterans and stalwarts at your own peril-by Reverend Frank Chikane

Under the theme Saving the ANC for the Sake of South Africa’s Future, veterans and stalwarts of the party convened a national consultative conference (NCC) at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, last weekend to deal with the debilitating challenges that are facing the ANC and the country.

The consultative conference brought together an important echelon of the leadership of our country from all nine provinces – people who can rightly be said to have been part of the front ranks of the pathfinders and midwives of the new South Africa for the past five decades.

As one delegate said, the conference represented the best of the cadres of the ANC who are committed to reclaiming the legacy of the ANC, which is being dragged through the mud by the dominant faction within the current elected leadership of the movement. They were also determined to send a clear message to delegates who will be at the ANC elective conference – that they should never vote into leadership those who are likely to continue on the current disastrous trajectory that is leading the ANC to its demise.


The conference also attracted scores of younger people from various generations, starting from the 1990s to the #FeesMustFall generation, who were energised by the vision and commitment of the veterans and stalwarts to save the ANC and the country. They helped with various tasks – logistical arrangements, recording, drafting of conference documents and so forth. They also participated in the discussions, such that, in the end, the consultative conference was more than just an assembly of veterans and stalwarts alone.

Participants discussed issues with the frankness and seriousness we last encountered in the ANC more than a decade ago. The discussions covered such areas as the role of civil society in the nation’s affairs, the perilous state of the ANC and what to do with it, the economic crisis and what to do with it, how to build a united nonracial society, strengthening the electoral system and arresting our seemingly permanent bumpy ride in the zone of constitutional crises.

There was neither the heckling nor the obscurantism and obfuscation we have become accustomed to in political gatherings over the years. I may dare add that not a single chair flew towards anybody who differed with another.

A young comrade in his early 40s later told me that of the many things that stood out about the discussions was the discernible honesty of the inputs, including the ones to which he was opposed. Those intimately familiar with ANC processes over the past decade will doubtlessly agree that sincerity is one of the elements we have sadly lost.

To underscore this point, a few people lost valuables such as cellphones, purses and wallets. Illustrative of the pedigree of the attendees, each one of the items were found and handed over to the presiding officers.

The NCC appraisal of the ANC and the state of the nation resonated with the concerns of ordinary people in the urban and rural areas. Its declaration decried the “betrayal of our people’s long-standing support and trust in the ANC”.

This followed the questions that had been raised in the keynote address at the formal opening dinner as to “how the ANC ended up being where it is” and “how was it possible for a revolutionary movement like the ANC to end up being captured to serve the interests of the few at the expense of the masses?”

The declaration also lamented the failure of the president, the executive and Parliament to discharge their constitutional obligations; the mismanagement of the economy, which has exacerbated already high levels of unemployment and poverty; the appalling state of the education system; and the moral degeneration overseen by a self-centred leadership devoid of honesty, integrity and a vision for the future.

It concluded that “the ANC has relinquished its leadership of society and plunged itself into an untenable political crisis”, and noted that this “represents a danger to all South Africans [committed to] justice and who desire rapid progress towards a better life for all”.

The fact that the elected leadership of the ANC officially decided to absent themselves from the consultative conference is therefore hardly surprising. We cannot expect those responsible for sowing the seeds of

the bitter fruit we are now forced to consume to tolerate such a critical and uncomfortable discussion.

This once again confirmed the truism that for their role in getting the ANC and the country to this unenviable space, the dominant faction within the leadership of the ANC is not going to allow the differently minded to influence it in another direction. The current state of rot is, without doubt, an opportunity to them. They need the chaos and impotence for them to profit illegally, as well as to protect their loot and ensure that they never go to jail for crimes some of them have committed.

A bitter and protracted struggle therefore awaits those, like the veterans and stalwarts who gathered at the NCC and the dominant faction in the ANC, unless, of course, the delegates of the ANC at the conference elected leaders with no baggage that will discredit the party and its commitment to radically change the lives of the people.

For example, the NCC declaration enjoins the stalwarts and veterans to work for the creation of an Organisational Renewal Commission to be adopted at the forthcoming elective conference of the ANC.

Among other things, the commission would assess the suitability of the elected leadership at all levels in line with the adopted documents, in particular Through the Eye of the Needle, and take urgent and practical steps to professionalise and modernise the ANC with priority being given to the membership system.

The test the newly elected leadership must pass is their willingness to hold a national consultative conference convened and led by it to clean up the mess within the organisation.

The NCC also called on the Integrity Commission to be turned into an independent constitutional structure of the ANC that can act outside the influence of elected officials and report directly to the national executive committee. This, it was felt, would ensure that the reports and recommendations of the commission become part of the solution of the challenges facing the organisation and are not suppressed, as has happened in the past year or so.

In a radical departure from the existing internal party electoral system, and to avoid the national executive committee (NEC) being captured as the Mangaung NEC was, the consultative conference called for a one

member, one vote system in the election of the NEC and to place a limit on the number of government deployees who serve on the NEC.

The conference stressed the need to root out corruption and singled out Eskom, SAA and the SA Revenue Service as three state entities that must be attended to as a matter of urgency. In this regard, it said that “s judicial enquiry must be set up urgently to investigate state capture and corruption that has served to undermine the ANC, and the culprits must be apprehended and prosecuted without unnecessary delays. Ill-gotten monies must be confiscated and used to fund developmental projects.”

The conference also called for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma, arguing that “he has let the ANC, our people and country down” and “brought the ANC into disrepute and violated [the Constitution of the republic]”. Personally, I suspect that everyone at the conference knew that the call would inevitably fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, it was important to point out that this call was being made in the interest of the ANC and the country.

The question that has been asked since the NCC is, “where to after the conference?”

The task team of the veterans and stalwarts has decided on a two-phase strategy – a pre-elective conference and a post elective conference programme.

The focus before the elective conference will be on discussions with national officials of the organisation and its alliance partners; ensuring that the declaration of the consultative conference reaches all members of the NEC of the ANC, provincial and regional leadership, and branches of the ANC; encourage delegates who participated in the consultative conference from various provinces organise feedback sessions at provincial levels to ensure that delegates to the conference are well aware of issues of concern from the consultative conference; and enhance media engagements to strengthen the messaging to the rest of the people of South Africa.

The objective is to ensure that the resolutions in the declaration of the NCC find expression at the forthcoming elective conference of the ANC.

The focus after the elective conference will be on engagement with the newly elected leadership, and a push to have a second national consultative conference – convened by the elected leadership – to clean

up the movement and reposition it in a manner that can win the confidence of the masses of the people of South Africa again. This will also help in developing a turnaround strategy for the economy to better the lives of all the people of South Africa, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

The task team of the veterans and stalwarts also decided that the declaration of the NCC should be used, together with the The Eye of the Needle, to guide delegates to the elective conference to ensure that they do not elect leaders who are corrupt or compromised; or those who are captured and used to serve the interests of their factions, individuals and families rather than those of the people. Conference delegates must also ensure that nominated leaders who are supported by corrupt and compromised leaders and members of the ANC do not come close to the levers of power.

Aware that the consultative conference is but one way of addressing the challenges of the ANC and the country, the veterans and stalwarts will continue to engage society more broadly to ensure that the ANC is accountable, not only to itself but to society as a whole.

The veterans and stalwarts of the movement ended the consultative conference confident that the journey to turn the ANC and the country around had begun in earnest, and that its immediate success will depend on the choices delegates make at the elective conference. It is hoped that the elective conference will not disappoint. If it does, the people of South Africa will have to go back to the trenches of struggle to liberate the country from capture by corrupt individuals.

. Chikane is a church leader, a former director-general in the presidency and secretary of Cabinet, and is part of the ‘101 plus’ group of ANC veterans and stalwarts

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