THE elective conference of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) which ended yesterday in Johannesburg, with all its highs and lows, was instructive in many respects, not least the process and the outcome.
By Dumisani Muleya
After a protracted succession process, characterised by factional or slate politics, lobbying behind the scenes, strategic positioning by candidates and their factions and tactical manoeuvres, South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist, seasoned negotiator and business magnate, emerged the winner after narrowly beating his close rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, current President Jacob Zuma’s former wife, by a small margin of 2 440 votes to 2 261 — a 179 votes victory. The succession battle was bruising, but not brutal; so many lessons can be drawn from that contest which was critical to the future of the ANC, South Africa and the region, from an economic and geo-political perspective.
The first lesson which can be learnt from this is that it should not matter who the leader of a ruling party is — his surname, tribe and region. Many countries in Africa, including Zimbabwe, are still reeling from the ancient politics of identity and ethnicity.
However, the ANC showed there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of African politics by electing Ramaphosa, a Soweto-born leader of minority Venda origin. Ramaphosa got votes from delegates from all over the country, although he struggled where his rival was stronger. By choosing a minority as its leader, the ANC showed that it does not matter where a person is from; what matters the most is profile, credentials, competence, experience and skill set.
But in many countries and parties in Africa, including in Zimbabwe and its ruling Zanu PF, ethnicity and origin still matter a lot. Tribalism is still deep-rooted in Zanu PF. It is a despicable legacy of primitive rivalry and instincts, colonialism and liberation struggle politics, as well as former president Robert Mugabe’s divide-and-rule authoritarian politics, which eventually exploded.
This brings us to the politics of force. Zimbabweans and Zanu PF must in that regard learn something from South Africa and the ANC.
Back to the issue of coercion. There is no need to force people to support a particular candidate, whatever the excuse. People must use ideas, campaigns and persuasion to secure power and positions, not tanks, armoured personnel carriers and guns.
We also saw internal party democracy in ANC. There was open participation by party members, branches and delegates, inclusivity and institutional processes at work before, during and after conference. Of course, that being a political process in which stakes were very high, there were bruising political and legal clashes. But the process was rather transparent, inclusive and democratic. It was open and deliberative, guided by the party constitution, procedures, democratic principles and ethos.
Overall, the elections were free, fair and credible, hence the acceptance of the results with grace and less rancour. Indeed, the election for secretary-general was very close and came with controversy, but even then, the internal conflict resolution mechanism was civil. Compared to Mugabe’s succession, the process of selecting Zuma’s successor had less conflict and acrimony, hate and mudslinging. In fact, the politics of blackmail, character assassination and gangsterism was frowned upon. Thuggery, which led to killings, and corruption — money bad politics — were swiftly and decisively condemned.
The ANC conference also by comparison exposed and showed the poverty of ideology, ideas and policy content in Zanu PF’s succession fight. The two factions in Zanu PF fought for power around personalities, positions and resources, not ideas and programmes. In the ANC, the ideological positioning and strands were clear, although funding and other issues contaminated the process.
Compare that with Zanu PF and how its new leader President Emmerson Mnangagwa came in. There is a world of difference. In Zanu PF, the military prevailed, yet in the ANC, the will of the people decided the outcome. Zimbabwe’s opposition parties are no better. Their internal democracy is virtually dead. So Zimbabwe and its political parties can learn a lot from South Africa.