Bayanda Mzoneli for ANC Deputy President 2022
South Africa

A challenge to ANC candidates to debate why they should be chosen

Within the ANC, it is regarded as foreign, and uncouth, for a candidate to openly declare their availability and campaign for themselves. After all it is ANC branches that, after careful consideration of draft resolutions, nominate the fitting leadership to implement the adopted resolutions, once adopted.

But times are changing. For the first time, in the 2011 Local Government Elections, the ANC introduced a process where the candidates nominated by a branch should present themselves to the community of the ward they want to be candidates of, in order for the community to participate in the selection of the ANC ward candidate, beyond the ANC members of the branch. This was in recognition of the challenge where some candidates put forward by the ANC were rejected by the community, and some who were rejected by the ANC were accepted by the community and won the ward after standing as independent by candidates.

Towards the 1994 elections, the two debates between FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were the first, and last public debates among Presidential candidates for office in democratic elections in South Africa.

There are many good reason why in it is not in the ANC tradition for candidates to declare their availability and campaign for themselves. Some reasons are from the past, given that the organisation operated underground at some point. But other reasons relate to desirable traits of leadership. Leadership that is not entitled, is not populist, humble and appreciated by the members who do the nomination, is regarded as desirable. However, only a stubborn few would deny that the gap between the ANC’s tradition on nominating leadership and the actual practice of it has widened since around 2007, at all levels.

Leaders do campaign for themselves covertly, and lately even overtly, through events that get organised by their supporters. It can be debated whether the campaigns take place before or after the official nomination process opens, but it happens.

The much quoted, but rarely followed, Through the Eye of the Needle made interesting observations as early as over 20 years ago, “Media focus on government and the ANC as a ruling party also means that individuals appointed into various positions are able to acquire a public profile in the course of their work. As such, over time, they become the visible members who would get nominated for leadership positions. This is a natural expression of confidence and helps to widen the base from which leaders are elected. However, where such practice becomes the main and only criterion, hard-working individuals who do not enjoy such profile get overlooked.”

It further made an observation, that might be most relevant to some who are likely to comment on this article, “Related to the above is the danger arising out of the fact that executive positions in government are by appointment. This can have the effect of stifling frank, honest and self-critical debate within the ranks of the movement. This is because some individuals may convince themselves that, by pretending to be what they are not, and being seen to agree with those in authority all the time, they would then be rewarded with appointment into senior government positions.

There is a national, and perhaps, global consensus that South Africa is at the crossroads. Despite the progress made since 1994, SA faces a myriad of challenges that are most evident in poverty, unemployment and inequality. A visionary, and decisive, leadership is required to halt the challenges from getting worse, while also addressing them with a mix of medium and long-term interventions.

The past 15 years have provided sufficient evidence that slogans such as Thuma Mina, RET, Abantu Bathi, Renewal and others do not prove really helpful at governance time. The argument that leadership is elected to implement Conference resolutions no longer holds. Evidence shows that leaders, and their collectives, tend to prioritise the implementation of resolutions differently, and it does not help that some resolutions are usually non-specific enough to be indistinguishable from lack of implementation. Sloganeering relies on factions or slates to allege commitments on behalf of candidates – earning them plausible deniability – and also decampaign opponents through smear and canards.

Some campaigns rely heavily on vilification, with no workable solutions, outside of slogans. The racialised inequality is known. But no leader in the ANC, nor opposition, has proposed a workable solution for deracialisation and reducing inequality. The emphasis is on workable.

Because leaders never make explicit commitments on the basis of which they should be elected, they usually rely on claiming any progress that happens during their term as proof of their delivery record, and blame all failures or lack of progress to external factors, sometimes rightly but sometimes wrongly, as an escape from accountability.

Over and above the Conference resolutions, candidates should share their comprehension of the challenges facing the country and the remedies they intend to implement under the prevailing constraints. Naturally, such engagement would not be at a tangent to the ANC’s own, but it would seek to demonstrate the depth of understanding and make commitments that can be the basis of removal if unfulfilled.

Credentials and one’s track record, will remain an important element in choosing leaders. So will be the qualifications, as first introduced into ANC practice with the selection of candidate mayors for local government. Another element that is becoming increasingly important is the vision, given that election of leaders is about the future, rather than the past. That is why some who have supported leaders with impeccable records are often later disappointed when their expectations, though unstated, are unmet.

In this regard, I would like to invite the candidates who wish to avail themselves for ANC Deputy President to a public debate, prior to nominations officially opening in August 2022, so that when they open, members can nominate after being empowered with information. Branches need not rely only on factionalists, paid lobbyists, or prospective beneficiaries of patronage to know which leader to nominate for what position.

The public debate can be structured to focus on a handful of specific themes, be timed and hosted by Dr JJ Tabane, Sakina Kamwendo, or another knowledgeable news anchor. It can be hosted on any media platform, though SABC would be preferred because of its reach. Depending on the number of candidates who come forward, the debate need not be longer than 90 minutes.

Such a debate is not prohibited in the ANC, it is just regarded as uncouth. It thus unlikely to be regarded as misconduct, except by those who may stretch the code of conduct clauses to try and fit it. Therefore there is no rational reason why those who may be available to be ANC Deputy President would shy away from such a debate, unless they are timid of publicly making commitments that they would be held accountable for once elected.

Obviously, an ANC Deputy President serves as part of the collective. Any prospective candidate would know this and have the wisdom to discern what commitments are they able to make. Hiding behind collective responsibility to avoid a public debate with peers would be intellectual laziness.

The proposal of a public debate is self-serving for the prospective ANC Deputy President candidate proposing it. With little to no public profile to leverage, no power patronage to promise, and zero budget, there are little prospects the name of this candidate would make it to the 55th National Conference ballot paper without some ingenuity.

The ANC 54th National Conference resolved that, “The Election Commission ensure that those contesting leadership positions declare their interests, including the amount and sources of money for campaigning, in line with ANC Finance Policies and Code of Ethics. Also deal with conflict of interest issues in candidate selection of public office.” It remains to be seen whether candidates for the ANC Deputy President, and other candidates, will implement this ANC Conference resolution. It does not seem to have been implemented in regional and provincial congresses thus far.

As the Through the Eye of the Needle also warned, “The selection and election of leaders should reside firmly in the hands of the membership. This can only happen if there is open and frank discussion on these issues in formal structures of the movement. Quiet and secret lobbying opens the movement to opportunism and even infiltration by forces hostile to the ANC’s objectives.” But unlike in 2001, discussions should go beyond formal structures even though the election will remain with formal structures.

The alternative to open campaigning and the proposed public debate is the retention of what the 54th National Conference observed in its resolutions, that, “The current distortion of our election process through factional practices like slates, vote-buying, patronage, intimidation, and exclusion that deny us the best possible collectives of leaders.” Slates and factions play a pivotal role in shielding visionless leaders from expressing their true intentions of making themselves available for election to leadership.

Bayanda Mzoneli is an ANC member at King Nyabela Mahlangu Branch in Greater Tshwane Region. He is one of the prospective candidates for ANC Deputy President at the 55th National Conference in December 2022.

NB: This article first appears on the Sunday Times on 26 June 2022 –

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