The needle has to be small — Nathi Mthethwa on selecting ANC leadership

Improved scrutiny is needed to select good leaders, an ANC document suggests.
Improved scrutiny is needed to select good leaders, an ANC document suggests.
Image: REUTERS

If the ANC is to build a strong movement resembling that of its glory days, it will need to revisit the criteria it uses to select leadership.

This is the view of ANC NEC member Nathi Mthethwa who spoke at a virtual round table discussion on the party's organisational renewal discussion paper and a review of its Through the Eye of a Needle document.

Mthethwa said the ANC has to revitalise and strengthen its vision, values and policies and assert these, even if some of its members were not true to its values.

The movement has an obligation to restore the integrity of its systems and to manage membership and leadership while dealing with poor conduct, ill-discipline and corruption.

You can talk of a needle when in fact you are talking about a big hole where everybody is just moving into that eye without being scrutinised

“These things are the challenges of the day which we say, if we are to build a strong movement, if we are to take the movement back to its glory, we definitely have to do these things and the building of leadership integrity,” said Mthethwa.

“What we are saying as a metaphor is that, the needle itself has got to be a small needle.

“You can talk of a needle when in fact you are talking about a big hole where everybody is just moving into that eye without being scrutinised, without the focus which is needed to produce the best cadres to lead the movement and to lead the society as whole,” he said.

The ANC published its discussion documents in November before the National General Council (NGC) expected some time this year.

The documents are intended to trigger discussions and debates around a broad range of issues.

The objective of the Through the Eye of the Needle document was “to stem the tide of alien culture” in the movement, including but not limited to, the use of money in the internal elections of the ANC and its general use to determine the fortunes of the ANC, he said.

This is seen as touching on the controversial use of money in ANC leadership campaigns, which has seen ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa being investigated by the party's integrity commission.

Millions were raised for Ramaphosa's CR17 campaign before his election in December 2017 and the matter was investigated by the public protector and is currently before the courts.

“The issue here is that we are in this process of the review of the document faced with both objective and subjective factors which the movement has to deal with to be able to move forward,” said Mthethwa.

He said what was expected from cadres of the movement was to rise above the confines of (capitalism).

Mthethwa said ANC members have complained that money had become a determinant on who became leaders of the party at all levels, with people selling and buying votes for leadership.

He said these were matters that caused the party to veer off its critical and strategic objective of creating a non-racial, non-sexist democratic and prosperous society.

“It is a reality that money plays a role and that campaigning for leadership these days need resources which are being used,” said Mthethwa.

We are opening up a space for the poor and the working class to have a stake in the leadership of the ANC. We shun those who would want to see the ANC for sale to the highest bidder

Mthethwa said there were two scenarios the party was considering — including prohibiting the use of money in determining the processes of the ANC, which would mean the party was asserting itself as a revolutionary movement biased towards the working class and the poor.

“We are opening up a space for the poor and the working class to have a stake in the leadership of the ANC. We shun those who would want to see the ANC for sale to the highest bidder,” he said.

The downside to the prohibition of the use of money is that creative ways and means would be developed where people would work underground to continue with this negative tendency, Mthethwa said.

The second scenario would be to regulate the use of funding.

“The assertion there is that if you say no to that, the proverbial horse has bolted already, because somebody does have money and that somebody will be using money to buy people in the ANC,” he said.

The ANC could learn from the Communist Party of China, which remains strong politically and ideologically due to its emphasis on training its cadres politically, said Mthethwa.

There was political education for the whole of the party which ensured quality cadres and members were developed and had all-round competence and practical skills, which also took care of deployment into the state.

ANC head of organising Nomvula Mokonyane said one of the challenges facing the party was that it was operating in an environment where there was use of money, use of slate politics and the tendency to follow personalities instead of supporting the visions of the party.

Going into the forthcoming NGC, Mokonyane said, one of the pertinent questions ANC members had to ask themselves was whether the slates that were there before the party's national conference at Nasrec were demobilised.

“Have we demobilised those who rallied behind individuals and personalities?

“There are many of us in the ANC who are quite tired of those factional and backward tendencies that do not help the ANC to earn it being a leader of society,” she said.

Mcebisi Ndletyana, who is an associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg, suggested the party was putting too much emphasis on the issue of money while living in a capitalist society.

Ndletyana said the ANC should look at the quality of its membership instead of focusing on quantity.

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