Beware of the tale bearers

The Mail & Guardian had published an article insinuating a rift between the President and the Secretary General. This was followed by another writing that had anonymous sources in the NEC – referring to discussions that took place in the NEC meeting of September 2014 – supporting such a view. Our late President OR Tambo had cautioned against people who sow divisions in the movement, especially if we seek to emulate leaders of his calibre and stature. This is how the Secretary General responded, he response is still relevant today.

The Mail and Guardian article is both concerning and disconcerting. It is so because it alleges to be informed by unnamed NEC members who are said to be concerned about a supposedly ambitious Gwede Mantashe. Critically worrying is that, as an organisation, we are presently confronted by real challenges that place a great responsibility upon us as leaders with regards to the renewal of the ANC. There are also important organisational programmes that are about ensuring that, as we celebrate the twenty years of our democracy, we are focused on ensuring that our government is responsive to the needs of our people and society. A distant discussion on who or whether, this or that, individual should be in the leadership of the ANC post 2017 is rather premature.

The Mail and Guardian, in handling dynamic rumours such as this, should be circumspect. Of course it makes sensational news to be peddling either unsolicited or uncorroborated information. Unfortunately, in both cases, it fails to hone in on the real challenges confronting both our organisation and society, particularly at a time when our country faces economic challenges as was outlined in the medium term budget.

The difficulty with this kind of reporting, assisted by invisible sources of course, resonates with an old political tactic called blackmail. The intention thereof is to conceal the blackmailer’s own personal ambitions by casting aspersion on the object and subject of their intended vilification.

In the era of the Nationalist Party, on the occasion of the assassination of the then Prime Minister -Dr Verwoerd, the securocrats blackmailed Ben Schoeman, who was second in command. They even went to an extent of blackmailing his wife. As a result of the pressure, Schoeman withdrew his candidacy and, thereby, opening a door for B J Vorster’s takeover. Similar attempts happened in the ANC, wherein comrades were pressured to declare whether or not they harboured any presidential ambitions.

Lessons from these experiences are that, dirty tricks will stop at nothing to safeguard their own interest even if it means the organization pays a heavy price. In the process some of our good comrades are adversely affected.

The organisation is about policies and decisions taken, which the leaders must ensure they are implemented. Thus, at the start of this term of government, the National Officials of the ANC met the cabinet and all provincial executives to explain that every individual in the governance and party structures is deployed by the ANC. They we all reminded that it is the ANC that contests elections and, therefore, ministries should interact with the ANC. This is in line with the policy position as articulated in the Strategy and Tactics, that the ANC is the strategic centre of power. This process of engagement was led by the President of the ANC.
Flowing from this, one would appreciate that this is an organisational policy outlook, instead of something that can be ascribed to individual positions and the incumbents. Members of the ANC, without regard of their deployment, account to the ANC through the constitutional structures that are in place; beginning with the National Officials, the National Working Committee which executes on behalf of the National Executive Committee, the NEC itself and the national conferences. In this context, the Secretary General’s Office (SGO) exercises a well thought out and age old practice of the ANC, which is to invite any comrade to account on mandates the ANC assigned to them. If and when the SGO does not call these comrades to account, it will be failing in its constitutional responsibility.

The September NEC was emphatic in its decision that there should be no debate about the leadership of the ANC post 2017, at present. Consequently, anyone who speaks and acts differently is doing so against and NEC decision. Noting of course that the NEC is not only the leadership structure, but the highest decision making body in between conferences.

Both members of the ANC and the media should resist being folly to the attempts to blackmail certain comrades to declare their availability, or otherwise, prematurely. Individual members have a right to elect and to be elected, without feeling that their action is untoward either to one or some in the organisation. Only in the event that a member is not eligible can he or she be barred from participating in the life of their organisation, including leadership thereof.

The last NEC urged us to work for unity and make concerted effort to rid the organisation of the things that cause division. Comrades must continue to speak freely and without fear, in meetings of the organisation. We must be careful of becoming a revolution that is devouring its own children.

Against this backdrop, as we close the month of Oliver Tambo, it is fitting to remind us of his words, that we should “wage a relentless war against disrupters and defend the ANC. Beware 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 the wedge driver. Watch his poisonous tongue.”

This is the original article that appeared in the Mail & Guardian under the title “Beware the Blackmailers”, with a slight addition.

>> Gwede Mantashe is the Secretary General of the African National Congress

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