The Base: The branch and our politics

The Oasis to forge Unity in Action and advance the Imperatives of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) in this, The Year of the Freedom Charter 2015.

ometimes, odious circumstances can militate against and pre-empt the realization of the objectives of an organisation. When such situations arise, a critical appraisal is imperative to assess and harness the collective capabilities, experiences and skills of those who constitute such an organization to prevent any potential crisis or harm to the organization and weaken its resolve to manage change and efficiency. Then mandate, greater weight and emphasis will always be placed on the need for unity, not unity for its own sake, but unity for organizational efficiency, recognising and affirming the branch as the basic unit for cohesion, solidarity, development, democracy and leadership in a specific locality. Therefore, the starting point at the current moment is to rethink how we can all positively and openly contribute to the ideal local scenario to achieve our collective objectives, and advance the fulfilment of the demands, of the people as articulated in the Freedom Charter, 60 years on.

This, more than anything, requires the re-politicization of our politics to enhance unity and rebuild our common purpose and rejuvenate the spirit of the branch as the oasis for fundamental and sustainable unity and cohesion. As it is commonly known, unity presupposes forging a common platform and purpose with those you may not see eye to eye within your own organization. Any exclusion defeats the purpose of unity, whether done wittingly or unwittingly. In this brief contribution, with the branch at the centre of our efforts, I will outline the process we need to undertake in assisting to strengthen the process aimed at rebuilding our movement in anticipation of the local government elections 2016 and beyond. How branches can be strengthened to play their combined roles as centre’s for political education and repositories for unity, positive politics and engines for local change. In this effort, the best and those designated as minor players all have a significant contribution to make.

Undergirding the Freedom Charter is a deliberate determination to make people the centre, subject and object of development. This understanding cannot be perceived to be external to the culture and tradition of the movement. Rather, the construction of a people-centred and people-driven government, derive precisely from the praxis within the movement, to conceive membership as the key driver and shaper of the movement’s policy direction. Hence, institutionally and organisationally, this translated in the appropriation of the Branch as the basic unit and base for the movement in the determination of policy and development trajectory.

The ANC must prioritized the need to address and resolve critical organisational issues at all levels. This must be done to ensure that our collective effort is geared towards maximum unity within our structures, and also ensuring that our collective energy is deployed towards positive developments. As cadres, we have correctly done some introspection and came to the inevitable conclusion that we need to collectively contribute to the re-vitalization  of the basic unit of the movement, the branch and rekindle unity and work together sustainably to strengthen the ANC in the midst of the new conjuncture and its multiple challenges as we approach 2016. This must invoke in all of us, irrespective of the views we hold about the current situation, and each other, a new and definitive urgency for engagement and reconnection broadly for the sake of our movement. Sometimes, when our best and sincere intentions are distorted deliberately or simply misunderstood then our revolutionary resilience must be invoked. And such a time is now.

For quite too long, our energies were dispatched and utilized negatively, creating organisational inefficiencies and weaknesses, and also engendering behaviour and solidifying attitudes inimical to the values, tradition and unwritten norms of the movement. Certain positions taken by many and deriving from this environment are used to justify demeaning and divisive tendencies devoid of politics. This clash of positions is always used as he carrier of our crisis and disunity. We need to recast, positively our politics with the branch as our oasis. A better and long-term political, and organisational unity trajectory is imperative. It must be with conviction that we engage on this route. Using our collective energy and organising experience as our compass, we certainly can break the “Berlin Wall”, which has cast us as different and hostile sets of ANC members. The ANC’s 53 National Conference re-affirmed the role of the branch as the basic unit of the movement and instructed all its cadres to carry out and fulfil the following tasks; among others:

  • Intensify branch work in each community through the Imvuselelo (Tsoseletso) campaign, to ensure sustainable mass work and establish ANC branches as vanguards of  communities, and to make branches the focus of political and ideological work of senior leadership and cadreship of the movement, including a nationally driven political education programme.

We may ask the question, to what extend were the tasks carried out? If these tasks were efficiently done, there would probably have been no space for the pervasive community protests which engulfed the country in the recent past. We need to make sure and always measure our branch work against the following;

  • Its role in mobilizing communities around issues of local transformation and development,
  • Engagement of members in political programmes and campaigns,
  • A high level of political consciousness and ongoing engagement with the important challenges of the movement,
  • A united, cohesive (local) leadership which provides strategic political direction,
  • Establishment of Freedom Charter forums to engage our people around issues of service delivery, as we prepare for the 2016 Local government elections.
  • Its capacity to recruit and induct new members, and practically engage them in the political life of the branch,
  • Its ability to effectively mobilize the available resources, including theSkills, Experiences and Creativity of all its members in pursuit of theANC programmes,
  • It relationship with other sectors, community groups and influential community leaders and its ability to build local partnerships for transformation,
  • Its ability to concretise the general programme of action into a Local Plan of Action in line with local conditions and community concerns,
  • Its good relationship with, and ability to provide leadership to the Leagues and the Alliance (where such exists),
  • Its ability to provide leadership and support (not manipulate) to councillors and ensure that they are accountable to the ANC and the entire community.

(This is the most critical question) NB: Have our branches fulfilled these ideals? If not, why? If so, what needs to be done to consolidate these and inspire and support those who strove hard to create functional, viable, united and motivated branches of all times, not only for conferences. If our branches are drained of moral and political content, they will simply become compliance and symbolic formations with no veneer of legitimacy and propriety to be the guardians of the revolution and the architects and the embodiments of a better tomorrow for our communities. We need to and can in our individual capacities and collectively contribute to a branch which can do Good. There has been a serious challenge in our efforts to utilise power productively and lead the masses through the branches. In diagnosing certain disorders in local politics we need a prognosis which will bring rigor with respect and renewal with magnanimity. We need to use our branches to re-earn ANC support in the community and as a school for political consciousness. Each branch is unique with diverse personalities and varying capacities. They also span a number of generations. We must ensure that the potential of each branch and cadre is unleashed.

Unlike in Gauteng, in the North West, we have never conducted any study to help us evaluate the efficacy of our branches and determine what ANC members really value about belonging to the ANC. Neither have we done a comprehensive survey on the state of branches. Maybe this task is for a different period. For now, our immediate task is to rebuild, reconnect, unite and work sustainably together, to position the ANC as the force for a comprehensive and homegrown phase to work with everybody who is a member of the ANC in good standing to forge unity, restore leadership, legitimacy, cease and desist from the politics of “label-marketing”. We need to all owe allegiance to the ANC and nothing else. What minimum steps are possible therefore under the circumstances? The following whilst not exhaustive, could help to chart a new common political trajectory to forge unity, re-contextualise the context and re-politicise our local politics.

  • Engage respectfully, with all branch leaders, as ordinary members and generate discussions and appropriate political programmes to build and invigorate cohesion.
  • Under the leadership of constitutional structures, meet with alliance leaders to determine commonality of approach and agree on the appropriate and long-term programme.
  • Engage all comrades who have designated themselves as belonging to certain definable or undefinable individuals, groups or tendencies and share, genuinely, views on the need for unity, renewal and a sense of belonging to one family of revolutionaries despite our varying views and perceived, imagined deliberately or real constructed loyalties.
  • Acknowledge that something has affected our comradely relationship negatively and that we need to bring back the real ANC. Our contribution should never be motivated by a hidden desire or ambition for any position in the structures of the ANC nor prestige by association to the movement.
  • Determine clear and manageable time-line to restore and ensure that ANC members across all branches work together for the common good, growth and functionality of the ANC in our area and beyond, (we must be cosmopolitan).
  • Positively, ensure that all ANC members assist to rebuild the ANC, improve relations analyse oppositional forces, improve governance and service delivery so that no space is created to weaken the ANC, both inside and outside government.
  • Meet as soon as possible, the regional executive to promote discussion about renewal and unity in action under the auspices of a credible and legitimate environment.

These seven steps, in no order of priority, constitute the first steps towards claiming and creating the space and necessary inspiration in which the ANC and its collective membership can really do Good to itself and the community it has a historical obligation to serve. To effectively and strategically prepare for 2016, we must reconnect our people with the ideals of the Freedom Charter 60 years on and remove the flaws from all floors.

Our mission, therefore, executed with commitment and conviction, is to make sure that all sets of members feel at home in the ANC, maybe a new trajectory or sustainable unity could evolve and manifest amongst us.

Communication as a Strategy Instrument

All revolutions are sustained through ideological hegemonic stories of success and acknowledgements of failures. The recognition of failures is the means by which leaders of the revolution wish to improve on past performances. The perception of non-delivery among our communities and the emergence of an anti-ANC ideological pathogen are indicative of the communicative weakness of the ANC within and without government. As cadres it must concern us that possibilities exist for counterrevolutionaries to influence and shape the thinking of our people. One of two conclusions may be drawn from this: First, that we have not done enough to advertise the decision of the movement regarding any matter, and that therefore a fertile breeding ground exist for counterrevolutionaries to impregnate the minds of communities with falsehood and misrepresentation of the objectives of the ANC. Or, secondly, that indeed there exist a degree of legitimacy in the protestations about service delivery in the province. As regards the latter, we must scientifically engage with the performance of the ANC in government with a view to enhance the ability of government to meet the delivery needs of our people.

Concerted efforts must be made to strengthen the capacity of government to adequately communicate its achievement and explain its inability and/or challenges where necessary. As a liberation movement our communication with the masses should start from the premise that they are entitled to know, that the ANC in government is about them. It is only if we pursue an honest dialogical approach that our people will stay with us, as they did during the dark days of repression. However, where our failures result from bureaucratic inertia, we must communicate how these are to be dealt with to ensure that service delivery is not compromised simply because of some bureaucratic ineptitude or incompetence.

Similarly, the communication lacuna that exist in-between elections between our communities and the ANC does provide the material conditions for the forces of reaction and agent provocateurs who find our people pliable and therefore susceptible to infestation with reactionary ideas. We must strive to disseminate the perspective of the ANC on possibly all aspect of our socio-political programmes to ensure that there exist no room for doubt among our communities. We must ensure that all our members are imbued with the knowledge and information on the rational for any policy position and the perspective within which such policies are articulated.

The solution to this challenge may be multi-pronged, but must, of necessity, include a dialogical engagement with our communities on a continuous basis, in this regard.


(A contribution to renew our collective responsibility to go back to basics with comrades who are leading this effort to build the ANC as we know it).

>> Darkey Africa is a member of the ANC and is writing in his personal capacity.

Posted in Phambili
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