Can we ever trust the ANC?

How do you get a country to trust a party that does not trust itself?

eNCA anchor, Uveka Rangapar, posed this question on Monday morning, while delegates at the ANC’s 54th national conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg, were casting their ballots for the top six leadership positions in the party.

The voting process got under way over 20 hours later than originally planned, as delegate after delegate expressed unhappiness over the minutia of conference proceedings, from last minute changes made to the conference programme, to objecting to the electoral commission appointed by the ANC, “imposing” electoral process, rules and regulations on conference delegates.

It is the latter which shines a light on the level of mistrust that bedevils the party that, come what may, will still be at the helm until the 2019 national and provincial election, and in all likelihood thereafter, even if in coalition with the EFF.

The parallels between the 2007 Polokwane conference, at which Jacob Zuma ascended the throne, and this one, are stark. The party was divided then, and it is even more divided now.

Factionalism was already rife by the time delegates assembled in 2007, and when they arrived at Nasrec on Friday, it had already manifested itself in the bruising series of court battles which led to around 200 delegates being barred from voting this time.

This led to strident objections from delegates to the process of approving credentials, and it is inevitable that court challenges will follow.

The ANC is more divided now than at any time in its 105- year history.

It has allienated its alliance partners – the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – and it has spawned two breakaways, one of which amounted to nothing – Cope – and another – the EFF – which frightened the pants of the ANC because while the ANC was out taking a swim, the EFF stole its clothes.

When outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma delivered his last political report, it would have been easy to assume that he had spent the past 10 years in a parallel universe.

According to Mr Zuma, the ANC has never been in better shape, and aside from the odd “challenge”, neither has the country.

Predictably, he lambasted the media for the tarnishing of the ANC’s reputation during his two terms in office, and he did acknowledge in a backhanded manner, criticism of his leadership when he “forgave” those in the ANC who had called for him to step down.

Aside from noting that government had received compensation claims amounting to
R1 billion from families of those slaughtered at Marikana, he ignored the multiple calamities that have marked his time in office: Nkandla, #GuptaLeaks, state capture, the Al-Bashir debacle, an illegal civilian aircraft landing at Waterkloof Air Force Base, firing of two respected and capable finance ministers and replacing them with fiscal and economic illitrates in expensive suits, the hollowing out of key institutions of state, appointing two national directors of public prosecutions whose appointments were set aside by the courts, fostering the meltdown in state owned enterprises, pursuing reckless and unwinnable litigation at the expense of the taxpayer, and the list just goes on and on and on.

The party and country’s woes are clearly not of his making.

His parting shot was announcing free tertiary education at universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges for households with a combined annual income under R350 000, a poisoned chalice for his successor, whether it be Cyril Ramaphosa or his ex-wife, Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma.

The fiscus cannot afford to fund it as the Heher Commission Report pointed out, so where will the money come from?

But whose fault is it that Mr Zuma has been able to do all that he has done, yet still remain in office?

It is easy to blame the electorate, and most people do, but our political system puts the power in the hands of the party.

It is the ANC that allowed a man already tarnished by a rape charge – he was acquitted, not found innocent, there is a big difference – and 18 charges on 783 counts of corrpution, fraud, racketeering and money laundering, to become president of the ANC and the country.

It is the ANC that, when it became evident Mr Zuma was anything but a man of and for the people, did not take action it knew it should have taken, to curb his self-interested trajectory.

It is the ANC that sat on its hands while Mr Zuma sowed the seeds of discord that have split the party down the middle.

It is the ANC that has allowed Mr Zuma to erode the party’s trust in its own integrity and internal resilience, to the point that it didn’t have the courage to remove him from office.

By the time you read this, we will know who won the keys to the kingdom.

Whoever it is, faces the herculean task of first rebuilding the ANC’s trust in itself, before it can earn the trust of the people that Mr Zuma has squandered.