The current crisis should have been tackled head-on a long time ago, writes ERIC NAKI

What the ANC is going through currently is probably very painful for the organisation and its members.

The divisions in the party have turned from small fissures to deep gulfs that will take a very long time to close.

The situation is so ugly that if the muscle flexing continues unabated, there is a strong danger that one camp will dominate in Limpopo. Even more dangerous is the possibility that the dominant side may take all the positions in the national executive committee (NEC), shutting out opponents from the organisation.

This is what happened in 2002 in Eastern Cape when then chairman and former premier Makhenkesi Stofile's camp won all the positions - from chairman down to the last provincial executive committee (PEC) member. Mluleki George's camp was shut out of the leadership.

Eastern Cape at one stage was so divided that the Big Three - Stofile, his deputy Enoch Godongwana and the then PEC strategist Mcebisi Jonas - kept their stranglehold on both ANC and the provincial administration.

The situation was saved and their influence in the province was lessened when Stofile and George were redeployed to the national government.

Often the winning side wants to take everything, and that attitude may be the case in Limpopo because neither the Mbeki nor the Zuma camp is willing to back down.

Before the advent of the two camps, ANC delegates at elective conferences would vote for leaders having considered gender, geographic spread, non-racialism with minority representation and good leadership qualities.

In a situation where the voting process failed to meet these criteria, the NEC was mandated to intervene and correct matters in line with ANC policy.

This will be difficult this time around because members from either camp seek to replace opponents whom they consider to be from the wrong side.

The ANC, in a self-introspection discussion document at the recent NEC meeting, spoke about "disturbing political dynamics" in the party.

It was concerned about the two camps, or rather the two nomination lists "punted quite openly by organised groupings within the movement". It expressed concern at the fact that the lists contained the names of different party officials instead of common names.

In the process, a public campaign is launched where some leaders are condemned publicly, while others are glorified.

"The question is, does this at all reflect the kind of ANC we know and should allow?" This is the question that the NEC asked itself.

"Now all this is happening under the eye of the NEC, the highest decision-making body in between conferences. What this means is that quite clearly, the current NEC has failed to resolve the divisive issues that have plagued the movement for the past two and a half years."

The ANC has acknowledged that what it called the "Mbeki-Zuma template" has contributed to media hype and divisions at branch level and among senior leaders.

The organisation asked itself three questions whose answers are all a big no.

Has the NEC continually, comprehensively, dispassionately and honestly exercised its mind on these issues and has it corrected behaviour defiant of its collective standpoint as it occurred? Were we unable to stem the tide because NEC members were themselves part of its propagation? Was our system of communicating collective decisions effective enough to prevent ANC branches and ordinary members from being infected by this divisive bug?

Zakhele Ndlovu, a political science lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says: "They will have to come to terms with the reality of being led by someone from a different camp. ANC leaders will have to put their differences aside because none of them would want to destroy the organisation."

The ANC is definitely divided into two factions and the question that it will have to answer is, which of the two factions is in fact the "real ANC trying to pursue the movement's strategy, policies, programmes and culture".

Ndlovu believes that the current divisions will continue, but that they must be handled with care. No one from either camp will want to abandon the ANC because they will have no other political home to go to.

The ANC resolved to provide leadership direction on these matters in Limpopo. The question is, will that work in the circumstances? Should the NEC lead or leave the problems to be resolved through conference discussions and elections in Limpopo?

Ideally, the leadership-guidance option is the best because the crowd solution may further throw the party apart.

As long as the two camps continue to isolate one another, with some leftists left out of the government, vilified as "ultra leftists" and those perceived as pro-Mbeki being purged from Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC Youth League, and their names scratched off the Zuma-camp list as is happening in KwaZulu-Natal, unity will remain pie in the sky for the alliance.

What has happened already in the current leadership battle indicates that things may not be so easy.

Ndlovu says whoever wins between Zuma and Mbeki will have to accommodate leaders from the opposing camp. He suggests that it will serve the ANC well if the winning side offered the position of deputy secretary and even treasurer to the other side.

"Someone like Joel Netshitenzhe, for instance, should remain in the ANC national executive committee because he is an asset to the organisation. If Zuma becomes the president of the country, he will have to appoint a good team of advisers and a cabinet made up of people from both sides," Ndlovu said.

Whatever the decision in Limpopo, the incoming NEC has a huge task ahead of it to return the party to its former self.