Mpumalanga premier and former ANC provincial chairman Thabang Makwetla, in his political report to the party's 10th provincial conference in Nelspruit at the weekend, raised pertinent issues about the unity and cohesion of the ANC.

Most importantly he raised the question of the impact of the leadership electoral system and selection of public representatives on that unity.

It was Makwetla's last chairman's address that combined party political issues and matters of governance.

He quoted all ANC leaders who, over the last few years, have been concerned about the eroding discipline and increasing disunity in the ANC - from Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, to former general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe to Jacob Zuma.

Makwetla reiterated and dwelt on Zuma's call for the renewal of values and organisational practices.

Quoting Zuma, he spoke about how "leaders of the movement, cadres with a wealth of experience, political understanding and organisational depth were reduced in the eyes of the comrades to merely being representatives of one or other faction".

"For us to succeed it is going to involve a lot of discipline and bravery. On our part as cadres, we owe it to those who came before us, to our organisation, and to our country," Makwetla said.

His message came against the backdrop of the ANC-fashioned block vote - where the winner takes all, or the losing camp is completely depleted from all leadership positions through a "democratic" electoral process.

Makwetla posed these rhetorical questions to the conference: "What forms has the leadership election process in the ANC taken over the ages? What was the rationale for each of the practices experienced? Should the election of leaders be different from the election of public representatives? If so why and how?

"Should lobbying include activities which happen outside formal meetings of structures? If so, who supervises and how? Should members be allowed to campaign against each other in public and receive sponsorship for that purpose?"

To reinforce Makwetla's argument, in the run-up to Polokwane, unfamiliar habits in the ANC culture cropped up when posters of businessman and ANC NEC member Tokyo Sexwale were used as part of campaigning for the ANC presidency in Eastern Cape. In the same period, the Zuma and Mbeki camps vigorously and publicly campaigned against and vilified each other.

The latest now is the violence that characterises meetings of provincial, regional, branch and other structures of the ANC. The bloodletting is accompanied by harsh words such as "counter-revolutionaries" being used by senior party leaders.

To answer Makwetla's questions, the good thing about Polokwane is that the election of leaders has moved from being decided by the top to being elected by members. Sounds logical and orderly, doesn't it?

However, the ANC has failed to contain the factions that formed around certain leaders. Also, the individual leaders seem happy with the divisions because these help to prop up their hold on power.

The top-down approach worked to contain divisions and power-mongering and ensured the party remained peaceful. But the anomaly of this approach was that it was undemocratic and open to manipulation and abuse by the party powerful.

Another question may be: Couldn't democratisation in the ANC perhaps had been gradually introduced and preceded by a vigorous political education programme that Zuma himself has suggested?

This could have been an ideal direction to follow. Or is it difficult for the ANC to divorce itself from the old approach of 'freedom now, education later'.

One assumes that Makwetla had the proportional representation system in mind when he asked whether the election of leaders should be different from the selection of public representatives. If the ANC was serious about cohesion and unity in order to minimise tensions, it would attend to the block-vote phenomenon.

It could ensure that at least a quarter of the leadership at all levels was selected in a similar way to the election of public representatives via the PR method, while considering gender, youth and regional representivity, among others, and most significantly, an equal or fair representation of both factions.

Any lobbying should be controlled as there is a danger of contamination by shady sponsors and clandestine external lobby think tanks.

However, if open lobbying is allowed it would be difficult to avoid following the US presidential elections system of primaries. In that case, this would not only be an ANC matter but for all political parties and should be regulated by law.

But this has its own pitfalls. The ANC values could be lost in the process because the party would be tempted to ignore the poor, its primary motive force, while being controlled by the rich, who will demand value for their sponsorship money.

This is what happens in the US, where there is a close relationship between the business conglomerates and the political elite.

There may be those who argue that Polokwane marked the beginning of the end of ANC values. So what?

This may be valid, especially with current leadership spats and the rebuke of constitutional institutions such as the judiciary. To reverse this scourge, Makwetla suggested the upholding of a value system, revolutionary morality, selflessness, camaraderie, respect for the truth and honesty, opposition to deceit and double dealing and accountability to the people.

One is tempted to ask: Is the ANC not its own killer python, whose lethal grip around the party is silently forcing its life out of its body?