ANC members must play bigger role in rooting out graft

THE urgent message derived from the wave of community protests against the lack of government service delivery is that the ANC should become more internally democratic.

THE urgent message derived from the wave of community protests against the lack of government service delivery is that the ANC should become more internally democratic.

The outcome of the leadership change at the ANC's Polokwane conference in 2007 represents two diametrically opposed forces. One group genuinely believed it was a movement to make the ANC more transparent, accountable and pro-poor.

This group wants all corrupt, unaccountable public representatives brought to book and service delivery speeded up.

The other group used the rhetoric of transparency, accountability and pro-poor policies to grab power for personal, factional and ethnic reasons. They want to purge all levels of government of public representatives, not necessarily because of mismanagement or corruption, but to take their place and become rich themselves.

Both groups united behind Jacob Zuma. Now that Thabo Mbeki and his allies have been ousted, both groups are pressing Zuma for rewards.

The crisis of conflicting claims is played out at local level in community protests against poor service delivery. One part of Zuma's strategy must, of course, be symbolic: visiting protest flashpoints such as Balfour and showing sympathy.

Yet, it will backfire if he does not fire local representatives identified by communities as corrupt - some who might be associated with Mbeki, but others who are actually Zuma supporters.

It will also backfire if Zuma does not offer immediate relief to the poorest - a basic income grant to all will help. But his strategy must also consist of stopping conspicuous consumption by leaders and compelling them to take belt-tightening measures, such as accepting pay cuts.

Because the ANC is so dominant its internal practices will also dominate South Africa's entire political system.

Ordinary ANC members must play a bigger role in electing local candidates. One of the main reasons why communities are fighting councilors is that councilors have often been foisted on them by provincial or national leaders.

Given the increasing abuse of patronage by local faction barons to buy votes, all ANC elections must be held by secret ballot. But there must also be a mechanism by which leaders can be recalled if they do not perform.

Since there are no clear democratic rules for recall because of nonperformance, the brutal way in which Mbeki was sacked is likely to become a norm to kick out errant leaders, whether they be presidents or councilors.

Reform must start with the way in which the ANC president is elected. Firstly, it must be opened up to the broadest number of candidates, rather than restricted to one or two decided on by shadowy cliques. This is the only way to secure the best leadership candidates.

Leaders must be chosen by competitive elections. Prospective candidates must then put together a clear programme of priorities with targets and delivery time tables that sits within the values of the ANC, which they then canvass across membership, branches, provinces and affiliates across the country.

South Africa's electoral system must also change to allow local communities to send a representative of their own choice to parliament or municipalities, rather than the party choosing who they think should represent communities.

The ANC must set up an independent national standing electoral commission, staffed by the most nonpartisan ANC figures, outsiders and civil society members. It must enforce clear rules for candidates, such as no criminal record or corruption or mismanagement or nonsexism record.

lThe writer is the author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC