ANC faces moment of truth - Ramaphosa

'It's renewal or history'

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya Political Editor
ANC delagates at the ANC 55th National Conference at the Nasrec EXPO Centre in Johannesburg.
ANC delagates at the ANC 55th National Conference at the Nasrec EXPO Centre in Johannesburg.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

In two successive days of speaking, President Cyril Ramaphosa appears to have stitched together a theme for the next five years – should he be re-elected: the ANC needs to renew itself or be history.

His speech on Friday, that could easily have been a State of the Nation Address rather than a party political report, was peppered with hard truths, some of which made some delegates visibly and audibly uncomfortable.

He repeated the message he made at the party’s opening dinner some 24 hours earlier: that the next decade would define the ANC’s relevance in SA politics.

“This is a salutary moment for the ANC. Unless we act now, with courage and honesty to redeem our organisation, we will have betrayed the ANC’s historical mission and failed our people. In a decade from now, the ANC will celebrate 120 years of existence.”

At the heart of the existential threat to the ANC, said Ramaphosa, is the endemic corruption and culture of graft within the organisation as flagged by the Zondo commission.

“Amid the many challenges facing the ANC, the persistence of corruption within our ranks stands out as one of the greatest threats to the continued existence of our movement as an effective force for fundamental social change. The state capture commission makes critical findings about our democratic government, parliament, public entities and about the ANC.

“While some of the observations and findings may be unsettling, and there may be some assessments that we disagree with, we have sought to engage honestly and openly with all aspects of the commission’s report."

Also necessary for the ANC’s survival was that it stop gate-keeping and allow itself to be influenced by the best thoughts in society, even if they were not from its own members.

“Branches must work to broaden the membership base, partner with a range of civil, community and progressive groupings and be grounded in communities. They must lead campaigns that make peoples’ lives better.

“Communities must see an ANC that is in touch with them and involved in the issues that affect them. The ANC needs to draw in people whose talents, expertise and energy can support our objectives and programme.”

Despite the final nominations list – at least until the conference nominates from the floor – being dominated by older ANC members, Ramaphosa told conference that young leaders were needed to make the party attractive to youth.

“The ANC needs to be a youthful organisation that is in touch with the needs and aspirations of a new generation of South Africans. We must be an organisation that draws on the experience, wisdom and energies of all generations of activists. Above all, the ANC must be the most effective instrument in the hands of the people for fundamental social and economic change.”

Ramaphosa arrived at a damning conclusion of the ANC’s track record of creating a better life for all South Africans.

“In reflecting on the circumstances of the South African people today, we recognise the substantial and meaningful progress that has been made in improving the quality of their lives since the advent of democracy.

"Many of our people are feeling the brunt of ever-rising living costs in the form of food prices, fuel prices and transport prices. The levels of poverty continue to give rise to a sense of hopelessness amongst people.

“But we also recognise that there are areas where progress has stalled and some areas where our achievements have been eroded. There are several reasons for this, including slow economic growth over more than a decade and the effects of the pandemic. Weaknesses in governance and service provision, especially at a local level, have contributed to crumbling infrastructure and failing services.

“Corruption and mismanagement have meant that resources meant for the poor have been diverted. This task – to restore the positive trajectory of social and economic development – must be central to the work of the ANC at this time and must be at the forefront of deliberations at this 55th national conference.”

The same malfeasance had caused the plight suffered by Eskom, he said.

“Poor policy decisions in the past, together with inadequate maintenance, mismanagement, state capture and widespread corruption, have left our electricity system in a critical state. The effects of loadshedding are felt every day by households, businesses, schools, hospitals and government offices.”

Ramaphosa, and by association those who have sold themselves as renewal candidates, will be hoping that his over-two-hours-long speech struck the right notes.

Nominations for the top six positions are expected on Saturday.

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