ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has effectively conceded that the party’s top leadership is divided, saying the governing party was “increasingly appearing to be like an organisation at war with itself”.
Ramaphosa pulled no punches as he delivered a frank assessment of the state of the party at the last 2020 meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC). The NEC is the ANC’s highest decision-making authority in between national conferences.
Ramaphosa said while the ANC had set itself the objective of uniting the party at the beginning of 2020, it had failed on this score as unity remained “elusive” with divisions mostly pronounced at top leadership level.
The ANC on Monday took the unprecedented step of publicly releasing its president’s political overview, among indications from sources within the party that Ramaphosa wanted some discussions of the NEC to be made public but had been met with opposition from some leaders.
Ramaphosa said the ANC’s agreement at the 54th national conference in 2017, that the party should renew itself and root out factionalism in its ranks, had been thrown out of the window, with divisions now becoming more pronounced.
“Despite numerous resolutions and repeated pronouncements, unity within our movement remains elusive,” Ramaphosa said. “As has been the case for a long time, the divisions within our movement are most pronounced at a leadership level. These divisions are manifesting themselves not just in our structures, but in public demonstrations of dissent and discord.
“In recent times, we have witnessed statements and actions that are alien to the practices, culture and values of our movement,” Ramaphosa told the ANC NEC in a virtual meeting.
“We increasingly appear like an organisation at war with itself. We need to ask ourselves whether we are still committed to the mandate we were given by the conference to unite and renew the movement,” he added.
Ramaphosa said unity in the ANC was important, but that it should not be confused with accommodating or condoning corruption, wrongdoing or ill-discipline.
He said the unity rhetoric could not be used as an excuse to turn a blind eye “when some of us undermine and denigrate the revolutionary ideals of our struggle”.
His comments came as top ANC figures known to oppose his leadership, such as secretary-general Ace Magashule and parliamentary home affairs committee chairperson Bongani Bongo, refuse to step aside from their positions in line with a conference resolution despite facing corruption charges.
Bongo and Magashule have questioned the legal standing of the step-aside resolution and their supporters have claimed their criminal charges are part of a political plot against them by the Ramaphosa administration.
The legal advice further said stepping aside was a voluntary act and a moral decision and the party had no legal authority to force anyone to step aside until their matters were settled in court.
Only one legal advice was to the contrary. “As members of a voluntary organisation, we are all bound by our constitution, by the resolutions of our conferences and by the decisions of our structures,” Ramaphosa told the NEC meeting.
“But if we are to reflect on the proud and glorious history of our movement over more than a century – on the great leaders who have guided it through the most difficult and perilous times – it is difficult not to see these five legal opinions as an indictment of the movement we have become. Yet it need not be that way. We are the leadership of the ANC.
“We carry not only a clear and emphatic mandate of the membership of this movement to undertake a process of fundamental renewal and rebuilding, but we are also bound by a historic mission to liberate our people from all forms of oppression.
“This leadership has the means and the responsibility to restore this movement to one of integrity and credibility, a movement that is united in action, and which places the needs and the interest of the people above anything else. Unity in the ANC needs to be rooted in our historic mission to unite society,” he said.