ANC regional leaders in the Free State are expected to make a plea for more time before holding a conference when the governing party’s deputy president David Mabuza visits the province this week.
Mabuza will make his second visit in two weeks to discuss the Free State’s performance in last November’s local government elections with regional and provincial leaders. The vote saw the ANC losing its lion’s share in some municipalities as newly formed political parties and independent candidates chipped away at its votes. Its biggest embarrassment was in Maluti-a-Phofung, where former ANC councillors who formed a new party took away a chunk of the ANC vote, resulting in a hung municipality.
Four regional leaders each told the Mail & Guardian that the environment was not yet ideal for a provincial conference, with most branches still struggling to be fully compliant with the party’s obligations in terms of its constitution.
Free State interim provincial committee (IPC) co-ordinator Paseka Nompondo said branches had been working to strengthen, rebuild and revive the party ahead of the provincial conference.
“Branches have not been to meetings for some time. We are now embarking on a process to rebuild structures. All our regions are not in good standing,” he said.
Interim regional convenor in the Thabo Mofutsanyana region Thabo Mokoena said many branches’ terms had long lapsed and had interim structures in place dating back to 2019.
“The intention is to do with any element of factionalism that will hamper the organisation. We are being self critical about our conduct and we want to look inward to say how do we move forward and unite the organisation,” said Mokoena.
Mangaung interim regional committee convenor Lawrence Mathae said membership in his region had declined from 12 000 to a mere 4 000 members, adding: “This tells us that there is a bare minimum of 80 people in branches. We need to recruit members who are dedicated and loyal members before we go to a regional conference.”
He argued that rushing into a conference to elect new leaders would set the province up for court challenges: “We need a thorough appraisal of the state of organisation in the province. It’s not a matter that can be done without undertaking a robust process of building branches so that those branches can make a call for conference.”
Factional infighting in the Free State, from the time suspended secretary general Ace Magashule was provincial chairperson, have led to a weakened ANC.
Last April, ANC and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa instructed the provincial executive committee to halt its plans of appealing a supreme court of appeal ruling that declared the structure unlawful and unconstitutional and dissolved it.
The ruling said the Free State’s provincial conference in May 2018 had been held in violation of a November 2017 court order and, therefore, its decisions, resolutions and outcomes were invalid. Three ANC members had turned to the court after the party failed to obey an order to halt an elective conference.
In a recent national executive committee meeting, the ANC ordered all provinces to hold conferences before the end of May ahead of its elective conference in December.
A party leader from the Fezile Dabi region told the M&G that 57 of its 72 branches were not in good standing, with membership declining to less than 4 000.
“I don’t think we are ready for the conference,” he said, adding that senior ANC leaders Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe would make the same concession.
Mbeki recently visited the Free State, while Motlanthe was roped in last year to help unite the province.
Convener of the interim regional committee in the Lejweleputswa region, Xolile Toki, took the view that the province must go ahead with a conference.
“We can’t only renew the ANC, part of the programme is to professionalise local government,” Toki said. “We are dealing with these programmes concurrently. Yes we have to go to a conference. In a month or so branches will have to renew their mandates and after, elect leadership and pronounce on their new leadership.”