The common phrase in the last year in all ANC events, particularly the last few months of the campaign for ANC Presidency has been this clarion call for “Unity”. In every speech that has been given, in every television or radio interview, by both the incumbent (President Zuma) and the Presidential candidates vying to succeed him, the call for unity has been the cornerstone. 

This marathon call for unity however has seemingly fell on deaf ears as each of the candidate’s supporters has gotten even more entrenched and more hardened in their resolve to support their candidates. Instead of the call for unity driving people more closer to one another, it has almost had the opposite effect.  

What is always critical however for unity, as has been experience in other countries, is that instead of instructing warring factions to unite automatically across interests and ambitions, a medium of common interest, a vision, needs to be defined. Once effectively done, all people will find themselves naturally drawn and uniting in that common vision. 

The ANC has clear values and principles around which is Humility and a selfless dedication to the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society, concern for the will and interests of the people, captured in the principles of Batho Pele – people first and a commitment to implement the policies of the movement and the decisions of the collective

It goes without saying that the ANC cannot unite outside these values. These values are enough to bring the party together and to ensure that in all its actions, in all its rhetoric, such values are reflected at all times. 

In a letter from prison to the Kabwe Consultative Conference in 1985, Nelson Mandela described unity in the ANC as “the bedrock upon which the ANC was founded.” This statement underscored the high premium the ANC has always placed on party unity and internal cohesion and is emphatically reinforced in the Organizational Renewal (2012) document, which states that,“ the unity of the ANC is sacrosanct.” 

Madiba always understood that the strength of the ANC is not just in numbers but its in the ability of those numbers to work together towards a common purpose, united in its resolve to fight for the complete emancipation of our people. Both Madiba and OR Tambo prioritized unity in all their actions, with OR Tambo exceptional in his call for vigilance. This culture of prioritizing unity has been a great tradition of the ANC throughout the years. 

In the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in University of Witwatersrand, July 29, 2006, President Thabo Mbeki said, ‘I believe that for us to ensure that things do not fall apart, we must, in the first instance, never allow that the market should be the principal determinant of the nature of our society. Instead, we must place at the centre of our daily activities the pursuit of the goals of social cohesion and human solidarity. We must, therefore, strive to integrate into the national consciousness the value system contained in the world outlook described as Ubuntu. 

Social Cohesion and human solidarity had kept a very diverse ANC and would later nourish a country and create new patriotism which had never been witnessed before. It goes to say that an ANC that is fighting one another affects the broader citizenry, in the pride they feel about their own country and one another, since the very sense of human solidarity had been anchored by the very ANC for the last 23 years, and over 100 years for many.

The worst tragedy is if these feelings of resentment about a divided ANC result in ANC losing power at the next elections or the elections after. As the ANC document ‘Anatomy of a faction document’ told us, the Indian Congress Party (Congress Party) lost elections after 30 continuous years in power between independence in 1947 and its first taste of electoral defeat in 1977. During this period the electoral support of the Congress Party was averaging 73% across several general elections. The primary cause for the 1977 electoral defeat of the Congress Party was attributed to factions. Factions colonized the Congress Party, paralyzed its structures and demobilized certain interest groups in the party.

Today, more than any other time in history, the ANC is about more than issues and ideologies; we have become about personalities and their integrity. Whilst in the early years of our democracy, most discussions were about the effectiveness of RDP, ASGISA and the polarising GEAR, today the contest is not on policy but on personalities which inevitably leads to more bitterness and resentment. 

The ANC December elections have been polarized on leader’s personalities and profiles and it has been difficult to achieve unity. Once elections are heavily tied to personalities then you get a sense of zealotry, a group of die hards who will not open their eyes to nothing else except the interests of their own candidate. Over the last few years we have seen, within the ANC, more polarization and more divisions putting the organisation under tremendous strain and affecting the effectiveness of the ANC led government.  

The ANC has to recover from this polarization it is experiencing. As we have seen in the last year, such polarization is not good for the country socially, economically and culturally.  Each warring factions seems to be fighting for organisational complete influence. Each of them wants utmost control. 

It is upon the ANC leaders, especially the Presidential Candidates to reassure everyone that the ANC belongs to all its members and the ANC rejects any permanent groupings that seek to run parallel to the organisation.

As Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma noted last week “This is a democratic process — it is not a fight amongst enemies… it’s a festival of ideas, so you must be prepared to argue your case, – “Let’s go be united, engage in disciplined debate, respect all comrades, leadership and make sure the conference is peaceful.” 

Tim Mashele is the Provincial Chairperson of the ANC Youth League in Mpumalanga Province

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