ANC National Conference: No room for ‘margin of litigation’

File picture: Phill Magakoe/ANA

As the ANC election campaign comes to its final stretch, it has been encouraging to hear both the leading frontrunners, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, (the former accepting to serve under a new president, the latter accepting the results, indicative that  NDZ will serve in public office and CR will go back to corporate SA), pledging to accept the National Conference election outcomes. 

None of them thus far has reserved their right to challenge the results in the event that there is a perceived gross violation of process. What happens however when the results are so tight (as many predict they will be) to be within what John Fund called the “margin of litigation”. Historically, many ANC leaders have chosen not to litigate but others have chosen to challenge election results in court, in the process, putting the country on knifes edge. 

Past experiences have taught us that when leaders pledge to accept outcomes of elections, they do so with an unspoken condition; if I win. As soon as the results do not favor them, they start questioning the legitimacy of the process. Will Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa accept the election outcomes irrespective of the results? The multiple litigations around provincial conferences, which are directly linked to supporters of both candidates gives us a reason to concerned.  

In 1876, a Democratic presidential nominee was one vote shy of the 185 Electoral College votes needed to secure the nation’s highest office. Samuel Jones Tilden had swept the popular vote, winning 247,448 more ballots than his opponent Rutherford B. Hayes ― who also lagged behind in Electoral College votes, with 165. But 20 votes had not been counted: one from Oregon, four from Florida, eight from Louisiana and seven from South Carolina. 

Republicans still maintained control of the state electoral boards so they could throw out votes in order to secure Hayes a win. On March 5, 1877, an Electoral Commission established by Congress confirmed Hayes would be America’s 19th president. 

Naturally this resulted in a political upheaval across the country. During this period, there were talks of civil unrest, and fears of a second Civil War or the election being rigged to favor a candidate who better served the interests of the party in power. 

But Samuel Jones Tilden, who had a pretty good reason to think he was cheated, did not question the legitimacy of the results and conceded the election. (Julia Craven Civil Rights Reporter, HuffPost) 

And America moved on. Political historian, Allan Lichtman says, ‘ Our democracy has depended upon the peaceful transfer of power and the idea of an opposition — but a loyal opposition,” 

What Tilsen understood is that refusing to accept results of elections is against democratic principles, whatever your grievances may be. Consequences of not accepting results always outweigh whatever benefits there may be. More often than not, it leads to violence. 

The inability to accept election results in the ANC has brought a level of violence in ANC meetings and conferences that is casting a long and dark shadow in the work of this glorious movement. The scenes of the ANC Eastern Cape conference were heartbreaking as comrade turned on comrade, leaving many comrades seriously injured and laying in a pool of blood and comments by presidential hopeful Ramaphosa’s “festival of chairs” was uncalled for. 

The violence in Kwazulu Natal, with councillors and conference delegates killed almost every week, can all be linked to this inability to accept voting results at Branches, nomination results that leads others being voted as councillors, and ultimately, a desire to usurp the ANC national conference by frustrating local elections.

Every province that has refused to accept election results thus far has experienced some measure of upheaval and unrest, all led by people who put their interests above those of the organisation. Let us be very clear. It is the people that elect leaders and the Idea that leaders would choose not to accept election results is offensive and arrogant. Irrespective of the reasons for one’s loss, whether its gross violation of process or blatant manipulation, it is not up to the leaders not to accept election results. It is also criminal behaviour and a destruction of all sensibility that has always governed the ANC for any leader to seek to agitate people, and hold secret meetings asking people to revolt and reject results. Anyone who is found doing that must be banned from the ANC for life.

Disputes of election results leads to violence and loss of life and if there is any leader who seeks to use people as revolt cattle’s in order to secure his own job, that leader does not deserve to be in the ANC. 

This however does not give a licence for various interests and manipulative hands to bend the rules and break processes in order to win electoral victory simply because they expect not to be challenged. Yes, Leaders must not reject results as if they nominated themselves into positions and they must not agitate the people into revolt. 

What is democratic however and can never be stopped is when the people’s threshold of tolerance for manipulation has been breached and hell hath no fury as the people who are tired of their leaders. No amount of suppression or intimidation or force can stand in the way of the people who have reached their breaking point with the behaviour of their leaders. 

The election results for the ANC National Conference this month may well be close enough to be in the ‘margin of litigation’. What will either of the candidates do in the event they find themselves on the losing side? 

As the ANC broad membership, we expect all candidates to accept election results and to commit to working with one. Whatever mistakes they may observe about the electoral process or processes leading up to conference, whatever grievances they may fell, we expect all leaders to put the organisation and the people above their personal interests. 

The people will decided this conference with their vote, and where there is gross violation of process or manipulation, the people will decide the next step. 

No leader must decide for the people, the people are capable of choosing their own leaders and must be allowed to do so. 

Yonela Diko is a communications & media strategist