Melanie Verwoerd: Don’t believe Mantashe when he says all is fine

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – NOVEMBER 11: ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and Zizi Kodwa during the party’s special National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the St Georges Hotel on November 11, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. The national executive members convened to discuss, among others, feedback from the party’s Veterans League conference and the recent Eastern Cape provincial conference. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie)

At the ANC NEC meeting held over the weekend the party tried as usual to pretend that all was fine and that the organisation was totally united.

Gwede Mantashe made it clear to the press that all was going well with the branch general meetings (BGMs) and that nothing, including the court cases, was going to delay or disrupt the smooth running of the elective conference on 16-20 December.

The NEC even took the unprecedented step of issuing a press statement whilst the meeting was still underway to “reject with the contempt they deserve” reports and rumours that there was discontent amongst the ranks or an attempt to remove Mantashe from his position as secretary general (and/or as main organiser and controller of the elective conference).

Mantashe is a spin master of note, but surely he must know that we are going to find all of this hard to believe. Let’s leave the story aside of attempts to remove him aside for now – although as a friend who is very familiar with the ANC said: “As you soon as you read ‘The ANC rejects with the contempt it deserves…’ you know a lie and subterfuge are next.”

Let’s rather focus on the issue of branch preparedness. Mantashe was quick to emphasise that about 60% of branches country wide have held their BGMs. He also emphasised that branches have only a few days left to have these BGMs.

With 40% outstanding that means that more than 1500 branches still have to have BGMs this week or else they will be excluded from the conference. It seems highly improbable that so many branches will succeed in the next 3 days.

Of particular concern are KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape – two of the provinces with the highest number of delegates. In KZN less than 41% of branches had held their BGMs by the weekend and in the Eastern Cape 56%. Both these provinces have of course had problems with their provincial executive committee elections, which might play a role in the low numbers.

Although the ANC constitution does not mention a quorum, the ANC will apparently go ahead with the conference as long as 70% of the branches have held their BGMs. However, in that scenario, it will mean that just under 1200 branches and almost 1500 delegates (possibly more if it involves bigger branches) will be excluded.

If they are largely from provinces that support one faction or indeed from the two biggest provinces, one can assume that this would not be accepted. So for the conference to go ahead, something dramatic will need to happen in/with a huge number of these branches in the next few days.

Of course, it would be much easier if there was not such a lot of oversight and sticking to those pesky rules by Mantashe and his office. Not that anyone is trying to get rid of him, of course.

The BGMs are only the first hurdle. The NEC will still have to deal with a huge number of disputes – thus the need for the branches to finish the BGMs by the middle of the month. Again, it is hard to see how they can do all of this successfully in so little time – even with NEC members deployed all over the country.

If only 10% of the total BGMs are disputed it can mean almost 400 disputes and it looks like it will be much higher. The group who won the court case against the PEC in KZN claims that they have filed 80 appeals with the NEC for alleged irregularities. That is only one group in one province.

The resolution of these disputes can take time. As Mantashe acknowledged at the press conference on Tuesday, memberships have to be verified, accounts of the events on the night weighed up, etc. And of course, if complaints are upheld, then branches must repeat the BGMs.

With the 16th of December only a month away, time is rapidly running out. Which raises the question whether the NEC will really seriously try and resolve these complaints?

Rumour has it that by far the majority of the complaints are coming from those branches who support Ramaphosa (as in the case of KZN mentioned earlier). If this is indeed the case and the NEC is not able to resolve these disputes, thus leaving matters as they are, it could impact on the outcome of the election dramatically. The race is so tight, that if, for example, 10% is shaved off Ramaphosa’s support, he could lose.

All of this suggests that things are far less “fine” than the NEC wants us to believe. And of course, chaos and disputes serve as a useful distraction for those who might feel the need to manipulate the process in their favour if they see that they might not win.

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

* This column was first published on 15 November 2017 on News24.