This article first appeared in African Times.
The word ‘factional’ is being thrown about with abandon within and outside the African National Congress (ANC). It has become a stick with which we beat each other, but also a conveniently kicked up dust cloud behind which scoundrels hide.
In the aftermath of the ill-fated motion of no-confidence in President Zuma and the ANC government last Tuesday, allegations of factionalism are now flying around thick and fast. Those in the ANC who have abided by the instruction to vote against the motion of the opposition parties and consider party discipline as sacrosanct accuse those who have broken ranks as being factional, while the betrayers are accusing their detractors who are calling for them to be exposed also as factional, and in an utterly self-serving manner claim that attempts to establish who they are will tear the ANC apart.
They conveniently fail to see how their undisciplined behaviour is brewing the poisonous acid of distrust and anger that is now eating away at the core of the ANC. The lack of a clear understanding of what factionalism actually means is convenient for those who try to hide behind it, but it is abusive of ordinary rank and file members of the ANC and the general public who are being called upon to take a stance against this evil of ‘factionalism’, while it is not being defined.
So let me, without further abandon, describe what being factional means: The best way to do so is to first state what it not is. It does not mean that one is factional when you have a difference of opinion with another person or group in the organisation/party that all of you belong to. Differences of opinion and vigorous debate about those different points of view can actually be very healthy and if handled in a disciplined and mature manner can strengthen a party or organisation and broaden its reach into society.
Intolerance of another member’s point of view within an organisation is not de facto factional in itself, but it is dangerous and can lead to factionalism. By the same token is dogmatism dangerous and can potentially lead to factional behaviour. These tendencies have from time-to-time rose their ugly heads within the ANC, and the majority of ANC members with the help of balanced and mature leadership of its various National Executive Committees (NEC’s), have rejected them in favour of understanding that the ANC is a broad church within which a diversity of ideas can be accommodated, and that there can be unity in diversity.
This year the ANC celebrates the life of our former President, comrade OR Tambo, one of the greatest leaders and unifiers of our organisation. It is correct that in celebrating the life and contribution of comrade OR that our theme is: “Let Us Deepen Unity!” That Comrade OR managed to keep the ANC united during the very difficult years of exile was no mean feat. Many lesser organisations have been destroyed by the frustrations and concomitant divisions that can thrive during years of exile.
Having ones membership and leadership separated in prisons and spread out over many countries, while you battle with a lack of resources and political parties within the countries where you are in exile trying to use you for their own domestic or international purposes, is not easy at all. Many exiled political organisations who were less fortunate with the leadership and clarity of purpose than the ANC, were torn apart.
The survival of the ANC in exile, to return with the clarity of purpose that we had when we entered into negotiations with the apartheid regime, was no mean feat and the question arises how did we achieve this? I believe that the answer lies in the unique balance of tolerance and discipline that Comrade OR’s leadership bestowed on us. Almost no idea was off bounds for discussion, as long as it was done within the organisational structures of the ANC.
These organisational structures are defined by the Constitution of the ANC, which every member pledges loyalty to in the Declaration that all of us have to sign when we join. The concluding words of that Declaration reads, “that I will defend the unity and integrity of the organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism”.
The African National Congress does not simply pay lip service to internal democracy. Anyone who has been part of the ANC for decades, like I have been, will know that vigorous debate is a characteristic of how the ANC functions. We come to policy positions through discussing matters from all angles, but always in the context of our democratic and progressive historical roots. While we tolerate a diversity of ideas our discussions never take place in a vacuum.
The historical documents of the ANC such as the Freedom Charter are, and should, always be the foundation on which we construct our debates, and guides us towards the final and correct decisions. There always comes a point when debates have to lead to decisions being taken, and as with any democratic organisation the view of the majority should then prevail. The African National Congress prefers not to rush into voting, but whenever possible to take consensus decisions.
Even when there is a clear majority for a particular point of view we prefer that debate continues up to the point where the majority manages to convince the minority, or where a compromise is reached integrating some of the views of the minority into the final decision. These debates take place within the constitutional structures of the ANC, and it is accepted by all members of the ANC that the guarantee for thorough, fair and nondivisive engagements is that the debates must stay within those structures.
However, the reality is that the views of the majority logically will be the dominant influence/factor in the final decision. There is nothing domineering about that – it is the guiding principle and logic of democracy. While convincing fellow comrades and discussing until consensus can be reached is in the ranks of the ANC always the preferred approach, voting as a last resort when it proves impossible to reach consensus is essential in order to be able to take decisions and to move forward.
This preference for comprehensive debate in search of consensus can be time consuming, but it is a critical part of the culture of the ANC, and it serves us well in order to forge unity in our broad church where a diversity of views are not only inevitable but also necessary. Unity in diversity is not simply a slogan – it is at the heart of the ANC’s political culture and success. The critical question that arises is how the minority should conduct themselves once a decision is taken – either through consensus or in the rare instances when it becomes necessary through voting.
The culture of the ANC is that of central democracy, and once a decision is finally taken the minority has to accept it, execute the decision and in public defend the decision as their own – even though they may have preferred a different decision. This is what organisational discipline requires within an organisation that subscribes to central democracy.
A good example of how this works was presented to us by comrade Chris Hani when the NEC took the decision to suspend the armed struggle. Comrade Chris was not in favour of that decision, but once he realised that the majority of members in the NEC were in favour of the decision he accepted it, and in public and towards the MK soldiers he defended and promoted the decision as if it was actually his own decision. He played a critical role to convince the Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers as their Chief of Staff to accept the decision, although it was a bitter pill to swallow. The video clip in which he explains how he handled the situation can be watched here:
The problem with factional behaviour arises when ANC members deviate from these tried and tested principles of central democracy, and they are not prepared to accept the majority decision and continue to agitate for and promote their minority position although they have lost out to the majority. When they do so within the organisation and continue to agitate and stir division such behaviour can already be very divisive, but it is much worse when they not only do so within the organisation but also take their agitation openly into the public domain outside the constitutional organisational structures.
Such behaviour undermines the organisational defences of an organisation, and makes it vulnerable to attacks from its detractors and enemies from outside. Thus factionalism raises its ugly head when minorities within the ANC do not accept the majority outcomes/decisions of discussions, and deliberately try to undermine those decisions.
When those who behave in this manner go one step further and make common cause with the opposition and enemies of the organisation outside, the factional behaviour reaches treacherous proportions and if not checked (acted against with clear disciplinary procedures) it has the potential to destroy the organisation. This kind of factional behaviour has been becoming increasingly prevalent over the past couple of years in the ANC.
Initially the unpreparedness of minorities whose views did not prevail in the ANC to accept majority positions seemed to remain contained with the ANC, and problematic as it already was, there was still a chance of managing it within our organisational structures. However, in more recent times these rebellious minorities have seen it fit to make common cause with all kinds of forces outside the ANC that are consolidating a broad front of opposition to the ANC.
These included the likes of so-called civil society organisations, the official opposition parties in parliament and most dominantly the big White Monopoly Capital institutions that fund all these various opposition groups. A minority within the ANC increasingly make common cause with these groupings and it has now reached a point where they are apparently more loyal to them than to the organisational structures of the ANC.
In having done so they have developed into a hardened faction inside the ANC that no longer consider themselves to be under the discipline of the ANC. The increasing arrogance and indiscipline of this faction can be traced back over a couple of years where they have constantly pushed the boundaries of their indiscipline, and the unpreparedness or inability of the organisational structures of the ANC to control them and put them on notice for their behaviour, emboldened them.
This finally culminated in their appallingly treacherous behaviour when they, in direct defiance of the instructions of the NEC of the ANC and the ANC Caucus in the National Assembly, voted in favour of the no-confidence motion of the opposition parties against the President.
It may have been possible to have averted this level of defiance if the administrative and disciplinary structures of the ANC had reigned their factional behaviour in earlier. However, having failed to do so, the ANC is now faced with an entirely untenable situation. Any further dereliction of discipline to let such a gross deed of defiance go unpunished, will literally mean that all organisational control will be lost. This will not only entrench the factional behaviour of the current dissidents, but also embolden them to try and recruit more ANC members to their ranks.
No self-respecting organisation – no matter how tolerant it is about debate and a diversity of views in its ranks – can allow such a situation to continue. Like habitual criminals these deviant ANC members have become habitual factionalists, and as with habitual criminals the chances of rehabilitation is very slim. Even more so because their factional behaviour is grounded in how they have advanced materially so well during the past 23 years of having collaborated with the White Monopoly Capitalists, that they no longer want to pursue the Second Phase of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).
The foundation of their factional defiance is that they have a vested interest in maintaining the neo-liberal pro-white monopoly capital status quo, and they are prepared to make common cause with their White Monopoly Capitalist sponsors and handlers in order to divide – and if need be – destroy the ANC in order to achieve their objective. They are the enemy within, and their undisciplined factional behaviour is deliberate and purposeful. This is confirmed by their behaviour since they have committed their defiant act of treason against the ANC last Tuesday. Instead of having shown any contrition some of them seem to have become even bolder in their defiance.
As if Derek Hanekom was not already undisciplined and defiant enough with his constant stream of tweets attacking the President and ANC policy positions, since Tuesday he now seems to dedicate all the free time that he has, since the President thankfully removed him from his cabinet, to attacks on the President and defending those ANC MPs who voted in favour of the no-confidence motion in the President. Ganging up with him are Pravin Gordahn and the ever attention-seeking Makhosi Khoza. They seem to try and outdo one another in their defiance of the ANC.
What makes Hanekom’s behaviour particularly appalling is that he is the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Committee (DC) of the NEC. As long as he remains in that position, disciplinary action against the errand MPs will have to be handled by him as chairperson of the DC. He even tried to argue that those who voted in favour of the no-confidence motion were paragons of morality, and that they acted in line with the Constitution. This is clearly open defiance, and an entirely untenable situation.
There can be no other option left to the NEC, but to relieve him forthwith from his position as chairperson of the DC and to bring disciplinary charges against him for factionalism. He has to be charged for having violated Rule 184.108.40.206 of the ANC Constitution for acting in collaboration with counterrevolutionary forces, as well as in collaboration with “a political organisation or party other than an organisation or party in alliance with the ANC in a manner contrary to the aims, policies and objectives of the ANC”.
All the other MP’s who have openly declared that they have voted in favour of the no-confidence motion should similarly be charged, and with immediate effect be re-called from parliament. Their ANC membership should be suspended pending the outcome of the disciplinary charges brought against them, and such suspension must obviously mean that they will not be allowed to act in any capacity whatsoever on behalf of the ANC. Those other ANC MP’s who voted in favour of the no-confidence motion, but who do not have the courage of their convictions to say so should be exposed, and when they are finally exposed exactly the same disciplinary action should be taken against them.
All the disciplined members of the ANC, who participate in the many and diverse policy debates within the ANC, and accept the outcomes of those debates as our own and defend them whether they reflect our original positions or not, deserve to be defended from these betraying double dealing agents of White Monopoly Capital. The icon of unity in our organisation, Comrade OR Tambo would have turned 100 years and this is how these factional traitors thank him! They have have betrayed Comrade OR and the ANC!
We refute any claims that the ANC is in disarray and in crisis. These factionalists with their deliberate un-disciplined behaviour are actually the crisis themselves. Like a cancerous growth they seem to be hell-bent on destroying the ANC from within. The many loyal, dedicated and disciplined ANC members will not allow them to do so. Enough is enough!
Last Tuesday was a watershed event. Those who have betrayed the ANC last Tuesday – as a bare minimum – have to declare what they have done, they have to apologise unconditionally and accept the organisational discipline that inevitably comes with such deviant factional behaviour. That is the only way they can have any hope to stay members of the ANC. They must understand that if they want to settle for anything less, they will define themselves outside of the ANC.
We have a revolution to fight, the Second Phase of the National Democratic Revolution cannot be postponed any longer. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted. Like with all hard-core factionalists, the day of reckoning has arrived, and now their options have narrow down to only two possibilities: They must either ship in, or ship out!
Carl Niehaus is a former member of the NEC of the ANC and an NEC member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) All Carl’s articles can also be found on his blog, Carl’s Corner: www.carlniehaus.co.za