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Towards 100 years of selfless struggle: Fight and defeat factionalism in the movement by Kgolane Alfred Rudolph Phalana

4 February 2015


In the year 2012, the ANC, veterans of the struggle, the tripartite Alliance and the people of South Africa celebrates a hundred years of the ANC, one of the gigantic liberation movements in the World and on the African continent. We connect the past with the present and the future on the character of the ANC. The ANC itself being a representative of the hopes, wishes and aspirations of the entire people of South Africa. For a period of one hundred years the ANC stood for the best interests of the people of South Africa- selflessness, solidarity, service to the people, humility, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, respect, volunteerism, discipline, solidarity, generosity, collectivism and temperance. As the president’s report to the 51st National Conference stated, “from its foundation, the African National Congress has served as the parliament of the African people and an agent for unity of the African people. To this day, it continues to occupy the honoured position as a representative of the interests and aspirations of the masses of our people, black and white.”

Unity is the bedrock of founding the ANC and that ensured its survival and success for a century. The Polokwane resolution on organisational renewal clarifies this point better that, “over the 95 years of the existence of the ANC, the movement evolved into a force for mass mobilisation, a glue that held our people together and a trusted leader of the broadest range of social forces that share the vision of a non-racial, non-sexiest, united, democratic and prosperous South Africa.” The big task of the day is to ensure that the ANC survives as a monument to the future and past generations. Nothing, in fact, none of the challenges facing the ANC and entire liberation movement is as potentially fatalistic as factionalism.

The ANC as we have it today is bedevilled by factions and rampant factionalism at many levels. The problem got worse since the ANC acquired state power in 1994. By 2001 the NWC issued a document to stem its tide called ‘through the eye of the needle’. The situation did not improve up to Polokwane in 2007. The document has been revived and reinvigorated post-Polokwane to deal with the problem. The 2010 NGC looked at this issue critically and resolved on an action plan to deal with it rigorously.

Factions are not new to the ANC. The ANC was held ransom by factions to the stage of hostage in the 1930’s. The cancer of factionalism has gained ascendance in the movement to such an extent that Conferences are disrupted, membership record “cooked”, slates do rounds, money plays role in elective meetings and there is a general ill discipline together with indecisiveness by leadership collectives to act and do so fairly, strictly and objectively. There have also been allegations of intra-movement political assassinations in Mpumalanga and the Northwest Provinces’ ANC and government circles. The arrest of two suspects with an alleged hit-list and on an alleged hit-mission of senior ANC leaders in the Eastern Cape is another case in point. We have seen factionalists behave like war-lords, rogues and demagogues with elephantine personality cult and extraordinary arrogance. We have really reached the bottom of the pit on this problem of factions in the movement.

Other liberation movements in history that got afflicted by factionalism and other negative tendencies have either been thoroughly weakened or died out. History is awash with those including UNIP of Zambia, PAIGC of Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, the FNLS of Algeria, KANU of Kenya, Congress Party of India, ZANU-PF of Zimbabwe and Kwame Nkrumah’s party in Ghana. Some of these exist only as shells of former self. Some of them exist only in history books! We don’t want the ANC to face a similar fate that only high school students read about what once was. Factionalism must be fought and defeated so that the ANC does not over time wither away and cease to be a significant institution in society.

In this intervention we look at what are factions and what is factionalism; why is factionalism so prevalent in the ANC and almost the entirety of the congress movement; and what needs to be done? This article is also a follow-up to the one on ‘elections, lobbying and leadership transition’ in Umrabulo 32 written by Febe Potgieter-Gqubule; and the NGC discussion document on ‘leadership renewal, discipline and organisational culture.’


What are we talking about when we speak of faction or factionalism? What exactly are they? How did the words and their meaning emerge and evolve in history? Let us look at what they mean. Wikipedia defines a faction as, “The group of individuals that may be referred to as power blocs or voting blocs. The individuals within a faction are united in a common goal or set of common goals. They band together as a way of achieving these goals and advancing their agenda and position within an organisation.” “The Latin word factio denoted originally either of the chariot teams that were organised professionally by private companies in the ancient Rome, each recognisable by characteristic colour. In Byzantine, Constantinople, two such chariot factions, blue and green, repeatedly made or broke the claims of candidates to the imperial throne.” From this definition we can deduce that factions originated as particular groups organised in society to achieve certain goals. They banded together for such purposes.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a faction as, “a small organised dissentient group within a larger one, especially in politics”. And further as, “a state of dissension within an organisation.” (COD.p.419) Another English dictionary defines a faction as, “a group or party that belongs to, and usually dissents from, a larger group.” Therefore a faction is a loose (sometimes very firm) coalition of individuals within one organisation who operate almost as an organisation within the organisation.  It is also referred to as a clique, a bloc, a cabal, a sect, a camp, a platform, or a grouping. They discuss organisational issues outside the organisation before meetings, conferences and workshops are held and take decisions which they push in the formal meetings.

Their modus operandi is usually focussed on deployments into government, list processes, elected positions and tenders. Their modus vivendi includes being rowdy, noisy, disruptive, buying votes and coercion when things don’t go their way. The organisation is then used to achieve their personal goals, ambitions and wishes which are contrary to the aims, mission, objectives, policies, principles, programmes and resolutions of the organisations. The organisation is therefore used as a stepping-stone, tool, political-ladder, enrichment vessel, individuals’ job giver, promotion agency and protection racket by factionalists. The organisation to the is an organ to facilitate for them to get government jobs, positions and tenders by hook or crook, come rain, come sunshine!

Within the ANC most of the factions emerged initially as lobby groups before conferences, continued after those conferences, grew over time and got solidified as sub-organisations with the ANC. Some later even evolved into organisations on their own. They then ultimately break from the ANC. That is how a group of liberal pseudo-moderates broke away to form ADP in 1943; how a group of ultra-left narrow nationalists calling themselves Africanists broke to form the PAC in 1959; how another group of narrow nationalists the right-wing opportunists in the Makiwanes attempted to form the so-called ANC of South Africa in 1969-73; how disgruntled elements of all kind and form broke to establish the UDM in 1997; and, how a very small part of the pre-Polokwane ANC leadership broke to form COPE in 2008.

Modern day factionalists want to take over and retain the ANC in order to get government positions and loot the state using its name and stature. The ANC is therefore seen and used as a ladder to acquire lucrative government positions and to sweep tenders into one’s pockets. Factionalism refers to the prevalence of and the practice of belonging to factions. Factionalism is in itself an act of counter-revolution. It is an act that delays, derails or reverses the construction of a new society. It actively weakens, disorganises and ultimately seeks to destroy the liberations movement. It refers to a situation where almost the entire organisation is held ransom by and fractured into factions. It opens the movement up for all manner of political scavengers, vultures, adventurers, cannibals, rogues and fortune-seekers to capture. Factionalism in all its forms and shades must be fought and defeated by the entirety of ANC membership and leadership at all levels, at all times. It is a cancer that must be uprooted before it takes over its host fully and totally.


Factions and factionalism is not a new phenomenon at least in the ANC. During and almost throughout the 1930’s the ANC was hung by neck by factional groupings. This creature’s roots can be traced back amongst others to 1929 ANC Conference in which President JJ Gumede lost the position of President to Ka-Isaka Seme being pushed essentially by a bloc of the House of Chiefs. This development led to the ANC becoming a moribund body existing only in the form of National Conference and held ransom by divisions. The organisational texture of the ANC improved in the 1940’s with new political geography. The CPSA in the same period was fractured by ultra-left sectarianism which had descended from the international communist movement, not least Stalinism and the CPSU. Within the ANC factions reared their ugly head hugely again in the 1950’s. In one Transvaal provincial conference in which Selope Thema stood against Alpheus Malivha for the presidency of the Province, the factional fight took a very ugly turn to an extend of having tribal under-tones.

Factions have gained a big part in humanity’s search for organisation.  Churches, soccer clubs, political movements, burial societies, social clubs, study circles, choristers, friendship associations, stokvels, business foundations, societal fora, animal welfare bodies, resident committees, political parties, liberation movements, community get-togethers, and trade unions have all at one time or another in their life suffered from the problem of factions and factionalism. Some get so held hostage by it that they are rendered moribund or get divided into more different groups.

We have seen soccer clubs breaking away from each other and existing as different entities going forward. We have seen churches establish their own breakaway section under different bishops. We have also seen political organisations half-away from each other and exist as different entities thenceforth. Such breakaway bodies even use different names, colours, emblems, totems and symbols as: a bird and a celestial insignia; the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks sections; the Trotskyist and Stalinist ideological positioning;   ebuhleni and ekuphakamani names; black and gold colours; a river and a small dish baptism; crossed hands and raised fingers signs; a raised first and open palm salute; a spear-shield and a coloured-circle emblems; a monkey and a porcupine totems; and, a red and black bull references.

In the movement the conditions that gave rise and birth to factions include, but are not limited to incumbency; leniency and indecisiveness; lack of political education; use of money in movement, particularly in run-up to and during elective conferences; and use of slates in election of leadership.



With the ANC, acquisition of state power in 1994 exaggerated the potential for factions to emerge and gain ground within the movement. As an old African saying would profess, ‘Mo go lewago go goka dintšhi’. (Flies go where there is a lot to eat.) Acquisition of state power has attracted to the ANC all manner of political scavengers.

Kgalema Motlanthe in his organisational Report to 52nd National Conference makes this point very clearly, that “since many of the BEC’s are composed largely of members who are unemployed or poor, there is a great potential for manipulation  by careerists and factionalists who pursue personal or sectarian agendas….In this context we should recall Lenin’s warning to the 10thcongress of the CPSU in March 1921: ‘No profound and popular movement in all history has taken place without its share of filth, without adventurers and rogues, without boastful and noisy elements. A ruling party inevitably attracts careerists.’ As profound and popular movement, which is also a ruling party, the African National Congress, will not be immune from these tendencies. The point however, is to ensure, through continuous political education that the noble values and norms of the African National Congress remain the dominant and defining characteristics of our movement. In order to achieve this we must devise mechanisms that combat and defeat the negative tendencies that Lenin identified and warned against.”

Secretary-General Motlanthe puts this point even better in his report to the 2005 NGC. “Moral degeneration, linked to the accumulation and control over resources, is not a consequence we can accept, since it threatens to extinguish the torch of freedom that our people have carried for so long. Because of their hopes and aspirations we are duty bound to act, as the ANC, in the vanguard of the struggle against moral decay and corruption. These problems are not confined to a particular sphere of government or geographical area. Both new and seasoned members are equally prone and vulnerable to these tempting prospects that come with public office. In many of our communities opportunities for employment are very limited, and especially in poorer provinces, government is the only employer of note. In this context the single-minded pursuit of control over public resources and ascendancy to authority to make appointments can lead to particularly acute consequences. Our position as a ruling party makes us particularly susceptible to such influence”. (SG Report to 2005 NGC. P 30)

The ANC NWC in 2001 came up with a document on leadership processes in the movement to stem this tide. The document titled, ‘through the eye of the needle’ is very articulate on this point. “Because leadership in structures of the ANC affords opportunities to assume positions of authority in governments, some individuals then compete for ANC leadership positions in order to get into governments. Many such members view positions in government as a source of material riches for themselves. Thus resources, prestige and authority of government positions become the driving force in competition for leadership positions in the ANC. Government positions go hand-in-hand with the possibility to issue contracts to commercial companies. Some of these companies identify ANC members that they can promote in ANC structures and into government, so that they can get contracts by hook or crook. This is done through media networks to discredit other leaders, or even by buying membership cards to set up branches that are ANC only in name. Positions in government also mean the possibility to appoint individuals in all kind of capacities. As such, some members make promises to friends, that once elected and ensconced in government, they would return the favour. Cliques and factions then emerge within the movement, around personal loyalties driven by corrupt intentions. Members become voting fodder to serve individuals’ self-interest.” (Umrabulo. 11.2001. p.43)

President Jacob Zuma makes this point glaringly succinct in his political overview to the first NEC meeting after Polokwane that, “the ANC is not, has never been and will never be a faction. When elected leaders at the highest level openly engage in factionalist activity, where is the movement that aims to unite the people of South Africa for a complete liberation of the country from all forms of discrimination and national oppression? When money changes hands in the battle for personal power and aggrandisement, where is the movement that is built around a membership that join without motives of material advantage and personal gain? When members of the ANC themselves engage in factionalist activity, media leaks and rumour mongering, how can we expect the membership of our movement to carry out their duties to observe discipline, behave honestly and carry out loyally the decisions of the majority and the decisions of higher bodies?” (President J Zuma political overview at NEC Meeting. March 2008).

Earlier on, in the period before the Polokwane conference, when it was becoming clear that the ANC was being divided between them, the then President Thabo Mbeki and the then Deputy President Jacob Zuma, co-authored a document that they presented to the ANC NEC of the 09 September 2005. In part it read as follows, “we wish to assert that there is one ANC and therefore reject the notion that individuals should be required to choose sides, on the basis of the absolutely false assertion that we lead two contending factions within the movement. We therefore urge in the strongest terms possible, that no one should use the President or the Deputy President to mobilise for or against either, and for or against any other leader of the movement”. (ANC NEC Sept. 2005).

In the subsequent meeting of the NEC of 18 – 20 November 2005 a resolution was taken, “to expose and fight factionalism in our structures, and encourage members to report to the Secretary General’s office any rumour-mongering that seeks to undermine the unity and cohesion of the movement, so that this poison be addressed honestly, and openly within the structures of the ANC”. (NEC Resolution, 18 -20 November 2005.) The 52nd National Conference in its Strategy and Tactics put political incumbency at the core of all the ANC woes. “Political incumbency also presents a myriad of problems in the management of relations within the organisation. Patronage, arrogance of power bureaucratic indifference, corruption and other ills arise, undermining the lofty core values of the organisation: to serve the people.”

In January 2007, then Secretary-General Kgalema Motlanthe elucidated this point bravely in a Financial Mail interview. “This rot is across the board. It’s not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC’s problems is occasioned by this. There are people who want to take it over so they can arrange for opportunities for future accumulation.” (Financial mail. 19 January 2007) The situation articulated by the then Secretary- General went from bad to worse to an extend where, “ in a number of provinces and in some  more than once, the NEC intervened when divisions and factionalism paralysed the organisation  and governance in these provinces, dissolving Provincial Executive Committees, establishing interim leadership to organise Provincial Conferences to elect new leadership”. (Potgieter- Gqubule. 2010)


Attempts in the past to deal with the problem of divisions has been to write a paper articulating the problem. If the problem remains to write in even stronger language. Here is how it happened:

  • In the run-up to the 1997 national conference because of fratricidal fights, particularly for provincial chairpersonship in the conferences that preceded it, the ANC developed a document titled, ‘organisational, democracy and discipline in the movement.’ It stated in part, “events of the past few years have sparked debates about the democratic culture of the ANC. Questions are raised as to whether we have become a movement which is top-down, elitist and lacking a climate for free, open and critical debate. Although this perspective comes mostly from people outside the ANC, increasingly cadres and structures of the movement are expressing similar perspectives. These concerns are often raised where the NEC intervenes in problems of leadership (such as the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Province and ANCWL Conferences), in issues of policy (such as the macro-economic strategy-GEAR), or of tactics such as the approach of the NWC on the various border disputes. Another area of concern in this debate about a democratic culture is the extent to which individuals who disagree with the dominant view in the movement are seen to be marginalised or victimised”
  • In 2001 the problem identified in 1997 had multiplied tenfold. The ANC NWC issued another more strongly worded document title, ‘through the eye of the needle.’ It read in part, “how do we deal with individual ambition, lobbying, promotion of friends and pursuit of selfish interests? How do we ensure that electoral processes do not tear the movement apart? How do we prevent attempts to use the movement as a step-ladder towards self-enrichment? Besides, the door can be left open for corrupt individuals and even enemies of change, to exploit the movement’s internal democracy to sabotage the struggle and create their own ANC.”
  • In the period between 2001 and2007 Polokwane, the NEC issued a number of memoranda in this regard including its own resolutions. Secretary-General reported to NGC and conferences highlighting the problem.
  • At the historic Polokwane conference the problem had accumulated over the years thence it was elevated by the delegates. In its resolution it said, “our accumulated weaknesses include inability to effectively deal with new tendencies arising from being a ruling party, such as social distance, patronage, careerism, corruption and abuse of power; ineffective management of the interface between the movement and the state; a flawed approach to membership recruitment; a decline in ideological depth amongst cadres; and a lack of institutional resources to give practical effect to the movement’s leadership role.”
  • Post-Polokwane the NEC proceeded to do a review of the ‘through the eye of the needle,’ as reflected in the document titled, ‘elections, lobbying and leadership transition in the ANC,’ in Umrabulo 32, 2010.
  • The 2010 NGC also dealt with this matter adequately in its discussion document titled, ‘leadership renewal, discipline and organisational culture.’ What the movement is lacking is stern, swift and exemplary action against factionalists in its ranks.


Part of the explanation for the germination and cultivation of factionalism in the ANC and the entire movement is the leniency in dealing with people who are found to be involved in fostering divisions and factions. The level of leniency and inaction in dealing with such elements has added impetus to this negative development in the movement. People act divisively and threaten the unity of the movement practically, but ultimately nothing happens to them. Part of the reason for this leniency or indecisiveness is the fact that most leadership structures were elected on lobby lists and won’t act on people who helped them get the positions they occupy. And because if you have not acted on one you cannot act on the other -  the elected leadership structures are paralysed to decisively root-out divisions and factionalism, so the cancer is allowed to fester and grow to an extent where it threatens the very life of its host, the ANC.

As the November 2009 Resolution of the NEC stated, “The ANC constitutional structures should be resolute and decisive in stamping out ill discipline and should do so without fear or favour, as such behaviour damages the image of the ANC”. The tendency in the movement to be very strong on words but weak on action is also a problem in this regard. The 2012 January 08 statement is fairly strong in language. It stated, “the ANC will continue to take firm action against ill-discipline, corruption, incompetence and abuse of power in our ranks. In particular, we will be consistent and firm in acting against abuse of leadership positions for personal gain and factionalism.”


The level of political understanding of the membership and depth of political maturity by leadership is one of the factors that allow factionalism to emerge, grow, develop and mature in the movement. Some members get misled because of their inadequate political clarity on how the affairs of the movement are run. Some members get misled and used because of their own level of political consciousness. Political consciousness is the functions of political development and maturity. Political consciousness is cultivated and nurtured, otherwise it leaves without any fanfare.

Therefore political education of the membership and leadership both in the movement and those deployed to hold positions of responsibility in the state is critical. But political education is not a panacea. It will not like the waving of a magic wand solve immediately and totally all the problems the movement face around divisions and factionalism.

Nevertheless it would be good that people do wrong things knowing very well what the correct things are. If political education is intensified it would pull the carpet below the legs of the factionalist and weaken their grip on the movement. Factions will be weaker without disinformation, half-truths and false-hoods.


In the recent period there has also been the emergence of a new and particularly very dangerous phenomenon of the use of money in ANC politics. This phenomenon is particularly dangerous because it puts the movement on a dangerous slope to degeneration. Money is a dangerous devil that has destroyed many liberation movements. It must not destroy the ANC. Stern action must be taken against those found using money in run-up to and even during elective and list conferences in the entire movement. The ANC 2010 Mid-term Review states categorically, that “the influence of money in our processes is having the biggest potential to change the character of the movement from being people centred and people driven in all the processes, to one where power is wielded by a narrow circle of those who own and/or control resources. This is at the centre of the resurgence of factionalism in the movement where contestation is neither political nor ideological but driven by narrow interests.”

The 2010 NGC is very emphatic on this matter. Its discussion document –‘Leadership renewal, discipline and organisational culture,’ states categorically, that, “The influence and use of money as part of lobbying for organisational positions: This ranges from the availability of seemingly vast resources to organise lobby group meetings, travel, communications (starter-packs) to allegations of outright bribing and paying of individuals in regions and branches to vote for particular candidates, forward particular factional positions and/or to disrupt meetings.” Money has gained so much pre-eminence in the affairs of the movement that if it is not defeated it would take the movement down.

The entirety of the money being used to divide, weaken and destroy the ANC is dirty money. It is money that has been siphoned off from   the state tendering system by corruption, bribery, backhanders and paybacks of all kind. Until we are able to close the tap of dirty money flowing from the state, we will never ever effectively fight and defeat factionalism in the movement as a whole. This is the money used to buy votes in run-up to and during conferences.


The negative phenomenon of the use of solid factional lists in the run-up to elective conferences is one of the most dangerous practices that has emerged and evolved in the recent period. To defeat factionalism, the slates must be defeated fully and totally. The slates which usually have list of names of leadership totally exclusive of each other is one fuel that exaggerate the fire of divisions and factionalism in the movement. This tendency is anti-progress and anti-ANC that capable comrades do not get elected merely because they featured in a different lobby list and very incapable people get put in positions to which they are least prepared to occupy by their level of political education, skills, capacity, experience and maturity. To defeat factionalism in the movement this utterly negative and dangerous phenomenon must be nipped in the bud.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe raised the matter sharply in his Walter Sisulu Memorial Lecture to SASCO, April, 2011. “We have today a few challenges of our own, both within and outside our organisation, which would need the vision, skills and principled nature of comrade Sisulu to address. In other words, we need the historical lessons emanating from the struggles comrade Sisulu and his generation waged in order that we should keep in line with the innate traditions of the ANC. One such challenge is the practice of slates, which is particularly pronounced during elective conferences of the ANC. Slates are a form of open factionalism, whereby comrades line up behind a particular candidate. What this means is that the organisation is split in two, with each side owing allegiance to itself in such a way that it elevates its interests above those of the organisation, at least at that time. What is worse about this particular practice is that slates have the tendency to take on a life of their own. Long after the elective conference is gone comrades still see themselves through the prism of slates, and act accordingly. While the winning faction indulges in triumphalist euphoria, the losing side, smarting, begins to prepare itself for the next elective conference, and acts in a manner consistent with this intention. No matter how injurious a deed is to the integrity of the organisation, it will still come to pass for as long as the one side thinks it gives it an edge over the other. This becomes a vicious cycle, infesting all the nooks and crannies of the ANC in a way that is harmful to the long term interests of our movement. Ultimately the practice of slates weakens the ANC by sawing deep divisions that never heal.”

Slates defocus the conferences from the important debates about policy and programme of the movement. They also undermine the necessary debate about the skills and capabilities of those on the lists as the nominees are not discussed as individuals but as a bloc. The ANC then behaves like a hostage of factions, hobbles from one conference to another without implementation of conference resolutions and programme of action. In most of the recent provincial, regional and league conferences we have witnessed an anti-ANC phenomenon of two distinct groups of delegates singing songs against each other and taunting each other about the different leaders appearing in slates. In instances even singing derogatory songs and shouting insults about other leaders on opposite slates.

In this situation what needs to be done to turn the tide against factionalism in the movement? What practical steps needs to be taken in this regard?



The movement needs to take some swift and immediate action to turn the tide and finally defeat and bury the rampant factionalism in its ranks. Otherwise if it is not defeated, destroyed and buried, it threatens to destroy and burry this glorious movement of the people of South Africa, the ANC. Those actions include, but are not limited to: strengthening discipline in the movement; ensuring decisiveness of leadership; provision of all-round exemplary leadership; redeployment of cadres to achieve better performance; intensify political education; disallow the production, promotion and circulation of slates in run up to elective conferences; allow for criticism and self-criticism to flourish in structures of the movement and to merge deployment of cadres with capacity to do the job.


Part of the explanation for the germination and maturation of factions in the movement is that despite their prevalence, not a single person has been found guilty of organised factional activity. The level of discipline has also gone down generally in the movement as could be seen from many of the recent conferences. Disciplinary action need to be strengthened and active steps taken against those found committing such acts. Disciplinary measures must be taken swiftly and decisively against anyone regardless of their position and leadership connections. As the ANC itself said at Mafikeng conference, that, “discipline is a weapon of struggle and transformation. It does not exist for its own sake, but to safeguard the unity of the movement, ensure that it is able to fulfil its historic mission and achieve its objectives. Discipline is a political matter.” (ANC. 50th conference. Discussion document: organisational democracy and discipline in the movement.)

The 2010 NGC discussion document on ‘Leadership renewal, discipline and organisational culture,’ elaborates on this matter even further. “Draw clear lines between right and wrong: The factionalism that is associated with a shadow organisational culture breeds intolerance, removing the vibrancy of debate and the mutual development of members that are the life-blood of the organisation. Disruptive conduct in meetings and conferences, including shouting down those who hold contrary views and even indecent and violent conduct, can become the order of the day. If this is allowed to continue, many members will recoil from taking part in ANC meetings. Some may simply let their membership lapse, and all kinds of rogues may take the movement over – with dire consequences for the ANC and indeed the revolution as such.”

Secretary General Gwede Mantashe committed the ANC to act swiftly and firmly against any divisive elements and factionalists. He stated, “The ANC will continue to take firm action against ill discipline, corruption, incompetence and abuse of power in our ranks. In particular, we will be consistent and firm in acting against abuse of leadership positions for personal gain and factionalism. We will also manage the deployment and redeployment of cadres in a more objective and transparent fashion through our internal monitoring and evaluation processes. Together with our Alliance partners, and broader mass democratic movement, we will individually and collectively confront the imperatives of discipline.” (Secretary General’s Report to NGC 2010. P 59)

Ill-discipline is the single factor that must be fought and defeated to uproot rampant factionalism in the movement. Leadership collectives at all levels must be decisive in this regard. This leads us to the next point.



ANC leadership collectives at every must be politically decisive in dealing with divisive comrades, general factionalism, deployment of cadres and disciplining of misbehaving elements. Until and unless the leadership at all levels (more particularly in the higher structures such as NEC, PEC and REC) are seen to act decisively on rotten apples the problem of factionalism would continue to fester and gain momentum in the movement. The issue of the indecisiveness of leadership structures comes to the fore sharply in this period because, “since these activities also involve leadership level, it means that ANC leadership collectives are often paralysed by inaction, because of fears to take steps against ‘our side’ or for being accused of purging the ‘other side.’ In the process, discipline is not maintained and impunity is the order of the day.” (NGC 2010 discussion document)

This matter about leadership lack of decisive action against rogue, divisive, disruptive and factionalist elements in the ranks of the movement was also sharply raised by the Veterans League in its intervention at the 2010 NGC. It stated, “The leadership must lead by example, and at the first sign of any deviation from policy, or anything that could bring the ANC into disrepute, they must act decisively in defence of the movement. Leaders must do so without fear or favour. They have been elected for that”. (NGC 2010 Report. P 65)

That sore point of leadership indecisiveness was also taken forward by delegates to the 2010 NGC in their declaration. “Council had extensive discussions on the urgent steps that need to be taken to deal decisively with negative tendencies that are threatening to erode the character, culture and core values of the ANC as a loyal servant of our people and agent for progressive change in South Africa. Delegates stressed that unity remained the bedrock upon which the long-term survival and success of our movement depends. Council was frank in acknowledging the tendencies of iii-discipline and misconduct had set in within various structures of the movement. This 3rd NGC, the delegates resolved, should mark a decisive turning point in addressing all the negative tendencies that eroded and pose the danger of eroding the organisational integrity and the very character of the ANC. In this regard delegates state with equivocation that there should be no confusing signals and messages from the leadership on matters of discipline.” (NGC 2010. Report. P.68) The issue of indecisiveness of leadership collectives at all levels affects the performance of all-round exemplary leadership.


Leadership collectives at all level must lead the entire membership by example of dedication, selflessness and maturity. Part of the prevalence of the problem of factionalism in the movement is the role of leadership in fostering divisions and not playing exemplary role to membership. Leadership at all levels and in all organs of the movement must not lead membership to temptations. Particularly the NEC, PEC’s and REC’s must strive to lead a united ANC at all times and stern action must be taken against those found involved in fostering divisions and factionalism in the movement. Leaders must at all times act in the best interest of the ANC.

The ‘through the eye of the needle’ document emphasises this matter that, “a leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct- as defined by our revolutionary morality. Through force of example, he should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike. Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the NDR includes not only being free of corrupt practices; it also means actively fighting against corruption.”


Leadership collectives must at all times check the performance of deployed cadres. In instances where there is underperformance, ill discipline, laziness or corruption, they must act swiftly and decisively to redeploy those cadres in the interest of better and more enhanced performance. The service that the ANC renders to the people of South Africa both as a movement and in the government it leads must always be enhanced. The movement need to revive in practice the principle of recallability, in actions not words. Deployment should also go hand in hand with the level of political understanding, maturity and commitment of those cadres.


Political education must be intensified at all levels of the movement including in all its leagues and Alliance formations. This is not the sole and final solution, but would go a long way in helping to stem the tide of divisions and factionalism in the movement. It must be made mandatory for all deployees and people occupying leadership positions to attend political classes annually. Political education structures must be strengthened at all levels so that they can effectively, efficiently and qualitatively deliver cadreship development and political education to ANC members, leaders and structures at all levels, at all times.

Leadership from senior leadership structures must also be deployed to run political classes and sessions for the lower structures. However it must be restated that the role of political education in fostering the spirit of unity and destroying factionalism must not be overemphasised or exaggerated. Political education is not a panacea that heals all diseases and illnesses at once, but it remains the most potent weapon against factionalists in the movement. Political education will also help to turn the tide against that most dangerous and destructive tendency that has emerged in the recent period, the spectre of slates.


The constitution and structures of the movement must disallow the use of solid factional lists in run-up to and during elective conferences. Anyone found involved in developing, circulating, distributing and publishing such divisive lists must face the full might of the ANC and be expelled with immediate effect from the movement. The same fate should accompany those who use money and media to influence the factional outcome of any elective meeting in the movement. The wearing of t-shirts with such names and the printing of pamphlets and posters for same should be disallowed and the ultimate punishment of expulsion should face such individuals and/or groupings. The movement should also look at the possibility of disallowing public pronouncements by anyone on leadership preferences before conferences.

The 2010 NGC spoke loudly and clearly on the issue of slates in the movement. “Winner takes all or clean slate phenomena fuelling and breeding factionalism: more and more our approach to leadership contests at conferences is based on two lobbying lists, with hardly a name between them in common. The outcomes of elections also often reflect slates, winner taking all, those who lost leaving conferences once results are announced and before concluding the business of conference.” (NGC 2010. Discussion Document.)

The publication of slates goes hand in hand with the circulation of money in the movement in run-up to elective conferences. If there is anything that the ANC must fight and defeat is those twin evils responsible for a variety of other ills in the movement such as ill discipline, patronage, factionalism, careerism and opportunism. To defeat slates we must allow the culture of constructive criticism to flourish and take root in the movement. That takes us to the next point.


In its actions and inactions the movement must allow the cultivation of the spirit of constructive and self-critical debate. Internal criticism and corrective action is what has ensured the ANC survival up to a hundred years. The ANC on the occasion of its 50th National Conference in Mafikeng, 1997, dealt with this matter quite adequately. In a discussion document titled, ‘Organisational democracy and discipline in the Movement,’ it stated, that, “we do not believe that any of our members are beyond criticism. This means that we must have regular evaluations, questions must be asked and constructive criticism encouraged. We must also have a cadreship and leadership who are humble and prepared to listen to constructive criticism. Part of being a cadre also means an ongoing process of self-improvement. Criticism should be aimed at building an individual and at improving our strategies, tactics and policies as a movement”.

The 2001 ‘ Through the eye of the needle’ document reiterates this point, that, “It is to be expected that in leading social activity, leaders and members will from time to time make mistakes. The most important thing is that these individuals and collectives should have the capacity and humility to honestly review their work critically, and correct the weaknesses.” Incumbency has also affected the ability of the movement’s cadres to speak openly and honestly about each other’s performance. This because of “the danger arising out of the fact that executive positions in government are by appointment. This can have the effect of stifling frank, honest and self-critical debate within the ranks of the movement. This is because some individuals may convince themselves that, by pretending to be what they are not, and being seen to agree with those in authority all the time, they would then be rewarded with appointment into senior government positions.”

Criticism and self-criticism is one of those key pillars of ANC’s internal democracy which must be hoisted higher up to fight and defeat the spectre of divisions and factionalism in the movement. The attitude towards criticism and ability to take is serious and respond adequately to it is the function of the level of political consciousness and maturity of the members and leaders. Internal constructive criticism helps to open the eyes and ears of the movement to potential weaknesses that must be addressed in the interest of the ANC, the people of South Africa and future generations.


Leadership collectives at all levels must ensure that capable cadres are deployed to positions where they would be able to perform well. One of the negative consequences of factionalism is that people get put in positions which they are inadequately prepared to occupy and end up disappointing in the performance of that office. Factionalism gains ground because individuals want to win positions in ANC structures in order to acquire positions in government for their own end.

Secretary General Matanshe articulates this point very well in his organisational Report to the 2010 NGC. “Mistakes committed by our structures in deploying cadres who do not even meet the basic requirements for the post they are deployed in have opened the movement to unfair criticism. We have a duty to ensure that when a cadre is deployed, he/she meets the requirements of the post concerned by balancing political integrity and professional competence.” And this is the nub of the matter.


In his focus on unity, cohesion and discipline in the state of organisation report to the 2010 NGC, ANC Secretary General Gwede Matanshe says, “The NEC has reaffirmed the need to develop guidelines for lobbying. This was in response to the emerging trend of making lobbying for positions the mainstay of our organisational work. An emerging perception is that daggers are always drawn and there is no political life other than vying for positions in the ANC. This reduces the important political activity of electing leadership into permanent conspiracy and plotting, without giving it the necessary political and programme and coupled with the necessary combination of skills needed to implement it, it is likely to be informed by group interests. The way we handle each other publicly promotes this negative images, and the ANC can ill afford to be in a state of lobbying from one conference to the next. The organisation pays heavily whenever there are public fights and bleeds profusely out of self-inflicted wounds.”

The demon of factionalism must be fought and defeated in the ANC and the entire liberation movement in the interest of and in the name of all past and future generations. It would be in their honour and as a tribute to them that this succeeds. This is also because, “the ANC came into existence before many of us. It will outlive all of us. Our historic task is to carry this precious torch through the brief time we are given on earth, and pass it on undiminished to the generation that will follow. That torch whose flames keep aloft the hopes of our people, burns on the fuel of our own selfless contributions, which rests upon our acceptance of the values and conduct of our fore-bears: courage, generosity, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility, truthfulness, integrity and temperance. These are the values that must reside in the membership of the ANC, which is the foundation upon which the life of our movement rests.” (ANC. NGC.2005)

If the ANC does not act timely, decisively and swiftly against factionalism, it may reach a stage of no return whereby it is irreparable and irretrievable. The entirety of ANC and Alliance leadership and membership must join and lead the fight against factionalism. Factionalism must ultimately be defeated. The ANC must survive and succeed in the interest of the people of South Africa and future generations. The slogan, ‘ANC LIVES – ANC LEADS’ must ring truer as society progresses forward to the next century!



(i)           ANC. (1997) 50th National Conference Discussion Document – Organisational democracy and discipline in the movement.

(ii)          ANC. (2002) NWC Discussion document. Through the Eye of the needle! Choosing best cadres to lead transformation.

(iii)        ANC. (2005) NEC September 2005. Joint presentation by President and Deputy President to NEC.

(iv)         ANC. (2005). NEC Resolution 18 -20 November 2005.

(v)          ANC.)2005) NGC. Secretary General’s Organisational Report to NGC. Pretoria.

(vi)         ANC. (2007) 52nd National Conference. Secretary General’s Organisational Report. Polokwane.

(vii)       ANC. (2007) 52nd National Conference Strategy and tactics. As amended and adopted at Polokwane.

(viii)     ANC (2008) NEC meeting March 2008. President’s political overview to NEC.

(ix)        ANC (2008) Umrabulo. No.33. 2008 Joel Netshitenzhe – ‘of cats, factions and revolution’.

(x)          ANC (2010) Third NGC. Discussion documents. ‘Leadership renewal, discipline and organisation culture’ p.77.

(xi)        ANC. (2010) Third NGC. Secretary General’s organisational Report. P9, 40.59 and 65.

(xii)       Financial Mail. 19 January 2007.

(xiii)     Motlanthe. K. (2011) Address at SASCO Walter Sisulu Memorial Lecture, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha, April, 6 2011.

(xiv)      Potgieter – Gqubule. F. (2010). Elections, Lobbying and Leadership transition. Umrabulo. 32 p.39-53.

(xv)       The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Valredon Press. Oxford. 1992. P.419.

(xvi)      WWW.Wikipedia.

BY: KGOLANE ALFRED RUDOLPH PHALA. Member of the PECs of ANC and SACP in Limpopo. Serves as Speaker of the Limpopo Provincial Legislature.