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Extract: Ideological gridlock has handicapped the ANC

2019-05-03 14:11

In Chapter 4 of Fit for Purpose by Thabang Motsohi, he tackles the current climate of the ANC leadership and policies in South Africa, and how the challenges that the ruling party faces have shifted the balance of the party.

In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress
Booker T. Washington

Chapter 4

Ideological gridlock has handicapped the ANC

The nature of why and how some organisations succeed while others fail provides instructive lessons about the performance and existential challenges facing the ANC in the 21st century. The challenge for leaders is to ensure that their organisations stay resonant with the dynamic contexts in which they operate otherwise they will face a definite existential threat. This challenge is always going to expose the ever present issue of whether an organisation has been structured in such a manner that it is “Fit for Purpose” at a particular time and space. In other words, is the business model or “Fit for Purpose” structure of the organisation sufficiently adjusted and appropriately repositioned to ensure sustainability and success as the factors in the operating context change?

All organisations at their inception begin with a specific purpose to deliver a particular value that the founders have determined the customers need and are prepared to sacrifice their money and time to acquire it. However, as the organisation grows and expands, its original purpose will undoubtedly require adjustment or re-definition to respond to new and evolving needs and demands from customers, as well as new opportunities and operating circumstances. The continually changing customer needs and new opportunities for growth are the key drivers for change as will be seen in the case studies presented in Chapters 6 and 7. These new circumstances may require expansion into new and separate operating entities with revised statements of purpose and new strategies and structures. As a result, the life cycle of any organisation goes through a series of strategic adjustments and repositioning changes to respond successfully to dynamic changes in their operating contexts.

Fit for Purpose by Thabang Motsohi is published by WoodRock Publishers, and is available for R279.

A crucial question for the ANC is whether, on the eve of the democratic transition, the leadership became sensitive to the need to review the structure and rationale behind the relationship with its partners in the anti-apartheid alliance in order to reorganise and reposition itself for the new and diverse set of challenges that confronted it as a party in power in a competitive policy context? During the period preceding 1994, its compelling challenge and purpose were to defeat the apartheid regime. The new and compelling challenge at the beginning of the democratic transition was to organise itself optimally to deal with the profound and complex socioeconomic challenges inherited from the apartheid regime as a party in government.

The question of structure is very crucial in determining whether an organisation will have the capability and capacity to execute on its strategy, purpose or mandate. A critical success factor for smooth strategy execution is alignment at all levels in the organisation as emphasised by Joel Kurtzman in his book Common Purpose; How Great Leaders Get Organisations to Achieve the Extraordinary, the ideological and policy gridlock and inertia that have prevailed in the ANC-led alliance structure have proven to be a hindrance and a constraint to its mandate and ability to conceive and implement pragmatic policies that respond to the expressed needs of the country.

It has underpinned its inability to achieve policy coherence and consistency across many fronts, especially in the past decade since 2008, and this weakness has rendered it effectively dysfunctional.

Political stability and policy certainty are essential ingredients for a positive investment and business climate. South Africa is currently trapped in a low growth trajectory with an economy downgraded to junk status primarily because of this weakness.

The framework for Fit for Purpose is a very simple tool to use to evaluate the prospects of any organisation, large or small and under any operating conditions. It provides a backdrop from which to ask the right questions and trigger strategic conversations that may be very crucial for the effectiveness of an organisation and the strategy behind its prospects. The degeneration in the ability of the ANC to govern effectively and implement its policies is exposed to the series of opinion pieces that follow.

This degeneration was predictable and stemmed from the fatal decision to support and elect a morally and ethically flawed leader in the name of Jacob Zuma as its president and the president of the country in 2009. As may be seen from these opinion pieces, I have reflected on a number of critical strategical issues related to policy choices and implementation since 2011.

The impact of this organisational degeneration on the electoral fortunes of the ANC was also easily predictable as revealed in these articles. Political parties win the support of the voters on the basis of the relevance and attractiveness of their policies and the history of effective implementation of these policies, and they also win support based on the personal leadership qualities of the party leaders.

In Ready to Govern: ANC Policy Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa, the following strategic vision is stated:

The basic objectives of ANC policy are fourfold:

• To strive for the achievement of the right of all South Africans, as a whole, to political and economic self-determination in a united South Africa;

• To overcome the legacy of inequality and injustice created by colonialism and apartheid, in a swift, progressive and principled way;

• To develop a sustainable economy and state infrastructure that will progressively improve the quality of life of all South Africans; and,

• To encourage the flourishing of the feeling that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, to promote a common loyalty to and pride in the country and to create a universal sense of freedom and security within its borders.’’


Given this clear strategic vision the next legitimate question is how do you structure the organisation to efficiently and effectively execute the strategic vision? In the light of the complex and profound socioeconomic challenges inherited from the apartheid government, and the high expectations from the majority that were excluded on the basis of race, the issue of a structure was always going to be central to the ability of the ANC to deliver on this strategic vision.

The Tripartite Alliance is a construct retained out of the broad anti-apartheid resistance formations prior to 1994. Its overriding and compelling purpose then was to dismantle the apartheid system and replace it with a democratic dispensation underpinned by the universal human right underpinned by the rule of law and the Constitution.

The critical question beyond 1994 is whether it was prudent for the ANC to lock itself into such an arrangement when it was now confronting a different set of conflicting socioeconomic challenges that required a broad set of pragmatic policy responses to mitigate them.

The ANC-led tripartite alliance structure was a de facto coalition government.

Coalition governments are organised around very well defined structures including delineated roles and responsibilities for each member of the coalition. The dominant party in such coalitions usually retains control over key sectors like economic cluster including finance, foreign affairs, defence and education.

The critical question beyond 1994 is whether it was prudent for the ANC to lock itself into such an arrangement when it was now confronting a different set of conflicting socioeconomic challenges that required a broad set of pragmatic policy responses to mitigate them.

The weakness in the ANC-led structure is that such clear separation of roles and responsibilities was not done and specified in a written agreement. Under such circumstances, chaos was bound to follow especially in the context that all these parties had no experience in government. By 2006, Thabo Mbeki had come to understand this reality and was clearly frustrated by the constant and crippling contestation that frustrated progress in government and policy formulation.

It is, in fact, his determination to redefine the conventional practice is that governing coalitions negotiate and agree on structural arrangements that specify roles and areas of responsibility and mandate in specific policy areas. The leading partner would always cherry pick areas like the economic cluster (including fiscal policy), defence and security, foreign policy and home affairs and the balance allocated to the other partners on the basis of their strengths. These types of arrangements do not prevent robust debates across all policy fronts, but at the end of the day, the final responsibility regarding political leadership follows the agreed split.

However, what we have seen is that the National Development Plan 2012 has been the subject of vocal and public challenge by Cosatu on the basis that it entrenches neo-liberal principles that, in their view, are not aligned to the perceived dominant ideological paradigm within the alliance.

As a result, its implementation has been patchy, to say the least, and the message behind it as communicated by the different ministers on various public platforms has become equally very confused. Its initially intended value as an instrument of motivation and grand strategic vision has also been diluted and mangled.

The first signs of constraining ideological conflict were manifested when designing policies to deal with the high levels of budget deficit and debt inherited from the apartheid state. This conflict reached its climax with the introduction of the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) 1996 that Cosatu and SACP labelled as neo-liberal constructs of the World Bank and the IMF.

A signal example of this faultline in the tripartite alliance structure is the frequent and entirely legitimate complaint by both Cosatu and the SACP of being excluded from key decisions like selection and appointment of ministers. This is normally a critical output of a well-structured alliance with an effective governance framework. The ANC has been excluding its partners from this critical decision-making process. The accusations that the ANC only needs its partners as vote-catchers are indeed legitimate.

The challenge of government is dominated by bringing social services conveniently to its citizens and investing appropriately to create economic conditions that attract business and foreign direct investment as well as creating safe environments in which to live and prosper.

The first signs of constraining ideological conflict were manifested when designing policies to deal with the high levels of budget deficit and debt inherited from the apartheid state. This conflict reached its climax with the introduction of the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) 1996 that Cosatu and SACP labelled as neo-liberal constructs of the World Bank and the IMF.

This faultline and contestation for policy preferences would grow and hinder and constrain the ANC-led government since 1994 from pursuing a coherent and stable development policy environment. It finally led to the failure by the ANC to secure unity within the alliance behind the NDP 2030 that has been touted as the transformation framework for the government. Cosatu and the SACP have consistently criticised the NDP and delayed its adoption as the primary development instrument for the government.

Using the Fit for Purpose framework, there is a consensus that the commanding purpose for the democratic state was to progressively establish a capable state machinery with a structure and capacity to provide the necessary services. This also means that the state-owned enterprises, which form the transformation pillars of the state needed to be transformed and strengthened with an appropriate professional capability and repositioned into their new roles in a democratic dispensation.

The combination of visionary leadership at the level of the political economy, coupled with an ANC-led government structured appropriately to provide a responsive set of development policies under a common purpose and shared strategic vision was what was required to deal with the complex and profound challenges that confronted the new democratic government.

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June 23 2019