BRING back the “clever blacks”, says former African National Congress (ANC) treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, referring to the upwardly mobile members of society and the black intelligentsia who have turned their backs on a party in serious need of new ideas.
The ANC recognised during its mid-term policy review meeting at the weekend that it has been gradually losing support in urban centres. There are fears this trend could continue into next year’s local government polls.
Mr Phosa, who is also a businessman, says the ANC is “inward-looking” and this has repelled key sectors of society, including the black middle class and business. The general theme of the national general council, including President Jacob Zuma’s opening address, has been the ANC’s internal problems instead of issues of broader appeal, he says.
As a result of such “navel-gazing” the meeting failed to answer some of the policy-related questions of the business world and other sectors of society.
The ANC has not dealt adequately with the regular policy flip-flops in the government as ministers change their minds on key policy matters depending on the “direction of the wind”.
The debate on the new visa regulations that have been identified as among the factors throttling the tourism sector is an example.
“These visa regulations are draconian. It’s like cutting your nose to spite your face. We should suspend them. There’s honour in that.”
The ANC needs to urgently reach out to all sectors if it wants to regain its credibility, which it has lost over the years. “We need to speak beyond our kraal,” he says.
Joel Netshitenzhe, one of the prominent thinkers in the ANC, says the party will be in further trouble if it doesn’t reach out to black professionals. He goes further to state that the ANC was itself formed more than 100 years ago by individuals who came from the middle class. People in this segment were considered generators of ideas that help inform society’s thinking, Mr Netshitenzhe says.
One of the solutions would be for the ANC to improve the ways it attracts potential members. Instead of handling policy discussion through internal channels only, “policy workshops” should be held, and in environments different to the branch setup, so that the process could be more appealing to people who are turned off by the ANC’s usual processes.
“If you want to develop policy on infrastructure, should you not be getting engineers who are members of the ANC to participate in a workshop on how you can improve policies?” he asks.
ANC-aligned members of think tanks should also be encouraged to play a bigger role, he says.
Mr Netshitenzhe says because the concentration of the middle class is highest in Gauteng, the absence of a proper strategy to attract people in this section of society means the ANC is “going to suffer badly” in that province.
It is vulnerable in most of the major centres ahead of next year’s polls, with the Democratic Alliance breathing down its neck in Nelson Mandela Bay and to a lesser extent in Tshwane. The ANC lost control of Cape Town in 2006 and further losses of support in the major centres would be a blow.
According to Mr Phosa, the ANC could learn from former president Nelson Mandela’s life with regard to reaching out.
An example was when he kissed Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of the man known as the architect of apartheid, the assassinated prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd.
“Mandela went and kissed Verwoerd’s (widow),” he said. “While people thought that was outrageous, Mandela never thought apartheid would remain on his lips because of that kiss.”