Bishops cautiously congratulate new ANC leadership


Two South African Bishops have told Spotlight Africa that while they congratulate the new leadership of the ANC they want to see evidence that the leadership is serious about moral and ethical governance. They also react to the ANC’s call for radical economic transformation and land expropriation without compensation.

The closing of the African National Congress (ANC) Electoral Conference in the early hours of Thursday morning did not really bring a stormy week in South African politics to an end. The newly elected leader of the party, Cyril Ramaphosa, could end up as more of a ceremonial president rather than one who has any real power. The deep divisions in the ANC have resulted in a leadership within which there are obviously two centres of power.

The so-called ‘top six’ – announced on Tuesday evening – revealed the fault lines within the ANC. Many commentators and analysts said that Ramaphosa has been given a near impossible task. His deputy, David Mabuza, the new secretary general, Ace Magashule, and the deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, are all implicated (to varying degrees) in the burning issues the new leadership faces: corruption, maladministration and state capture. All three are also firmly in the opposing ‘Zuma camp’.

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, said: “In terms of ethical government the results of the election of the ‘top 6’ – the executive, so to speak – is disappointing. I would have hoped for a resounding vote to root out corruption and so-called ‘state capture’. What has happened seems to be a compromise and, while some compromise may be necessary in such situations, the consequences are just too great in this instance.”

The Archbishop said that the results of the conference have a decisive effect on South Africa and its citizens. “For the Church, what is of greatest concern is the need for moral and ethical governance, and the effects that the conference decisions will have on the poor and vulnerable.”

Bishop Abel Gabuza, chair of the Justice and Peace Department of the Bishops’ Conference said that “the conference has taken place not without drama. We give thanks to God that there were changes made in the leadership structure of the ANC. As people of hope, we can only wish and pray that the sin of greed and corruption will be faced head on by the new leadership.” He said that it was imperative that we “remind those who are our leaders that politics should not be a dirty game. It is a noble mission to promote the common good of all.”

In a response to the election of the top six from the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office on Wednesday, researcher Advocate Mike Pothier, said that “… it is Mr Ramaphosa, rather than Mr Zuma, who risks being a lame duck leader.” He went on to say that much would now depend on the people elected onto the National Executive Committee (NEC) – the ANC’s highest decision-making structure between its national conferences held every five years.

The NEC was announced at 3am on Thursday morning. It is quite clear that Ramaphosa failed to secure a majority in the NEC. This will severely limit Ramaphosa’s ability to forge ahead with policy changes and assert a new kind of leadership culture from within the organisation. It will also constrain his ability to set the government’s agenda.

The archbishop said that “there is real danger that those who seek to root out corruption will be undermined in their efforts. Similarly, whether having ‘two centres of power’ can be managed, without paralysing a reform process, remains to be seen. Or will the looting continue? It is imperative that the new president of the ANC begins an anti-corruption programme immediately.”

The big question (and hope) of many South Africans was that the new leadership would swiftly remove Jacob Zuma from the country’s presidency and begin the mammoth task of dealing with the corruption that is eating away at the foundations of  a democratic South Africa. Given the composition of the leadership, this is probably not likely to happen.

“The compromise may be an attempt to unite factions within the ANC so that there would be no ‘loser’. What has happened may well result in deepening the divisions and exacerbating factionalism,” Brislin warned.

Gabuza said that the country has had good leaders. “Our country has produced wonderful men and women who were able to sacrifice so much and laid the foundations for ‘a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights’ (Preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa).” He went on to say that their testimony and actions gave South Africans the means to confront despair. “Somehow things took a different route in the last few years. Greed, patronage and corruption dominate in our country. A spirit of hopelessness replaced the enthusiasm and creativity,” he said.

In his first speech as party president Ramaphosa emphasised strength and unity. He promised that the party would respond better to the people of South Africa and he emphasised renewal in the party. He said that a strong ANC was not possible without strong alliance partners. The relationship between the ANC and its alliance partners has been strained of late.

Ramaphosa also said: “As we leave this conference, we are resolved to pursue with greater determination the path of radical socio-economic transformation.” Later he dropped the word “socio” replacing it with “radical” – the word used in the campaign of his challenger for leadership, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa also affirmed the contentious issue of land expropriation without compensation which had been announced earlier by Enoch Godongwana, the outgoing ANC economic transformation subcommittee chair. The bombshell resolution caused rowdy debate earlier in the day which, some said, threatened to collapse the conference. In his speech Ramaphosa said “The expropriation of land without compensation should be among the mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution.”

Brislin agrees that radical economic transformation is necessary. “Essentially, radical economic transformation is necessary for building a peaceful and an equitable future for South Africa and the President will have to lead that process. As long as the beneficiaries are the poor, and not the enrichment of a few.”

Responding to land issue the archbishop said “The policy statements need further study. Some commentators have noted that the decision to go ahead with land expropriation without compensation is a sign of government failure. I agree with this. Provision is already made in South African law for expropriation of land but the land reform programme has been poorly implemented and has been without a consistent vision. This decision is an attempt to solve a problem with more legislation without correctly identifying the nature of the problem and finding an appropriate solution. The problem revolves far more around dysfunction, possible corruption and failure to implement existing laws.”

Ramaphosa ran his campaign assuring that there would be clean governance. “Whether we call this State Capture or simply corruption, this has undermined the integrity of our institutions, cost our economy hundreds of billions of rands and contributed to the further impoverishment of our people,” he said that the ANC’s Integrity Commission would work to “restore the integrity of the ANC and help cultivate and promote ethical leadership”. Gabuza said that, at this time, “the country needs men and women who will put the needs of the country first on their agendas.”

Ramaphosa congratulated his running mate, Dlamini-Zuma, “for the manner in which she demonstrated commitment to our movement during the campaign”.

He also addressed outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma who smiled broadly: “We cannot close this, the 54th National Conference of the African National Congress, without paying tribute to for your contribution over many decades to the struggle for freedom, democracy and development.”

Both bishops congratulated the new leadership. “All in all, I welcome the election of President Ramaphosa and the hope that we are entering into a phase of reform and good governance. Hopefully, he will be able to heal the wounds of the Marikana disaster and his own role in it,” Brislin said. Gabuza echoed these sentiments: “We congratulate the newly elected leaders of the ANC and wish that they take up the challenge to re-imagine leadership in these unsettling times in the history of our country.”

Gabuza said that he will pray that many citizens continue to “speak without fear about greed, patronage and corruption.” SA.

Creative Commons License Attribution-NoDerivsRepublish
Facebook Comments
* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


Did you enjoy this article?

25 recommended
0 notes
bookmark icon

Write a comment...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Font Resize


You may republish this article online or in print under our Creative Commons license. You may not edit or shorten the text, you must attribute the article to Spotlight.Africa and you must include the author’s name in your republication.

If you have any questions, please email


Creative Commons License Attribution-NoDerivsCreative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs
Bishops cautiously congratulate new ANC leadership