The ANC will be forced to postpone 20 regional and provincial elective conferences scheduled for the first quarter of 2021 because of the move to heavier Covid-19 emergency restrictions.
An announcement of the postponement is likely to be made by party president Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday in its annual January 8 statement, which will be delivered in Limpopo using virtual means.
The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) is set to discuss the postponement of the 17 regional and three provincial conferences on Wednesday at its meeting held to draft the January 8 statement.
The total ban on public gatherings, which was imposed after Christmas, halted preparations around the country, with only electronic updating of the party’s membership continuing. The ban is likely to be extended when it expires on 15 January, followed by a lighter regime allowing for small public meetings.
Neither of these scenarios will allow the ANC to hold the general branch meetings central to electing conference delegates or select its candidates for the local government elections, scheduled for November.
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte said on Tuesday that a decision on what to do about the conferences would be taken at Wednesday’s pre-January 8 NEC meeting.
“What we have said to the regions is that everything is on hold until further notice. We don’t really know what to expect after the 15th, so we are taking a deep breath,” Duarte said. Membership verification, which had started after the 15 December cut off, was likely to continue, given that it was an electronic process, should the NEC agree to this.
Duarte said that many of the regions were ready to go to their conferences, as they had achieved the threshold of 70 % of branches being in good standing, but that the conferences would not sit because of the existing regulations.
“They can go to the conference, but wouldn’t be able to gather. The plan (before the new regulations) was to do it in a hybrid way, with Zoom rooms of 350 people and to use big screens and other technology to link up in areas with poor internet coverage,” she said.
“Where we are now is to look at exactly what kind of linkups to use. It is not ideal. It is not a culture that the ANC is used to. There will be difficulties going forward, throughout 2021, until the vaccine is here and the population has achieved herd immunity, I’m not sure that we can have any physical meetings,” Duarte said.
“For now, we don’t know. What we are going to do is follow science,” Duarte said. “We won’t buck the regulations.”
Duarte said the ANC was waiting to hear from the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) about whether the by-elections scheduled for 20 January would occur.
“This pandemic has implications for everything. We are waiting for the IEC for their view as to what should happen with the January 20 by-elections. We don’t have answers yet.”
Duarte said the party’s national general council (NGC) meeting was still scheduled for May and was likely to continue, but in a virtual form.
“The NGC is a bit simpler. The NGC of old, with 7 000 to 10 000 people gathering, is likely never to happen again. The ANC constitution doesn’t say there has to be a representative from every branch. It is a conference aimed at reviewing policy, so our technical team has worked out quite an interesting technical remedy, which could work. We could link up the nine provinces and their delegates using these means,” she said.
“We are asking our members to abide by the regulations as they are lifesaving. We are concerned about the conspiracies [that] are out there. They are wrong. We have to listen to the science on this,” she said.
In eThekwini, the largest of the regions set to hold a conference, branch general meetings set to elect delegates have been put on hold.
Co-ordinator Bheki Ntuli said that although dealing with membership queries after the 15 December cut off had continued, the branch general meeting (BGM) process, set to begin on 20 January, had been halted.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation. We had a detailed roadmap to conference in place ahead, with the BGM process set to begin on 20 January. When you look at the lockdown where it stands, until 15 January, and the likelihood of an extension, and then a move to level two, the chances are very slim that we will be able to continue before March,”’ Ntuli said.
Even with gatherings of up to 50 or 100 people were allowed, this would not help, because the party has branches with as many as 2 000 members, half of whom needed to attend for a meeting to achieve a quorum.
Delays in the process would also affect preparations for the local government elections, which needed to be held by November, Ntuli said.
Ntuli said the ANC was “still optimistic” that early delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine would allow a return to a semblance of normalcy.