South Africa's ANC Sheds Members as Disillusionment Mounts

  • Party membership drops to 769,000 from 1 million in 2012
  • ANC leader Zuma calls for unity as party readies for elections

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is hemorrhaging members as disillusionment sets in over the party’s failure to fulfill its election promises and contain infighting.

The number of signed-up members has fallen to about 769,000 from more than 1 million three years ago, President Jacob Zuma, the ANC’s leader since December 2007, told a party policy forum in Midrand, near Johannesburg on Friday. He accused some ANC officials of blocking new members from joining the party to ensure they retained control of their regions.

“The membership has dropped because of gate-keeping, therefore depriving the ANC of new members,” Zuma said. “There is no recruitment. Our election majority has dropped over the years because some people have become disillusioned with the party and others have abstained from elections to show their dissatisfaction.”

Formed in 1912, the ANC has governed South Africa since the end of white-minority rule in 1994. The party won 62 percent of the vote in national elections last year after promising to create jobs and boost access to housing and services. The drop in membership comes as the ANC prepares to contest municipal elections against the growing Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters next year.

The ANC is due to elect a successor to Zuma, 73, in two years and lobbying is already under way. The top candidates are the party’s deputy leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairwoman of the African Union Commission and president’s ex-wife. Others in the running include party chairwoman Baleka Mbete and treasurer Zweli Mkhize.

Zuma said it was unacceptable that some ANC members use money and violence to influence party election results.

The importance of accepting the outcomes of internal processes and reducing factional battles within the party were emphasized in the organizational report delivered to delegates by ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe.

“Factionalism is a political problem, it is part of any political system, ” Mantashe told reporters near Johannesburg. “It is a cancer and it can kill the organization. The remedy to factionalism is a strong organization.”

Delegates attending the three-day forum, which takes place mid-way through the ANC’s five-year electoral term, will review the government’s performance and recommend whether policy changes should be made when the party holds its next national conference in 2017.

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