IT has given birth to leaders of high calibre and boasts being the incubator of world icons, but in recent years the Eastern Cape has been losing its bragging rights somewhat as the province that drives South Africa’s political age0nda.
Home to the country’s first two democratically elected presidents, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, the Eastern Cape has always been at the forefront of the liberation struggle, firmly put there by ANC veterans like Oliver Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Chris Hani, Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Joe Gqabi and Alfred Nzo.
From one of the first large conferences, or “ngqungquthela”, which met in Queenstown in 1908, liberation discussions began which eventually led to the founding of the ANC in 1912.
ANC provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane said it was the 1908 meeting that paved the way for the ANC’s eventual establishment in Bloemfontein in 1912.
It therefore comes as no big surprise that the Eastern Cape was the apple of the ANC’s eye and until recently had influenced which direction the party should take and who should be elected into powerful positions.
“Many youth league leaders and ANC leaders hail from the Eastern Cape and got their education at the University of Fort Hare,” Qoboshiyane said.
“The [province’s] comrades suffered more deaths to gallows than anywhere else and Port Elizabeth produced lots of clergy to fight against the system. This is all symbolic of a province that has given birth to credible leaders.”
While the Eastern Cape boasted leaders of high stature, the shift in power at the ANC headquarters in Luthuli House since Jacob Zuma was elected ANC president in 2007 and president of South Africa in 2009 has in reality diminished its influence on national decisions.
ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane warned delegates at the provincial general council at the University of Fort Hare in Alice last month that infighting and disunity were “diminishing the province’s influence on national issues and [compromising] service delivery”.
“Disunity is a disservice to the people of this province – we have to take the ANC back to its traditional values and rid it of foreign tendencies,” Mabuyane said.
Political analyst Prof Somadoda Fikeni said fragmentation, internal bickering and divisions had seen the province lose its privileges.
“Up until the Polokwane conference, the EC was the heartland of the ANC and it was backed by the numbers of membership. It has changed somewhat because the province commanding the greatest numbers is now KwaZulu-Natal, followed by the EC.
“Going to the Polokwane conference, the EC was very divided and it hasn’t recovered from it since. The COPE and UDM breakaways hit it hard,” Fikeni said.
“Historically the EC has a leadership trail that cannot be ignored, but it means nothing when it is divided and you have factionalism.”
Fikeni said while the Eastern Cape still influenced national policies somewhat, this was not on the same scale as before.
“Politicians must drive unity in the province and also harness the political heritage it commands.
“When you lose a president who comes from your province, it will also affect how much influence you have,” Fikeni said.
The challenge, Qoboshiyane said, was to look at how to restore the party’s former glory. “The Eastern Cape is still a stronghold of the ANC, and despite dropping its support to a new low of below 70%, from 80% previously, it is predominantly populated by black people who are members of the party.
“We are the best in terms of producing leadership and we used to be the driving force behind policies, but the question is, are we the driving force today?” Qoboshiyane said
“We need to look at how to get back to where we were. We are supposed to ask questions as to how we can command respect like we used to in the past.”
Qoboshiyane said the province developed good policy discussion documents at the last national general council, which were being seriously considered by the national leadership.
“I think now there is a realisation that the EC is a major player going to Mangaung in December. At the policy conference in May we will be able to make great contributions.
“Our work ahead now is to build our regions into strong structures, so that when going to Mangaung we can contribute meaningfully.
“The Eastern Cape is going to be a major force to be reckoned with going to Mangaung in December.”