|POLITICAL REFLECTIONS: *Former President Thabo Mbeki
The ANC that I know!
" As we consider our policy positions during this Conference, these realities about what the Alliance is and what the Alliance means, are some of the fundamental considerations that must inform our work, bearing in mind what was said a mere two years after our liberation, that "There can be no stable democracy unless the democratic state attends to the concerns of the people as a whole and takes responsibility for the evolution of the new society."
I will therefore speak about the ANC I know subject to such corrections as they might choose to make - ready to accept that they may stand up and say - Comrade President, you are wrong!
What I know of the ANC is that it is a people's movement. It is not, and has never been a movement that was formed 95 years ago merely to represent the interest of its members and its leaders. What I know of the ANC is that - ke lekgotla la sechaba. Ukhongolozi ngumbutho wesizwe. The African National Congress is and has always been a parliament of the people.
What I know is that the African National Congress was established 95 years ago to serve the interests of the suffering masses of our people. It was not formed to be, and has never been an instrument to advance the personal interests of its members, regardless of the positions within the organisation that any of its members might occupy.
Over the generations its members, the patriots we have been proud to address as comrades, have maintained their membership of the African National Congress inspired solely and exclusively by the noble objective to serve the people of South Africa, expecting no reward for themselves except the liberation and upliftment of the masses of our people.
Many of these members of the African National Congress lost their lives during the countless battles that had to be waged to secure victory. Many of these members of the African National Congress suffered extraordinary persecution, served many years in apartheid prisons, and made immense personal sacrifices to liberate our people.
Many of these members of the African National Congress were driven into exile, far from their families and their land of birth, because they dared to stand up to make the simple demand - freedom in our lifetime!
What I know of the African National Congress is that throughout its 95 years of existence, it has always asked of every important decision it has adopted, and all actions it has taken - do these bring the masses of our people closer to the realisation of their dreams!
Put differently, at all times the African National Congress has always asked itself the important question - is what we are saying and what we are doing consistent with the wishes and aspirations of the masses of our people!
This is the African National Congress to which I belong, and to which you, dear comrades, belong. In the event that anyone among us joined the African National Congress because he or she understood it to be different from the movement I have described, they are free to say so, and thus give us the possibility once more to discuss the true nature of our movement.
This would enable us to restate the important truth that to join the ANC is to make a solemn commitment to serve the people of South Africa, and that we are here today to consider what we and our movement should do next, faithfully to discharge our obligation as members of the African National Congress, to serve the people of South Africa.
I have spoken as I have because over the recent past all of us, loyal members of the African National Congress, have been subjected to a sustained barrage of propaganda that has suggested that we remain members of the ANC because we are determined to gain positions of power at the various levels of government, and thus to use these positions of power to accumulate wealth for ourselves and secure our positions of power by a mercenary dispensation of patronage.
I have spoken as I have because even as we prepared for this Policy Conference, that has absolutely nothing to do with who is or will be a leader of the African National Congress, by virtue of election by our membership, those responsible for the propaganda to which I have referred, have made it a point to assert that what we will do over the next four days is centrally driven by what they describe as "the leadership succession".
These have acted in the most determined manner to define the agenda of this Policy Conference and the atmosphere that should surround our proceedings. They have sought to ensure that even as we prepared to come here, it is not issues of policy that should occupy our minds, but the so-called leadership succession, in terms of which we would, from within our structures, willingly corrupt everything that the African National Congress has stood for, for 95 years, and accept that it is nothing more than a step ladder to personal power.
In the period following the historic victory of the democratic revolution in 1994, strident calls were made by people who have never been interested in the liberation of the oppressed that our movement, the ANC, must transform itself into a political party. We insisted then, as we continue to do, that we are a movement for national liberation.
Despite the victory of the democratic revolution, and our accession to power through democratic elections, we remain, still, a movement for national liberation. It may very well be that even some within our ranks have asked themselves the question - indeed why do we accept to be described as the ruling party, while, at the same time, we reject the demand that we should transform ourselves into a political party!
The African National Congress was formed 95 years ago to liberate our people from colonial oppression and white minority domination. That colonial and racist domination had robbed the majority of its right to determine both its destiny and the future of our country.
It had robbed the masses of our people of their right to land and all means by which they could guarantee themselves as independent livelihood. It had deliberately worked to impoverish these masses and ensure that they were available to serve as an unskilled labour reservoir that would provide cheap labour for the enrichment of the white minority.
It had done everything it could to ensure that it faced no competition from among the oppressed in all fields, including skilled labour, the professions and access to knowledge, and business. It had worked hard to guarantee that its culture, its languages, its religious beliefs would define our being as a country and people, and obliterate the memory and identity of the overwhelming majority.
It saw as the objects of its racist policies, all the black oppressed, regardless of race, gender and class, and sought to bribe the white working people to accept both subservience to the colonial and racist power and an obligation to cooperate in the subjugation of the black majority.
It had sought to position our country that is an integral part of the African continent as a European outpost whose historic mission would be to serve specifically European and generally the interests of the countries of the North.
It is out of this reality that the ANC was born. It was formed to advance the national interests of all the oppressed, regardless of distinctions of race, class and gender. At the same time, our movement knew that the democratic revolution would also serve the fundamental interests of the white working people, who had been bribed by the colonial and racist power with the specific purpose to separate them from the black majority and use them, against their own long term interests, as storm troopers to suppress the rebellion of the black majority.
With your permission, I would like to quote from an important document issued in 1996, entitled "The State and Social Transformation", in which leaders of our broad movement said: "The most important current defining feature of the South African democratic state is that it champions the aspirations of the majority who have been disadvantaged by the many decades of undemocratic rule. Its primary task is to work for the emancipation of the black majority, the working people, the urban poor, the rural poor, the women, the youth and the disabled. It is the task of this democratic state to champion the cause of these people in such a way that the most basic aspirations of this majority assume the status of hegemony, which informs and guides policy and practice of all the institutions of government and state.
"However, there is a need to recognise that the South African democratic state also has the responsibility to attend to the concerns of the rest of the population which is not necessarily part of the majority defined above.
"To the extent that the democratic state is objectively interested in a stable democracy, so it cannot avoid the responsibility to ensure the establishment of a social order concerned with the genuine interests of the people as a whole, regardless of their racial, national, gender and class differentiation. There can be no stable democracy unless the democratic state attends to the concerns of the people as a whole and takes responsibility for the evolution of the new society."
This defined the tasks of the ANC, and what we had to do to ensure that the masses of our people benefited from the victory of the democratic revolution.
And indeed, the democratic revolution has brought enormous benefits to all sections of our population, starting with the complex of democratic rights guaranteed by the Constitution adopted by the Constitutional Assembly in 1996, the laws we have adopted since 1994, and the decisions taken by our courts.
This Policy Conference, and our movement as a whole, must indeed celebrate the advances we have made to entrench democracy in our country. We should constantly remind ourselves that the establishment of a democratic system of governance has always been one of the central objectives of our struggle for national liberation.
Even 13 years after the victory of the democratic revolution, its defence and further entrenchment remains one of the principal tasks of the National Democratic Revolution.
In this regard I must say that unfortunately the Discussion Document, "Legislature and Governance for a National Democratic Society" does not reflect on some of the major issues we should discuss relating to the task to defend our democratic gains and further deepen our democratic system, consistent with the perspective that - the people shall govern!
In this context I would like to mention such important issues as: the responsibility of the members and structures of our movement and the broad democratic movement to defend the democratic state and its institutions; respect for the institutions of the democratic state by members and supporters of our movement; respect for the institutions of the democratic state and public property owned by the people as a whole, during the exercise of the entrenched democratic right to engage in public demonstrations; the use of force during public demonstrations and mass protests resulting in such unacceptable actions as violent assaults against the people, intimidation in various forms, looting and destruction of property; the deepening of popular participation in governance through such interventions as the Ward Committee system and the Izimbizo process; the constituency work of our public representatives at national, provincial and local levels, and its relevance to the process of democratisation; the place of civic street committees and similar structures, as well as non-governmental and community based organisations in the process of deepening our democracy; the concerns raised by the media about restrictions to the freedom of the press, as well as issues that relate to the responsibility and public accountability of the media; and, the full integration of the institution of traditional government within our democratic system of governance.
The Policy Conference gives us an opportunity to raise and consider all these and other important issues relating to our democratic system, which might inadvertently have been left out of our discussion documents.
Yet another important strategic objective of the national democratic revolution is the eradication of poverty and therefore the restoration of the dignity of all our people of all ages, including the young, the elderly and the disabled, by liberating them from the indignity of hunger and want.
Necessarily, therefore, the Policy Conference will have to assess the policy positions that have informed our activities since 1994 focused on: the growth and development of our economy; the more equitable sharing of the national wealth; the reduction of the inherited and persisting racial, gender and class disparities in the distribution of income and wealth; employment creation and poverty eradication; and, the provision of a comprehensive and sustainable social security net.
The Discussion Document entitled "Economic Transformation for a National Democratic Society" has provided us with a good base to consider the policy issues that attach to the objectives I have mentioned.
All of us know, and our movement and government have made it a point constantly to remind all our people that we still have a long way to go before we achieve one of the central goals of the national democratic revolution, the realisation of a better life for all our people, on a sustainable basis. In this regard, we have pointed to the challenge posed by unacceptably high levels of structural unemployment, persisting endemic poverty, and underdevelopment that affects many of our urban and rural areas.
As we have done in the past, we must again examine our policies and programmes to determine what we need to do to accelerate our progress towards the resolution of these problems.
But even as we do this, we must also celebrate the achievements we have recorded during the years of democracy, brought about by the policies we put in place, centred on the Reconstruction and Development Programme, and the practical interventions we have made, based on these policy positions.
The discussion document prepared to lay the basis for our discussion of our economic challenges correctly points to the important achievements we have scored in the sustained struggle to realise the socio-economic goals of the National Democratic Revolution. In this regard, the facts speak for themselves. We have succeeded to place our economy on a relatively high growth path. We have increased the possibility for more of our people to engage in productive economic activity.
We have immensely strengthened the capacity of our economy to compete successfully in the global economy, and thus withstand international competition in the provision of goods and services. This has given us the possibility to protect our jobs on a sustainable basis, and to improve the standard of living of our people on the basis of the greater wealth that our economy will produce.
Through proper management of the public finances, the reorganisation and better management of the state corporations, the establishment of the correct regulatory framework, and the conclusion of the appropriate international economic agreements, we have strengthened the capacity of the democratic state to discharge its responsibility both to intervene in the functioning of our economy directly, and to determine the framework within which all spheres of the economy should operate.
We have created the macro-economic balances demanded by the Reconstruction and Development Programme, as a result of which various aggregate components of the economy have contributed and will contribute to the realisation of the goal to grow and develop our economy in a manner that will benefit all our people.
We have generated public sector resources that have helped enormously to cushion millions of our people from the terrible impact of abject poverty. This includes our capacity to empower our people to set themselves up as independent producers, not forced to bow to the will of the major owners of capital in our country and the rest of the world.
We have increased the social wage, to improve the quality of life of our working people and reduce their absolute dependence on the proceeds of wage labour. We have responded to this challenge in a manner that is sustainable, not governed by any short term considerations. Accordingly, we have made definite advances towards the realisation of the goal of a better life for all our people, and laid the basis for the continuation of these advances over the long term.
None of what I have said means that we have solved our historic problems of unemployment and poverty, the challenge of achieving high savings and investment rates, the diversification of our economy, the enormous racial, gender and class disparities in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity, the underdevelopment of large parts of our country, including the rural and historically black urban areas, low skills levels, challenges of international competitiveness and balance of payments problems, and the problem of inflationary pressures.
In addition to the issues I have raised, and as all the delegates know, the strategic goals of the National Democratic Revolution, which also define this revolution, include building a non-racial society, a non-sexist society, a society that develops and empowers our people with disabilities, our youth and our children.
This Policy Conference has an obligation to ask itself the critically important questions - what progress have we made towards the realisation of these objectives? Have we put in place the policies and programmes to achieve these outcomes? What policies do we need to accelerate our advance towards building a country defined by the perspective of a truly caring and people-centred society?
I am certain that all of us would like to see greater progress in the pursuit of the important goal of the emancipation of women. In this regard, quite correctly, we have continued to engage the challenge of achieving gender parity both within our ranks, in the structures of governance and in our society as a whole. As we achieve new successes in this area, we must continue to focus on the socio-economic problems facing the women of our country, which still make black women the poorest section of our population. In this context, I must again express the deep concern of our movement at the continuing abuse, rape and killing of women and children. The gravity of this problem has been highlighted by the murder of six-year-old Mikayla Rossouw of Swellendam.
I know that this Policy Conference, on behalf of the entirety of our membership, conveys its deep-felt sympathies to the Rossouw family and other families that have experienced similar tragedies. I know also that we will discuss with the greatest seriousness our own responsibility as members of the ANC to the struggle radically to improve safety and security in our homes and our communities.
I am certain that all of us would like to see greater progress in the struggle to eradicate the legacy of racism which continues to manifest itself in our society in thousands of ways, indicating the distance we still have to travel before we achieve the strategic objective of the National Democratic Revolution of the creation of a non-racial society.
Similar challenges continue to face us with regard to the development and empowerment of the youth, the development and empowerment of people with disabilities, and the effective protection of the rights of children.
I am certain the Policy Conference will address all these important matters to empower our movement to accelerate our country's advance towards the realisation of the goal of an inclusive and people-centred society.
However we must also acknowledge the reality that over the last 13 years, our movement as the governing party, has made important strides with regard to addressing the challenges we have mentioned, and creating the material base for us to move forward faster towards the resolution of these problems.
In this regard, I must state and restate this fundamental truth with absolutely no hesitation, that objectively and practically, it is not possible to solve problems that have accumulated over 350 years in the mere 13 years of our democracy.
Claims that have been made that this is possible, and that we could have solved the socio-economic problems we inherited, during the short years of our democracy, are obviously incorrect.
This Policy Conference gives us the possibility seriously to discuss these claims. I must also say this that this Conference also gives us the possibility to discuss the assertions I have made, that it is not possible to solve problems that have been 350 years in the making in a mere 13 years of democratic rule.
You, fellow delegates, are at perfect liberty to argue that I am wrong in making this assertion, and that our movement has been wrong in making this assertion, and that during the conferences the African National Congress has held since our unbanning in 1990, we could have adopted other policies that could have eradicated a 350-year legacy in 13 years!
In this context the issue of the relationship between the national democratic and the socialist revolutions has been raised once again. I hope that as we reflect on matters raised in the Draft Strategy and Tactics document we will discuss this important matter that our movement has grappled with for many decades. However, I must restate some of the fundamental conclusions that have informed the functioning of the broad movement for national liberation for many decades already, which enabled this movement to achieve the historic democratic victory of 1994 as a united and disciplined force for progressive change.
One of these conclusions is that there is a distinct, material and historically determined difference between the national democratic and the socialist revolutions. Objectively, and not by proclamation or conference resolutions, the ANC necessarily serves as the leader of the forces committed to the victory of the National Democratic Revolution, which struggle for the realisation of the national democratic goals of the masses of our people.
For many decades already, our movement, the African National Congress, precisely because it accepted and supported the right of our people to choose their path of development, accepted the proposition that our ally, the SACP, and not the ANC, would lead the forces and the struggle for the victory of the socialist revolution.
I must emphasise this again today, as we begin our Policy Conference, that the ANC would respect any decision by the masses of our people that rather than the national democratic revolution, they prefer to support and pursue a socialist revolution.
Equally, the ANC would respect the right and duty of our ally, the South African Communist Party, to lead the struggle for the victory of the socialist revolution. Our movement has never stopped or discouraged the SACP from playing this role, and will not do so today or tomorrow.
Recognising and respecting the independence of our ally, the SACP, and understanding its role as the leader of the socialist revolution, the ANC has never sought to prescribe to the SACP the policies it should adopt, the programmes of action it should implement, and the leaders it should elect. It has never obstructed the SACP in its socialist objectives, and therefore joined the reactionary anti-communist forces.
Historically, the ANC has deeply appreciated the fact that over the decades, the SACP has defined itself as an integral part of the national liberation movement, of our movement committed to the victory of the National Democratic Revolution, and therefore accepted that, objectively, the ANC must serve as the leader of the NDR.
In this context, the SACP has always understood that it could not delegate its socialist tasks to the ANC, consistent with the fact that the tasks of the socialist revolution could not be delegated to the National Democratic Revolution. For many decades, the SACP has therefore not seen and acted against the ANC as its political competitor, which we are not.
I mention these matters that have to do with the Strategy and Tactics of both the national democratic and the socialist revolutions because in the recent past suggestions have been made that the ANC has not eradicated the legacy of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid because our successive conferences, starting with the Consultative Conference at NASREC in 1990, have not adopted what some have characterised as socialist policies.
Again, let me restate the fundamental conclusion that, for many decades, has informed the functioning of the Alliance and the relations within its ranks, that the SACP has never sought to delegate its socialist tasks to the ANC, and has never sought to impose on the national democratic revolution the tasks of the socialist revolution. Neither has the ANC ever demanded that the SACP should abandon its socialist perspectives, and limit itself only to the achievement of the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution. I must also add this, that already during the 1940s, if not earlier, our movement recognised the strategic position that our working class occupied and would occupy in our economy, in our society, and in all our struggles to achieve the victory of the National Democratic Revolution.
As the colonial-apartheid system evolved, characterised in part by massive land dispossession, it became ever clearer that the majority of the black people were being thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, and therefore that to speak of a democratic revolution that benefits the people was to speak of a democratic revolution that benefits the working class.
Accordingly, to speak about the motive forces of the National Democratic Revolution was to speak of the working class as a leading echelon in the struggle for national liberation, which would also organise and fight for its interests in terms of higher wages and better working conditions, and a role in determining the future of our country.
You comrades may very well ask why I show disrespect for you and this important Policy Conference by repeating what to you constitute the ABC of your political education and understanding, as well as my own.
And so let me explain myself. I have said what I have said to make the immensely important point that the historical evolution of our society has meant and means for the ANC that to secure the victory of the National Democratic Revolution, our movement must draw into the common struggle our country's democratic forces, our country's socialist forces, and our country's proletariat.
This means that our Alliance, composed of the ANC, the SACP and COSATU, expanded to include SANCO, is not a product merely of intelligent conference resolutions. It is an imperative imposed on us by the nature of our society and the ideas and organisational formations that have developed within the bosom of that society.
The Alliance will therefore survive and thrive and continue to combine and coalesce as the vanguard mass formation representative of the overwhelming majority of our people, charged with the historic task to accomplish the goals of the National Democratic Revolution.
The objective reality in our country is that the National Democratic Revolution cannot succeed if it does not contain among its motive forces our country's socialist, trade union and civic movements.
The objective reality in our country is that the trade union and civic movements cannot achieve the goals they pursue if the National Democratic Revolution does not succeed in its objectives.
The objective reality in our country is that the victory of the socialist revolution cannot be achieved outside the context of the victory of the National Democratic Revolution.
As we consider our policy positions during this Conference, these realities about what the Alliance is and what the Alliance means, are some of the fundamental considerations that must inform our work, bearing in mind what was said a mere two years after our liberation, that "There can be no stable democracy unless the democratic state attends to the concerns of the people as a whole and takes responsibility for the evolution of the new society."
Those of us who are familiar with European classical music may remember the comment attributed to the famous German composer, Ludwig von Beethoven, when, speaking of his 9th Symphony, the "Chorale", he said: "Mankind may perish, but the 9th will live forever!"
On behalf of our National Executive Committee and the entirety of the ANC, I am pleased once more to welcome to our Policy Conference the delegates representing the SACP, COSATU, SANCO and other formations of the democratic movement. Their presence here signifies precisely the point that all of us may indeed perish, but the Alliance will live forever!
The ANC remains committed to what, necessarily, will be a protracted struggle for the victory of the National Democratic Revolution, that, objectively, will continue to demand that the ANC discharges its obligation to lead the entirety of the democratic movement.
This is what should guide our discussions during this important Policy Conference, focused on our obligation to advance the National Democratic Revolution and therefore determine the policies that would help us to achieve this objective. Our movement must indeed "attend to the concerns of the people as a whole and take responsibility for the evolution of the new society".
Our practical experience over the past 13 years has confirmed the complexity of the struggle we have to wage to build the kind of South Africa for which many of our people made enormous sacrifices. In many areas we have had to take various initiatives with no possibility to draw on any previous experience anywhere else in the world.
The nature of the society we inherited and the impact on us of a rapidly changing international environment mean that our movement must indeed develop the necessary capacity, ingenuity and maturity successfully to "take responsibility for the evolution of the new society."
For 95 years our movement has lived up to the expectations of the masses of our people for liberation and development. It successfully led the many-sided struggle that obliged the apartheid regime to enter into negotiations to end white minority rule. It successfully led the transition to democratic rule resulting in the victory of the Democratic Revolution in 1994.
It has successfully led the process to ensure the stability of our country, away from the threat of racial conflict and counter-revolutionary disturbances. It has responded to the challenges of reconstruction and development in a manner that has given hope to the masses of our people and strengthened their confidence in a better future for our country.
I say all this to make the critically important point that our leadership has the fullest confidence in our movement, the ANC, that it will continue to live up to its responsibility effectively to respond to the challenge of the reconstruction and development of our country into the non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous democracy that the National Democratic Revolution must build.
And indeed the objective reality in our country is that in the same way that the defeat of the apartheid regime would not have been possible without the ANC, so would it not be possible to construct the new South Africa without the ANC.
This underlines the historic responsibility that rests on the shoulders of all the delegates to the Policy Conference, all other members of the ANC and all our structures, properly to position themselves to carry out the task of the fundamental social transformation of our country.
Consistent with our internationalist traditions, this obligation also relates to the work we must do further to advance the African Renaissance and contribute to the building of a better world, even as we confront the challenges of globalisation and the unjust distribution of power within the system of global governance. In this context I trust that all of us gave ourselves time to study and respond to the Discussion Document, "Towards the Centenary of the ANC: A Strategic Agenda for Organisational Renewal."
The Document concludes with the words: "The ANC has evolved and developed into a people's movement and agent for change over many years of struggle and sacrifice. It had to overcome serious obstacles and setbacks in the long road to freedom and democracy. Our movement has a track record of being a trusted leader and loyal servant people. Its strength lies in its ability to renew itself ideologically and organisationally, to take account of new developments and new challenges. However, this ability for self-renewal cannot be taken for granted. It is a task that every generation has to grapple with and accomplish, based on the requirements and tasks of the each situation. Any organisational review and renewal proposals for the ANC have to pass one test: to what extent do they enhance the capacity of the movement to remain a trusted leader, loyal servant of the people and an agent for change! This is the main challenge."
The Document ends by inviting "all cadres to join in the festival of ideas about the fundamental challenge of strengthening our movement so that it remains a trusted leader, loyal servant of the people and an agent for change!"
To discharge this historic responsibility, we must continue to pay the closest attention to the accomplishment of the task we set ourselves at the 2000 National General Council, the task to build new cadres who are truly committed to serve the people, and who must develop the necessary capacity and competence to handle the complex process of the construction of a new society and a new world.
This important Policy Conference must itself also be characterised by a festival of ideas, producing the rich complex of policies that will confirm to the people that their movement, the ANC, indeed remains a trusted leader, a loyal servant of the people, a true agent for such change as will enable the masses of our people fully to realise their aspirations.
Borrowing the words of an unknown poet, the great and towering movement of our people, the ANC, has every right to say of itself:
Ke tsetswe ke mosadi motshwarathipa Ke tsetswe, ka belegwa, ka rupa. Dikgatlampi, Mebitlwa le Mekong Ke di sutlhile.. Ka tswa ntlheng ELE! Ke tshotse sefoka!... Ke sutlha ke tshotse lesedi go bonega Afrika Ka ke le moAfrika ke antse Ke antse la mme ngwana' mmala wa sebilo Ka ke tsetswe ke mosadisadi!
*President Thabo Mbeki is the former President of the African National Congress and also former President of the Republic of South Africa. Amongst his passionate work has been the reconstruction of Africa through spearheading the African Renaissance and other international works such as the negotiations leading to the formation of South Sudan and the agreements of cooperation recently adopted under his watch. This is an excerpt from his Opening Political address at the ANC National Policy Conference on 27 June 2007 at the Gallagher Estate and the message remains relevant today.