In his opening address to the 48th national conference of the African National Congress on 02 July 1991 in Durban, former ANC President Oliver Reginald Tambo stated that: “Even as we provided leadership, we were always conscious of the fact that the ANC was the people`s parliament.
The widespread circulation of Constitutional Guidelines was a further assertion of the sovereignty of the people. The unity in action of our people has remained the guiding beacon throughout the days of illegality.
To reach our goal of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, sooner rather than later, then we must not deviate from this course. In this context, we considered it important that decisions of the ANC were to be shaped by popular mass endorsement at all times.
Even if such decisions were acceptable within the Movement, they would have come to naught unless they enjoyed popular support beyond the bounds of the ANC itself. Whilst our policies were in terms of our beliefs and convictions, they also reflected and served the people`s interests. Above all, we sought to make the people part and parcel of our decisions.”
It is from these visionary words spoken by OR Tambo that many of us have drawn the nourishment that has taught us what the ANC is about and what it stands for.
Because we have, at all times, known this, it is an important starting point for us as we reflect on the recent local government elections and the challenges facing our movement currently.
In analysing the outcomes of the local government elections and aiming to chart a way forward for the ANC in this critical stage of the Revolution, we must first of all remind ourselves that the ANC in and of itself has not yet lost the popular mandate of our people, contrary to popular opinion.
Despite the setbacks suffered by the ANC during local government elections, the ANC remains and has always been a “parliament of the people,” existing not just for the sake of its members but for the well-being and benefit of South African society at large.
In its policies, programmes and leadership choices the African National Congress must at all times take into account not just the views of its membership, but those of society at large, as we seek to attain our objective of building a National Democratic Society through the National Democratic Revolution.
We must remind ourselves that in municipalities such as Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, where there has been a change of guard, the ANC won an overwhelming majority of municipal wards. This shows that the ANC has not lost the confidence of the masses of our people.
Yes, there are political challenges that we must attend to and there is disillusionment with some political dynamics that we must deal with. However, the ANC’s performance in the local government elections does not reflect a complete rejection of the progressive agenda that we have been driving as a revolutionary organisation for over a hundred years.
It is these political challenges, reflected in the fact that our popular majority has declined (and has been declining for a while now) and disillusionment with some political dynamics that has brought us to this crossroad we find ourselves in. There is no doubt that there is a need to reposition this glorious liberation movement within society.
It is important to note that the recent electoral losses took place within a global context where there have been electoral reversals against left-leaning political formations, with a specific focus on Latin America where leftist parties in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela as three pertinent examples have suffered severe setbacks.
This should not be seen as making excuses for the internal political shenanigans within our organisation that have seen us lose the biggest Metros in the country, a huge blow for the transformation agenda that we have been driving since 1994 as a governing party.
At times like these, it is critical that we look back in order to go forward, lest we be accused of what Hegel meant when he said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” We must go back into our history as a revolutionary movement to draw lessons that will help us chart a better path forward for our people as we seek to continue to lead them.
It is with this in mind that we must go back to the epoch-defining Morogoro conference, a historical conference that helped reshape the character and nature of our historical struggle as a people and positioned the ANC better as the vehicle to lead this struggle.
Prior to Morogoro, there were a whole range of challenges that necessitated a conference of such a nature in order for the liberation movement to move forward as the rightful leader of our people and as the true custodian of the hopes, aspirations and ideals of our people.
At that time there was a challenge of the integration of diverse ethnic groups in the organisation; serious challenges in terms of the coordination of the political and military elements of the struggle; a challenge in terms of building new leadership echelons, not just to replace those who had been imprisoned in the years before but also to deal with the strategic repositioning of our struggle through its internationalisation.
Before Morogoro, there were also some serious questions about the lifestyles and modus operandi of the exiled leadership. There were accusations that the NEC had grown unwieldy and the personal misconduct of some members was severely criticised by the rank and file who were starting to lose confidence in the leadership.
As a result of the failed Wankie campaign, the first armed military operation by the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, Cde Chris Hani drafted a memorandum to President OR Tambo in which he charged the leadership of the ANC with incompetence and living luxuriously in exile.
It was a scathing critique of the leadership’s apparent failure to recognise and give attention to those soldiers who participated in the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns (in other words there was disillusionment with the sitting ANC leadership and a gap, again whether perceived or not, between the leadership in exile and the relative comfort they lived in and those that they led).
The memo contrasted the tough conditions the military cadres had to endure with the more comfortable lifestyles of those in the political wing. Specific leaders such as Cdes Joe Modise, Moses Kotane and Duma Nokwe were singled out for special criticism.
In looking at these pre-Morogoro challenges one can draw clear comparisons with present day ANC challenges, albeit in a different context as the ANC is now a party in government as opposed to a party in exile fighting a just cause against a brutal, unjust and inhumane regime.
In the current context questions are being asked about the lifestyles and modus operandi of our leaders. There are loud cries about incompetence and lack of capacity against our leaders.
There is a gap (whether perceived or not) between the leadership and the people, hence the loud cries against “ANC arrogance” that have grown increasingly post the local government elections.
The people see a huge contrast between the increasing comfort that leadership lives in and their dire material conditions. Specific leaders, such as President Jacob Zuma have been singled out for special criticism.
There are increasing cries that the ANC must place new, younger, fresher, more dynamic leaders in key (strategic) positions in order to advance the NDR.
The NEC stands accused of being out-dated and out of touch with the times with NEC members’ conduct being severely criticised by ordinary members.
In light of all of this, one is inclined to ask the Leninist question in trying to reposition the ANC within society: what is to be done?
The answer once again lies in going back to Morogoro and the response of President OR Tambo and the leadership at the time.
Faced with its most serious crisis up to that point, the ANC initiated a process of consultation and discussion that culminated in the Morogoro consultative conference. President OR Tambo’s response amidst all the challenges of the time was to call for a consultative conference.
Prior to this conference he called for widespread consultation on the future of the organisation. A huge effort was made for these consultations to be as inclusive as possible. The NEC resolved that: “the conference must be the climax of a campaign of discussion, criticisms and proposals covering all aspects of our work.”
The NEC resolved that the consultative conference must “revolutionise the style of work and effectiveness of our organisation and achieve unanimity for future action.” The conference was convened after extensive consultations and its outcome was a change in the structure, character and ethos of the liberation movement as well as a renewed unity and determination to carry out its revolutionary responsibilities.
For example, the NEC was reduced from 23 Africans to 9 Africans, the Revolutionary Council was created to integrate the political and military strategy, and this council included people from other races.
The greatest outcome of course was the Strategy and Tactics document which informed the ANCs (people’s) struggle for many a decade from thereon and still remains profoundly germane in our day and age.
In Cde Joe Slovo’s opinion, “Morogoro also asserted the right of the rank and file to have a say on who would lead them.”(It countered the top-down leadership approach).
So in looking to reposition the ANC within society in the current context, we need to remind ourselves of the words of OR Tambo as quoted at the beginning and realise that the ANC does not belong only to its members, but to society at large and should therefore take society’s opinions into account as it seeks to continue leading as the “strategic centre of society”.
The ANC needs to take lessons from Morogoro and consult widely and extensively before calling a conference to consult and chart a way forward. The ANC needs structural and systemic changes which may necessitate leadership changes as happened post Morogoro.
The ANC needs to re-instill in essence (not just in ideal) the principle of the branch being the basic unit of the organisation. We need to rid ourselves of the top-down leadership approach.
We need fresh blood to help us take the struggle forward and fulfill the generational mandate of “economic freedom in our lifetime” as laid out by the ANCYL in its role as the radical re-energiser of the ANC.
In response to the Hani memorandum, some leaders, like Joe Modise called for harsh action to be taken against the signatories to the memorandum. They wanted the ANC to court martial and shoot the signatories to the Hani memo.
Parallels can be drawn here between the Hani memorandum and the harsh response and the present day Occupy Luthuli movement and calls for its leaders to be treated harshly and expelled.
We are all grateful that sanity prevailed and the signatories to the Hani memorandum weren’t court martialled and shot and hopefully history will record the same outcome about our response to the current dissenters in these challenging times.
We must remind ourselves of the words of a member of society on social media recently, who is not an ANC member but is a supporter and lover of this glorious people’s movement, “in the recent local government elections, the people of South Africa did not say that they want the EFF and the DA.
The message they delivered is that they want a better ANC to take them and the country forward.
CDE. LEBOGANG MAILE IS A MEMBER OF THE ANC GAUTENG PROVINCIAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE