Monday, December 17, 2007

Mbeki Says There's A Virus in the ANC: Polokwane Conference Report From the President

Mbeki: There's a virus in the ANC

Mail & Guardian Online reporters and Sapa
Polokwane, South Africa
16 December 2007 02:24

African National Congress (ANC) president Thabo Mbeki has hit out against party members who use lies and dishonesty to achieve their goals.

Presenting his political report on the first day of the ANC's 52nd national conference in Polokwane, Mbeki said that this was a challenge that had assumed a "higher profile" since the party's previous conference in 2002. "This is the practice that again is entirely foreign to our movement -- the practice of using untruths, of resort[ing] to dishonest means and deceit to achieve particular goals," he said.

Even in the most difficult years of the liberation struggle, the ANC had always refused to resort to "these means" to hide its reversals and difficulties, or to present a more optimistic picture than circumstances justified.

The 52nd national conference would have to ask itself three direct questions, and answer these honestly and frankly, he said.

"Is the ANC capable of discharging its responsibilities to the masses of our people, the peoples of Africa and the rest of the world during this critical phase of our national democratic revolution? Will our movement increase its popular support during the 2009 general elections? Does the ANC have the will and capacity to lead our country and people over the next five years in a manner that will enable the nation to celebrate our centenary in 2012 together?"

Mbeki added: "As we all know, the reason [to ask these questions] is that during the years since our liberation in 1994, certain negative and completely unacceptable tendencies have emerged within our movement, which threaten the very survival of the ANC as the trusted servant of the people it has been for 96 years."

To confront "the virus at the core of the disease that has produced and is producing this repulsive outcome", Mbeki cited an observation made by the ANC secretary general at the 51st national conference, five years ago: "'We found that the issues dividing the leadership of some of our provinces are not of a political nature, but have mainly revolved around access to resources, positioning themselves or others to access resources, dispensing patronage and in the process using organisational structures to further these goals ... For the movement to renew itself as a revolutionary movement, we have to develop specific political, organisational and administrative measures to deal with such destructive elements.'"

Mbeki added: "As a consequence of the disease to which our secretary general drew our attention, all of us, cadres of our movement and the ANC itself, have been exposed to the shame and humiliation of people who are our members, who come to meetings of our structures carrying weapons, with the intention to terrorise members of the ANC to bow to their will.

"We have been exposed to the pernicious practice of people buying others membership cards of the ANC to guarantee themselves a captive group of voting cattle, whose members had and have absolutely no desire to join the ANC. All of us are aware of the poisonous phenomenon foreign to our movement, which many of us have characterised as the ownership of some members by other members. These are people who, while holding ANC membership cards, do not belong to the ANC but belong to those who paid their subscriptions."

He said that he had been informed that the "unprecedented" fight for positions in the ANC leadership that will be elected at the conference was informed by these same imperatives. "The allegation that has been made is that at least some of the contending groups in this regard have acted as they have, with an eye to who would serve in positions of authority in our system of governance after the 2009 general elections."

Mbeki also condemned acts by people "who are obviously hostile to our movement who have sought to divide the leadership and weaken our movement", specifically, the hoax emails debacle and what has come to be known as the "Special Browse" document.

"What this emphasises is the need for our movement to distinguish itself by its exemplary behaviour, setting an unquestionable example of what Nelson Mandela meant when he spoke about the RDP of the soul!" he said.


Another ideological challenge has arisen from within the ranks of the revolutionary movement, added Mbeki. "I refer here to the proposition that has been advanced that the national democratic revolution should now be replaced by the socialist revolution ... I am certain that I speak for all the delegates when I say that none of us can be happy with the manner in which relations within the [tripartite] alliance have evolved in the last five years."

There is a need to sustain the alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, he said. "We remain convinced that the objective situation in our country still demands the united action of the broad masses of our people."

Mbeki also urged delegates to examine very carefully the claim that the ANC was divided.

"We must ask the question and discuss it frankly: If we are divided, what divides us?" he said. "If we are divided, what should we do to address this challenge, given the naked truth that a divided ANC can never discharge its historic responsibilities to the masses of our people?"

He said he was convinced that the party would emerge from the conference more united than ever before. "None of the tasks we have set ourselves can be achieved unless the ANC remains strong and united, determined to maintain its character as a servant of the people."

Struggle against poverty

On beating poverty, Mbeki pointed to the strong economy. "The major strategy to reduce poverty and inequality is to enable the economy to create jobs."

He said the growth target set by the government's Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (Asgisa) -- sustained growth above 4,5% up to 2009 and on average more than 6% between 2010 and 2014 -- has been exceeded thus far, and real income per capita rose from R29 000 in 2001 to more than R35 000 in 2006.

"There are a number of reasons for our growing success in rolling back poverty," he said. "The most important factors are the increase in employment and ... in social grants."

Government debt has fallen to just more than 30% of GDP and public spending has increased. Though inflation is higher than it should be today, Mbeki said, it should be seen in perspective against the inflation rate of 13% at the time of the ANC's Stellenbosch conference.

Other economic advances include dealing with cartels, the Consumer Credit Act, the Financial Services Charter, skills training and improved employment equity -- though black ownership of the economy as a whole "remains very low" at about 12%, according to a recent survey.

Also, "as far as the empowerment of women is concerned, we have not made as much progress in the economic sphere as we have made in the political and legal spheres".

Mbeki praised industrial strategies in industries such as tourism and business-process outsourcing, as well as foreign investment and technological innovation. He also said "we expect significant successes linked to biofuels over the next few years".

Social transformation

"We are still face with enormous challenges" in bringing a better life for all, said Mbeki, despite progress made since 1994.

The rate of unemployment has fallen since 2003 to 25,2% in March this year. There is a long way to go to halve unemployment by 2014, he said, "but we are steadily moving in the right direction".

The poverty gap -- between the average incomes of those below and above the poverty line -- fell by about 20% between 2001 and 2006. The poorest group according to the Living Standards Measure data has been halved.

The government has made "major efforts" to cover the many people who are eligible for social assistance grants. However, Mbeki added: "While we have made significant progress in poverty reduction, the growth of incomes of the rich has also been rapid. The result is that, although poverty is significantly down, inequality remains very high."

He also listed progress made in housing development, food security, support of emerging farmers, school nutrition and land acquisition.

Regarding education, he said illiteracy and lack of education are acute challenges. "Accordingly, it becomes a matter of great concern to all of us when we learn that South African children are among the poorest performers with regard to reading skills." Ministers and the Department of Education are looking into this matter.

The matric pass rate has increased since the 1990s, but "the challenge to improve the quality of education remains". Some schools still have high levels of overcrowding, and learners are still taught under trees.

In health matters, "we have sought to enhance the promotion of healthy lifestyles and avoidance of risky behaviour, especially among the youth". Apart from an improved focus on diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension, the government's strategies to combat Aids and tuberculosis are being implemented.

"Unacceptable levels of crime" is an ongoing challenge, Mbeki said. Looking at crime trends, most violent crime occurs in poor or economically depressed areas. Therefore, socio-economic development also helps combat crime.

Improved technology at the disposal of police and partnerships with civil society have also assisted in battling crime.

"At the same time, it is important to reflect on our own role, as the structures of the movement, with regard to this important matter of intensifying campaigns against crime, especially on the matters of illegal weapons, drugs, corruption, abuse of women and children and family violence."

Regarding corruption in the Department of Home Affairs, he said: "The activities constitute a serious threat to our national security. Home Affairs is undergoing important transformation to eradicate corruption and ensure that all its offices and workers provide efficient services to the population."

Women and youth

In both the private sector and civil society, "this important matter of gender equality has begun, at least, to form part of their programmes. Yet, the private sector in particular still has a long way to go to ensure better representation of women on the boards of the majority of companies as well as in management positions."

Said Mbeki: "We are happy that our Parliament is ranked 10th out of 130 parliaments in the world in terms of women's advancement in governance." However, the private sector has to do more to address this important matter.

On gender equality, the ANC's 2007 policy conference proposed the establishment of a ministry for women and an assessment of the instruments meant to deal with women's issues. "In the meantime, we have sought to intensify the struggle against rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Among other things, this has resulted in the increased number of reported cases and conviction levels of this category of crime."

He added: "Critically, continued acts, practices and attitudes that demean the lives of women constitute an indictment on the conscience of society in ways that undermine our freedom and democracy and further serve to question our collective credentials as fighters for and upholders of human freedom. All of us need to understand this very clearly that the struggle to defeat patriarchy is a central and integral part of the national democratic revolution."

All government anti-poverty programmes continue to pay attention to the upliftment of women. "We are therefore happy that the presidential working group on women has decided to launch a retirement fund for women, starting with domestic workers as members."

Mbeki said the conference must also oppose the persistence of sexism and patriarchal attitudes and practices "both within the ANC and the rest of the democratic movement".

To provide opportunities to youth, the government is intensifying its campaign to link up unemployed graduates with economic opportunities, for example through its jobs database.

"Our movement has expressed concern about the demobilisation of young people in many critical facets of our socio-political life. As a response to this, we are working to enrol 30 000 volunteers in various community development activities as well as increase youth participation in national programmes that enhance social cohesion," said Mbeki.

To fight poverty, the government has a target to employ 5 000 young people as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme in the maintenance of government buildings.

The question of Zuma

Referring to his deputy, Jacob Zuma, who may still be recharged with corruption, Mbeki simply said: "Needless to say, one of the most difficult and painful challenges we have faced over the last five years have arisen around out of matters affecting our deputy president.

"Part of the difficulty we faced in this regard, which has resulted in many of our members criticising the NEC for failing to provide leadership, was that here we were dealing with an unprecedented situation, and therefore had no body of experience that would help our leadership and movement to deal with this situation adequately. All of us hope that we will and can put these matters behind us sooner rather than later."

Mbeki concluded by saying: "It is our conduct and practical deeds as true agents of progressive change, and not what we say, that identifies us as true revolutionaries, loyal servants of the masses of our people.

"We are only five years away from celebrating the centenary of our movement. This will be a moment of immense pride and great inspiration not only to our members and people, but also to the peoples of Africa, all black people everywhere and all those in the world who are striving and dream of their all-round emancipation.

"Therefore I pose the question once again: Does the ANC have the will and capacity to lead our country and people over the next five years in a manner that will enable the nation to celebrate our centenary in 2012 together?"

He added: "While we live and have even an ounce of strength in our bones, all of us, genuine and loyal members of the African National Congress, must act in a manner that truly confirms that the ANC lives: the ANC leads!"


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