Chief African Union mediator and former South African president, Thabo Mbeki speaks with media after his meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on April 6, 2012. , a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
POLITICAL REFLECTIONS: *Thabo Mbeki
Tell no lies, claim no easy victories!
"I am certain that the delegates will understand why I have said Conference must pose certain pointed questions to itself. As we all know, the reason 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..."
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. These tasks include an appropriate response to the all-important challenge posed by our 2nd National General Council that we must use the new phase of the National Democratic Revolution to "overcome the challenge of persisting under-development, of a deeply polarised society and economy", as the NGC said.
Correctly, the NGC emphasised that the central strategic task of our movement during the current phase of the National Democratic Revolution is to eradicate the deeply entrenched legacy of centuries of colonialism and apartheid, which continues to condemn millions of our people to poverty and underdevelopment and the perpetuation of the racial and gender inequalities that still characterise our society.
The 52nd National Conference will have to ask itself a very direct question and answer this question honestly and frankly - 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!
The 52nd National Conference will have to ask itself a very direct question and answer this question honestly and frankly - will our movement increase its popular support during the 2009 General Elections, as we increased our support in each General Election since our first democratic elections in 1994!
Again, the 52nd National Conference will have to ask itself a very direct question and answer this question honestly and frankly - 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, paying heartfelt tribute to our movement:
•for what it has and would have done to sacrifice everything for our liberation; and,
• using that freedom to lead the national offensive to accelerate the advance towards the creation of a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it!
I have the greatest confidence in this Conference and all the delegates that this is the right place and moment to place before our movement the serious challenge I have posed, confident that the delegates have the will and the capacity honestly and frankly to answer the questions I have listed.
I am certain that the delegates will understand why I have said Conference must pose certain pointed questions to itself. As we all know, the reason 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.
The Organisational Report of our Secretary General will indicate some of these negative and unacceptable tendencies, which stand in direct opposition to everything the ANC represents, including:
• its value system;
• its revolutionary morality;
• its selflessness;
• the comradeship among its members;
• its deep-seated respect for the truth and honesty;
• its determined opposition to deceit and double-dealing; and,
• its readiness openly to account to the masses of our people for everything it says and does.
The Constitution of the ANC says "the President is the head and chief directing officer of the ANC", who "shall make pronouncements for and on behalf of the NEC, outlining and explaining the policy and attitude of the ANC on any question."
Exactly the very same words feature in successive Constitutions of our movement, including, for instance, the 1958, 1991 and 1994 Constitutions, all of which were, like our current Constitution, adopted at our National Conferences.
I refer to these Constitutional imperatives, which have a binding effect on the President of the ANC, to explain to the delegates that as President of the ANC, I have an obligation openly to convey the President`s views to National Conference, especially on matters that are of vital importance to the defence of the character and historic tasks of our movement, and its reputation and esteem in the hearts and minds of the masses of our people.
Yet another reality from which many of us cannot free ourselves is that the African National Congress is the one and only object of true value that we own. This includes the delegates who are present in this place of assembly, as well as countless others who are not here, many of whom have never even carried an ANC membership card.
If we have any ambition of real worth and meaning, it is that our country and people should always remember us as having been exemplary members of the African National Congress.
Directly to confront the virus at the core of the disease that has produced and is producing this repulsive outcome, I would like to cite a vitally important observation our Secretary General made in his Organisational Report to our 51st National Conference, five years ago.
He said: "We have also reported to the NGC (held in 2000), on the challenges being in power has on the structures of the movement. 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.
"This often lies at the heart of conflicts between (ANC) constitutional and governance structures, especially at local level and is reflected in contestations around lists, deployment and the internal elections process of the movement. These practices tarnish the image and effectiveness of the movement.
"The limited political consciousness (among some of our members) has impacted negatively on our capacity to root out corrupt and divisive elements among ourselves. 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."
Nelson Mandela also drew our attention to this challenge when he opened our 50th National Conference in 1997. Among other things he said: "One of these negative features is the emergence of careerism within our ranks. Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification.
"Accordingly, they work to manipulate the movement to create the conditions for their success.
During the last three years, this has created such problems as division within the movement, conflicts based on differences among individuals, the encouragement of rank indiscipline leading to the undermining of our organisational integrity, conflict within communities and the demoralization of some of the best cadres of our organisation.
"Inevitably, this has also created the possibility for the opponents of our movement and our revolutionary perspectives to intensify their own offensive to promote their objectives which are opposed to our goal of creating a better life for all.
"In reality, during the last three years, we have found it difficult to deal with such careerists in a decisive manner. We, ourselves, have therefore allowed the space to emerge for these opportunists to pursue their counter-revolutionary goals, to the detriment of our movement and struggle."
As the delegates know, the document "Through the eye of a needle" also addresses some of the issues raised by the Secretary General. It says:
"Because leadership in structures of the ANC affords opportunities to assume positions of authority in government, some individuals then compete for ANC leadership positions in order to get into government. Many such members view positions in government as a source of material riches for themselves. Thus resources, prestige and authority of government positions become the driving force in competition for leadership positions in the ANC.
"Government positions also go hand-in-hand with the possibility to issue contracts to commercial companies. Some of these companies identify ANC members that they can promote in ANC structures and into government, so that they can get contracts by hook or by crook. This is done through media networks to discredit other leaders, or even by buying membership cards to set up branches that are ANC only in name.
"Positions in government also mean the possibility to appoint individuals in all kinds of capacities. As such, some members make promises to friends, that once elected and ensconced in government, they would return the favour. Cliques and factions then emerge within the movement, around personal loyalties driven by corrupt intentions. Members become voting fodder to serve individuals` self-interest."
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.
This includes unqualified people who get appointed to such positions as Municipal Managers, placemen and women who serve as the pliable tools of their political masters, and who are used to advance the commercial and political interests of their handlers and patrons.
We are aware of members of the ANC whom our Secretary General characterised as destructive elements which tarnish the image and effectiveness of our movement. These are people who abuse their positions in government consciously, purposefully and systematically to engage in corrupt practices aimed at self-enrichment.
These engage in criminal and amoral activities driven by the hunger for personal gain, acquired at the expense of the poor of our country, who constitute the millions-strong constituency which regularly votes for the ANC, and which we proudly claim to represent.
We have been horrified to hear reports of ANC members who occupy positions in government, who have murdered one another as they competed about who would emerge as the victor in the process of awarding government tenders to private sector companies in return for financial and material kickbacks paid by the winning bidders.
All of us, delegates to the 52nd National Conference of the ANC, are perfectly conscious of the ferocious and unprincipled battles that took place last year as our structures selected our candidate local government councillors for the 2006 municipal elections.
All of know this very well that this was driven by the objective to remove sitting councillors on the basis that these had to move way to give other people, card-carrying members of the ANC, an opportunity also to serve as councillors, and thus to gain an opportunity for self-enrichment.
We know this too, that some of those who lost in this immoral battle promptly resurfaced as members of formations of the broad democratic movement, or as leaders of groups of so-called "concerned citizens" to organise and lead public demonstrations intended to discredit members of our movement who had been legitimately nominated by our structures and elected democratically to serve in our system of governance for the prescribed periods.
What I have said, to give flesh to what our Secretary General said in 2002, might suggest, wrongly, that the destructive disease his comments sought to address relates mainly or only to the sphere of local government.
The fact of the matter, whether this is correct or false, is that members of the ANC and others among our citizens, have informed me that even the unprecedented fight for positions in the leadership that will be elected at this National Conference is informed by exactly the same imperatives identified by our Secretary General.
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.
In the paragraphs I have quoted the Secretary General pointed correctly to the impact that low levels of political education among some of our members has on our capacity to fight corruption in our ranks, as well as other negative tendencies.
Repeatedly over the years, our leadership has drawn attention to the critical importance of political education and cadre development. Again the Secretary General will reflect on this matter. The reality is that we have not attended to this matter with the seriousness and consistency it demands. As a result of this failure we must therefore expect that we will have members who, among other things, will have very little familiarity with the history and traditions of the ANC, its policies, its value system and its organisational practices.
One other negative consequence of this, in addition to what the Secretary General said, is that this makes it easy for people with bad intentions to mislead such members. Over the years we have seen the persistent propagation of outright falsehoods intended to discredit our leadership.
These have included entirely false claims about a shift of the policy making function from the constitutional structures of the movement to government, intolerance of different views and therefore the suppression of open discussion especially in the NEC, centralisation of power in the Government Presidency, and abuse of state power, thus further reducing the capacity of our movement to play its proper role as our country`s ruling party.
All these are complete fabrications. However, it is easy for members who, as I have said, have scant familiarity with the policies and procedures of the ANC. This is particularly so if those who spread these falsehoods are people whose word our members would have no reason to doubt.
In this regard I must mention yet another challenge that has assumed a higher profile during the years since our last National Conference. This is the practice that again is entirely foreign to our movement - the practice of using untruths, of resort to dishonest means and deceit to achieve particular goals.
Throughout the most difficult years of our struggle, our movement always refused to resort to these means to hide our reverses and difficulties and present a more optimistic picture than the circumstances justified. It was for this reason that what the late Amilcar Cabral once said gained great popularity in our ranks - tell no lies: claim no easy victories!
We must add to all this that during the period since our 51st National Conference initiatives by people who are obviously hostile to our movement who have sought to divide the leadership and weaken our movement. Specifically, I refer here to two instances.
One of these was the production and circulation of fake e-mails intended to create the impression that our leadership was divided into factions which were busy plotting against one another to advance their personal interests.
As the Conference is aware, our National Executive Committee denounced these e-mails as outright forgeries. This conclusion was confirmed by the independent Task Team that was appointed by the National Working Committee, at the request of the NEC, to investigate the whole issue of the e-mails.
More recently, we have also had to deal with what has come to be known as the "browse" document. Once again it was confirmed that this document was produced with the specific intention to divide and weaken our movement.
I mention these two instances, the e-mails and the "browse" document both to draw the attention of Conference to the fact that the forces that opposed our movement in the past have not abandoned their objective to defeat us and to emphasise the importance of empowering our members with the necessary political maturity to enable them to see through such manoeuvres as the production of the e-mails and the "browse" document.
More broadly, our experience has shown that the more our National Democratic Revolution advances, the more complex the issues we have to solve. The phenomenon exemplified by the e-mail and "browse" documents incidents also strongly suggests that the greater the progress we make, the harder will our opponents try to secure our defeat.
One of our continuing and important tasks is further to strive to promote the campaign for moral regeneration, based on doing everything we can to develop a value system in our country inspired by the concepts that are integral to the ubuntu/botho world outlook. This is central to our pursuit of the objective of building a caring and people-centred society.
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!
Yet another important challenge that faces us is the need for us continuously to engage the political and ideological struggle in defence of the strategy and policies of our movement. The battle of ideas rages in our country on a daily basis in many instances focused on the objective to change the policy positions we have adopted and move our country in directions to which we are opposed. Much of this daily barrage comes from people who represent the neo-liberal perspectives.
Another ideological challenge has arisen from within the ranks of the revolutionary movement. I refer here to the proposition that has been advanced that the National Democratic Revolution should now be replaced by the Socialist Revolution. This is an important issue, especially since it originates from within the ranks of our broad movement, and will undoubtedly arise as we discuss the Draft Strategy and Tactics document.
In this regard 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 Alliance have evolved in the last five years. Our movement will have to continue addressing this issue, especially given the fact we also have the historic responsibility to lead the Alliance.
Our movement remains firmly convinced of the need for us to sustain the alliance between the ANC, the SACP and COSATU because of the shared strategic interest in the victory of the National Democratic Revolution. We remain convinced that the objective situation in our country still demands the united action of the broad masses of our people, led by the ANC, the democratic trade union movement, led by COSATU, and the class conscious proletariat, led by the SACP. This is the historic basis for the birth of the Alliance many decades ago. It remains highly relevant and necessary even today.
The delegates will also be aware of the fact of the increasing role that our country has been playing to honour our pledge to extend our solidarity to the sister peoples of our Continent. In this regard, in many instances responding to regional and continental requests, we have been and will continue to be involved in the search for solutions to some of the most complex and challenging problems on our continent.
Accordingly, we have been and are engaged in processes aimed to address problems confronting challenges in such countries as the DRC, Burundi, Côte d`Ivoire, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Comoros, working with the leaders of these countries. Needless to say not everybody in the world, and in our country, has been happy with the interventions we have made. These have therefore opposed us.
However, reflecting the most fundamental positions of our movement, we have insisted on the right of the peoples of Africa, including ourselves, to determine our own destiny without any dictation from anybody. Again not everybody agrees with us on this matter, driven by the pursuit of what they perceive as their national interest.
All the challenges I have mentioned, including the matter raised by the 2nd NGC of the need and possibility to accelerate the process of socio-economic transformation, once again emphasise the need for us decisively to strengthen the ANC. As our experience during the last five years has shown, this is not just a matter of numbers. Critically it is a matter of the quality of our membership.
Without such a membership, which is steeped in the policies, the value system and the traditions of the ANC, our movement will fail in its effort both to respond to the challenges we have mentioned as well as act in an effective manner to advance the National Democratic Revolution, in the interests of the masses of our people.
By the time we close this National Conference we must have discussed this matter and taken decisions that will be implemented, literally to save both the ANC and our revolution. I am certain that all those of us who have followed the evolution of the political situation in our country and movement over the last five years will have no hesitation in agreeing that the single and most strategic task we face is to strengthen the ANC both quantitatively and qualitatively to the point of understanding and accepting the proposition - better fewer, but better!
In this regard I must also make the point that Conference should examine very carefully the assertion that has been made insistently for some time, that our movement is divided. We must ask the question and discuss it frankly - if we are divided, what divides us! 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!
All of us make the statement genuinely that we will emerge from this National Conference more united than ever before. We must ensure that this is not an empty slogan. We cannot afford to make merely rhetorical statements about the issue of our principled unity, with the purpose only to comfort our troubled hearts and minds. Conference must therefore confront this issue frontally, so that we do indeed emerge from this 52nd National Conference more united than ever before.
I believe that the various matters I have raised, relating to the serious political challenges facing our movement and revolution deserve the most serious attention of this important Conference. Undoubtedly, other and related matters will feature in the Report of the Secretary General.
I would like formally to propose to the delegates that this National Conference should give itself time to discuss these matters that are of central importance to the very nature and survival of our movement as truly a people`s movement.
Fortunately, the entirety of our leadership at various levels is present in this hall. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of our branches also have their representatives in this same hall.
These representatives now have the possibility to ask our leadership, including the President, any and all questions they may seek to pose, which would clarify any and all issues that have troubled them during the last five years, affecting the functioning of our movement.
They have the possibility openly to contest any and all the assertions I have made, as I sought to identify some of the problems that have confronted our movement in the last five years.
Given the importance of this Conference and the tasks ahead of us, and given that this is our highest decision-making body, it seems obvious to me that Conference must take the necessary steps to establish what the truth is about the many matters that have suggested that our movement is divided, and that especially the national leadership we elected in Stellenbosch in 2002 rather than implement the decisions we took then, has been involved destructive struggles among themselves, which have threatened the very survival of our movement.
If I may, I would like to reiterate the suggestion I have made - I formally propose to the delegates that this National Conference should give itself time to discuss these matters that are of central importance to the very nature and survival of our movement as truly a people`s movement.
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.
Despite everything I have said, we are all aware of the fact that the masses of our people, especially the poor, have the greatest confidence in our movement. In the period since the 51st National Conference, two elections have taken place in our country.
In both of these, the 2004 General Elections and the 2006 Local Government Elections, our people demonstrated once more that they continue to place their hopes in the ANC to lead our country to achieve the objective of a better life for all, again especially the poor.
This constitutes a heavy and sacred responsibility we cannot betray. All of us as genuine members of the African National Congress must make this solemn pledge and honour it in word and deed. 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.
As I have said and as the National Conference knows, 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.
And 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, paying heartfelt tribute to our movement:
•for what it has and would have done to sacrifice everything for our liberation; and,
• using that freedom to lead the national offensive to accelerate the advance towards the creation of a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it!
This 52nd National Conference of our movement must answer this question through all the decisions it will take. All of us must continue to march together as true comrades, to implement the decisions we will take at this last Ordinary National Conference before we celebrate on January 8th, 2012, the Centenary of this great movement of the people, the African National Congress.
On that day, we must be able to stand together as a united movement for revolutionary change, confident that the heroes and heroines who perished for our liberation and placed in our hands this irreplaceable repository of the hopes and aspirations of the masses of our people, the African National Congress.
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!
Amandla! Matla! Matimba
*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 Report to the ANC 52nd National Conference in Polokwane whose message remains relevant today.