Thursday, October 27, 2016

27th October 2016
ANC Viewpoints

In the month of October we remember President Oliver Tambo. The principal motivation for this remembrance is to immortalize his memory through time and to draw important political lessons from his life.

The electoral results of August 3 have emboldened the misguided idea that the ANC is experiencing challenges that are impossible to overcome. This is stated as part of an effort to convince many members of the ANC and society to desert the movement.

We, however, have to remind ourselves that even Comrade Oliver Tambo led the ANC during difficult times with many internal challenges that could have killed the movement. The banning of the ANC by the apartheid regime and the mass arrest of its senior leaders between 1961 and1964 meant that the ANC had to quickly rethink its political and organizational strategy. This included the transformation of its external mission to a complete exile situation with military, political and organizational dimensions that the ANC had not anticipated and prepared for systematically.

The death of President Luthuli effectively meant comrade Tambo had to assume overall leadership of the ANC, in exile and back at home, with all the complications that came with it, including serious internal divisions. However, Cde OR actively sought to allow dissent to express itself in a manner that didn’t compromise the unity of purpose that the movement is about. In his own thinking, the ANC represented something greater than a political party and its unity had to be defended at all cost.

He viewed the ANC as a decisive development in the birth of an African Nation out of the historical patterns of tribal nationalism. In his view, the formation of the ANC was part of a transformation of the old political institutions of the oppressed towards the creation of a single African identity, with the ANC serving as the platform upon which this new identity would be fashioned out. He made this point quite clearly on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the ANC, on 8 January 1972, when he said;

“After the festivities, activities and holidays marking the end of the year and the beginning of the next, the leaders of the African people converged in Bloemfontein on January 8, 1912, to found the African Nation, to become one people and to continue their centuries-old struggle against whites as one Black people that spoke and acted through the African National Congress which, established on that day, concretized the existence of this nation and gave it form and character.”

As part of his sociological theory of the ANC and its birthing of an African identity, Tambo insisted throughout his life that the movement had to forever strive for unity of purpose and be at the forefront of South Africa’s socio-political imagination. He believed that the movement had to try to always help society interpret historical moments and events in a progressive manner. Therefore, to Cde OR, the task of political communication was a non-negotiable aspect of the broad political strategy of the ANC in maximizing its hegemony in society.

In his mind the ANC had to provide convincing political perspectives to the people in order to condition the thinking and conduct of activists and communities in an effort to increase the tempo of struggle at every turn of history. For him the ANC had to constantly rise above the contested media terrain by seeking to always assert its own moral perspectives openly, defend its decisions and insist on engaging society in its own terms. Currently, the ANC is fully displaced as a leader of public imagination. We have arrived at a point where we derive our political perspectives from narratives developed and advanced by other voices, especially in media spaces.

We, as the ANC, have become reactive and thus conducting our political strategy as a response to a political agenda that is no longer set by us.

Whilst being open to public criticism, including media criticism, a revolutionary organization has to systematically filter what it receives from outside and assert its homegrown perspectives about the nature of internal problems.

The ANC must always have the rational capacity to determine the substance of critical thinking that serves its own agenda and reject what doesn’t positively reinforce the legitimacy of the movement. As part of the present situation we have to be serious about the need to defend and advance the legitimacy of the decisions of the ANC. There is a systematic attempt to divide the movement by always inviting individual members of the ANC to break rank, reject ANC decisions and thus advertise themselves as the only ones with sound moral values amongst us.

As part of this bid to have the ANC tear itself apart, for the past 10 years, the ANC has been placed in a corner in which it has to always field attempts to have it reject its own President. A troubling view has gained strength in which all problems of the ANC and the country are presented as the personal engineering of President Jacob Zuma. Thus, to resolve all of these challenges, the ANC is implored to condemn and remove its president.

This reductionist perspective is now being embraced by some sections of the movement. They are gaining unlimited access to media platforms in order to advance this unproductive and diverting view. Effectively the ANC now approaches matters of political leadership on the basis of this mood created about whether it will keep or reject its President. Every decision and view is interpreted within the framework of pro or anti-Zuma factional lenses.

This agenda is succeeding in so far as it keeps the ANC in a cycle of the same discussion and thus losing capacity to advance its own political programme of social transformation. The movement is trapped in this cycle of disunity and by extension lacks the required unity of purpose that can allow it to effectively discharge its strategic leadership of both the state and society.

All of this means that the ANC has drifted away from the teachings of President Oliver Tambo on the value of unity and coherent political leadership of the country’s social and political imagination. We have lost the political initiative of setting the national agenda. Cde OR’s experience as a founding member and leading thinker of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), informed his knowledge that sustainable organizational and political renewal depends on young people. He understood that the senior membership of the ANC has a duty to listen to its youth and to draw new ideas from these fresh sections of society on how best to improve the organization and the country.

Therefore, the ANCYL has to reclaim its role as the main driver of renewal in the ANC. To discharge this task, our thinking must go beyond obsession with leadership questions just for the sake of it. This includes the need to force the ANC to listen seriously to the cries of the youth about the structural problems that produce underdevelopment, unemployment and economic marginalization.

In this regard we must understand the current #FeesMustFall stalemate to be a launch pad for a broader critique of the legitimacy and responsiveness of the state. This is related to the ability of the ANC in government to effectively deal with social transformation in a manner that visibly transfers the wealth structures and institutions of social power in our country to the control of African people as the primary motive force for change.

Had the ANC implemented its conference resolution of free education by 2013, there would be no FeesMustFall stalemate in the country. Instead of expending our energies on internal cat and mouse chases, the ANC must collectively ground itself in the task of tackling practical matters of youth development as a means of building a stable future.

As OR Tambo warned, a nation that doesn’t take care of its youth does not deserve its future. A divided ANC loses its capacity to lead the development of a united, democratic and socially transformed African nation as imagined by the founding members of the ANC and Youth League. Close ranks and unite around the primary tasks of the national democratic revolution!


This is an abridged version of the ANCYL OR Tambo Memorial Lecture he delivered in Mpumalanga on 22 October, 2016.


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