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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The need for an effective ANC-led political centre

On 20th July 1995 the executives of the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance met to assess, amongst other things, the performance of the alliance over the first year of democratic government. A number of discussion papers flowed out of this July meeting, and these were presented to the subsequent Alliance Executives' Summit on 1st October 1995. The strategic perspectives of the following paper, as amended, were endorsed at this October meeting.

1. Introduction

1.1 The overwhelming consensus of the Tripartite Alliance executives meeting of 20th July 1995 was that the principal challenge in our present situation is to ensure effective, ANC-led, political co-ordination of our overall transformation process.

1.2 In many ways the battle-lines of our struggle have shifted on to the terrain of the RDP. In particular, the challenges are:

     safeguarding the fundamental vision of the RDP, that is, its developmental growth-path; and

     ensuring effective implementation of the RDP.

1.3 Our generally good policy visions and clear popular mandate are being eroded and dissipated by our own tendencies to become excessively departmental, provincial, and/or sectoral in our efforts.

1.4 Likewise, comrades in positions of authority at all levels, often feel isolated from an ANC-led political centre. Too often, they push ahead with policies and implementation that is informed by non-ANC specialists. And when their activities come under fire from our opponents, they find themselves out on a limb, without the mass base support of our movement.

1.5 Our own fragmentation, which leads to weak implementation, opens the space for our strategic opponents. The ANC's "failure to deliver on the RDP" is fast becoming their key line of attack. Since the April 1994 election, no major forces in our country, or externally, have dared to openly attack the RDP. Instead, they seek to undermine it by posing as its most consistent and reliable proponents. They wish to introduce a fundamentally different RDP", in which "growth" is delinked from developmental objectives, and in which growth is supposedly to he obtained by, in effect, reintroducing the NP's old Normative Economic Model.

2. The development state - lessons from other societies

2.1 "These difficulties and challenges confronting the ANC-led movement occur in a specific context. Our political tasks are not just routine governance. We are faced with a huge effort to structurally transform our society - to place it on a sustainable growth path, overcoming the massive structural crisis we have inherited.

2.2 All the experience of the 20th century underlines that, without a co-ordinated effort, societies like our own have little prospect of breaking out of underdevelopment and marginalisation. Such a break requires a purposeful transformation that achieves a sustained cycle of growth and development.

2.3 In the course of the 20th century, there have been a number of relatively successful reconstruction and development processes (although many have since foundered, or failed, or, having achieved certain objectives, have lost momentum). But all of the diverse examples emphasise one critical point: that relatively successful development requires a coherent, planned approach that harnesses resources around a purposive strategy to break out of colonial underdevelopment, structural depression, or war-time ruin.

2.4 This requires some kind of political centre that is capable of managing (in one way or another) divisive sectoral, factional, regional, and ethnic interests, as well as international pressures.

2.5 While a political centre requires technical competence, it is essentially a political function, and cannot be reduced merely to a planning unit, for instance.

One characteristic form of political centre has been:

3. The authoritarian state as political centre

3.1 In the socialist command economies, as in the Asian "Newly Industrialised Countries" (NICs), the political centre has typically been a strong authoritarian state. Many of their subsequent structural problems (in both cases) relate to this reality. But the central, co-ordinating, driving role of the authoritarian state, in these cases, has been a major factor for transformation.

3.2 Many post-colonial societies, attempting to pursue a national democratic transformation programme, have also tended to evolve politically in this direction. One-partyism, a strong leader, suppression of autonomous formations, intolerance of difference, etc. have all been justified in the name of driving and defending the NDR process.

4. A South African way

4.1 In SA we have, correctly, rejected the authoritarian state route.

4.2 We have done this for both:

     principled reasons - we are deeply committed to thorough-going democratisation, and

     (secondarily) for practical reasons.

There are two considerations here: - the democratic empowerment of the broad mass of our people will, in the long run, he our principal asset for ongoing transformation; and - the global and domestic balance of forces, and the manner of our achieving governmental power, all make a "progressive" authoritarianism (if there is such a thing) impossible - we cannot simply marginalise our strategic opponents. We need to engage them, draw them in, as much as possible, to our agenda, through democratic means. They will (and are), of course, seeking to do precisely the same to us.

5. Our own national democratic political bloc

5.1 In our situation, we need to rely on a political bloc of organised forces in and out of government, essentially drawn from and representing the broad majority that has been historically oppressed. This national democratic political bloc is:

     centred around the ANC - which straddles government, parliament, and the ANC as a broad liberation movement.

     includes the tripartite alliance - but extends well beyond into a range of MDM formations.

5.2 It is not, therefore, a question of reinventing the wheel, but of ensuring that, in the new conditions, this political bloc is able to assert (re-assert) its leadership over the process of change. This requires that many of the formations within this bloc are rebuilt, and that all are strengthened organisationally and in terms of strategic unity. It also means that they all need to adapt to the new developmental challenges.

6. To summarise thus far:

6.1. A successful RDP, including effective nation building and ongoing democratic transformation, require a co-ordinated and purposeful effort.

6.2 A combination of principled and practical realities means that the ANC's leadership has to be (already is) exercised primarily through hegemonic means (influence, electoral and other popular support, persuasion, taking the moral and political high ground, political and technical superiority of vision, clarity and decisiveness); and not primarily through repression, naked coercion and/or go-it-alone approaches. We are attempting to implement an RDP, not behind a Wall, or within an alternative bloc, or in some liberated zone. We are operating on the terrain of SA as we have inherited it, with a particular balance of forces. We are also operating within a particular global context that is not spontaneously sympathetic to our objectives.

6.3 Put another way, our leadership needs to be exercised through engaging with the widest range of forces (domestic and international), many of which are hostile to our objectives. Our purpose in engaging them is, nevertheless, to draw them, as much as possible, on to the terrain of our agenda.

6.4 This has many implications for both the style of politics that we practise, as well as for the kinds of institutions that become important.

6.4.1 "Partnerships", "consultation", "consensus-building", "mediation" and "conciliation", "golden triangle and multi-partite meetings", "accords" - these are all organically part and parcel of this kind of political practice, and of the kind of terrain on which we are operating.

6.4.2 In turn, a great variety of institutions already are part of this politics - parliamentary processes (standing committees, hearings, theme commit-tees), NEDLAC, GNU, GPUs, LDFs, Housing Forums, Electricity Forums, University Transformation Forums, etc., etc. Some of these institutions (like the GNU) are, more or less transitional compromises, but many others will be much more enduring. Most of these institutions are not merely tactical arrangements, their proliferation throughout our society underlines their deep-seated structural underpinnings.

6.5 However, the effective combination of 6.1 (the imperative of purposiveness) and 6.2 (the imperative of multi-lateral engagements) requires that there be an ANC-led political centre capable precisely of CO-ORDINATING and DRIVING a political, social and economic transformation programme through a wide network of forums and institutions. Otherwise, the imperatives of 6.2 will absolutely overwhelm the decisive need for 6.1.

7. The ANC - a political movement

7.1 In approaching the above challenges, the internal life and character of the ANC-led movement need to equip it (and its tens of thousands of cadres) to play this broader hegemonic role. In fact, the history, structures and culture of the ANC and its allied formations are an immense strength in this regard.

7.2 The ANC is not a narrow parliamentary party (like the NP, for instance). In the case of the NP (like many narrow electoral parties), a parliamentary caucus appoints the party leader and makes all key decisions. The Federal Congress is a marginal, US-style jamboree, rather than a serious policy-making structure, The ANC's broad movement character, its stress on the political primacy of constitutional structures and of Conference, its constant working in the midst of a Tripartite alliance, and a broader MDM movement, all of these are great strengths, not least for the terrain on which we are operating.

7.3 These strengths were well illustrated by the capacity of the ANC to marshal a range of parties (many of them the direct creations of the old NP-regime) in the Kempton Park negotiations. This was in stark contrast with the NP's failure to stamp its own strategic options on to the process. The ANC's inner culture equipped it to play such a role (despite the problematic multilateral character of the negotiations - insisted upon by the NP and not us). By contrast, the NY's narrow, inner caucus politics (which worked relatively well in the context of an authoritarian state) simply alienated its own potential allies.

7.4 These ANC strengths need to be carried over into our notion of an ANC-led political centre in the current situation.

8. Practically, what kind of political centre?

8.1 Once more, it is less a question of reinventing the wheel, still less of undermining existing ANC and allied constitutional structures.

8.2 Given the hegemonic (rather than authoritarian) style of politics we are practising, the political centre will not be a "war centre" committee, with narrow top-down powers. Much of the structuring will be net-works of mutual influence and reinforcement. We are talking about a political centre that is genuinely organic to a broad national democratic movement. But this does not mean that we can simply be spontaneous and unplanned about it.

8.3 It is also critical that we do not invent a whole series of extra meetings for an already overstretched leadership. What is critical is making our existing ANC and alliance constitutional structures:

     work more effectively in terms of strategic priorities;

     work to rigorous programmes of action; and

     network effectively so that different levels and functions rein-force a common strategic purpose.

9. The ANC

9.1 It is essential, in the first place, that we pay particular attention to the ANC-based inter-linkages between key sites - ANC and the presidency, ANC and the deputy presidency, ANC and the cabinet, ANC and parliament, ANC and provinces, ANC and the alliance, ANC and the broader MDM.

9.2 Certain ANC constitutional structures emerge as crucial. In particular, this applies to the NWC. This is the ANC organ that meets very regularly (weekly) and that spans (potentially) the presidency, deputy presidency, cabinet, parliament, ANC officials, ANC as movement, and the broader alliance and MDM.

     How do we improve the capacity of the NWC - given that most of its members are desperately over-stretched?

And, above all

     How do we ensure that all of us (in and out of the NWC) are able to help it, even compel it, to function as a key political centre that is able to drive the RDP? How do we shift the agenda of the NWC away from week-to-week crisis management, towards strategic oversight of RDP implementation?

Clearly, the NWC cannot he strengthened if it is not itself empowered by the strengthening of a great number of other structures.

9.3 In the first place, this requires upgrading the capacity of an over-stretched SGO - which needs to process strategic issues for, and receive weekly political guidance from the NWC.

9.4 Then, there are additional critical areas that require major reinforcement:

     The capacity of the ANC, as movement, to reinforce the Presidency needs urgent attention. To what extent, for instance, are we, as an ANC, able to supply the Presidency with frequent strategic briefings and guidance, which draw on all the re-sources of government, but which do not simply rely on technocratic information (often generated by the old-guard bureaucracy)?

9.5 We need, also, to help strengthen:

     the ANC officials and the initiative to convene regular meetings of the ANC chair and provincial chairs.

     the ANC cabinet caucus, and its linkages to the broader ANC, and movement;

     the ANC parliamentary caucus; and the ANC across legislatures (national assembly and provinces);

     the ANC NEC subcommittees and the NEC itself.

10. The Tripartite Alliance

10.1 In the context of a national democratic political bloc of forces, the tripartite alliance is central. The unity of the alliance needs to be deepened, based on a common strategic programme (essentially the RDP), and a mutual respect for the specific roles, constituencies and autonomy of the three partners.

10.2 The national tripartite secretariats meet fortnightly, and these meetings have been partly responsible for initiating the present process (which emerged from the Tripartite Executive Summit of July 20 1995). The national secretariats need to feed more dynamically into the weekly meetings of the NWC, and into the constitutional structures of the three partners.

10.3 There are many other joint alliance initiatives, which include:

     a monthly Alliance Media Forum (which is elaborating a joint programme of action);

     the alliance media project, the Centre for Democratic Communication; and

     joint SACP/COSATU affiliate political education schools, etc. etc.

10.4 The alliance has also been driving the RDP Council process.

11. Policy formation and governmental implementation

11.1 One of the major weaknesses in our movement these past 18 months has been a tendency for ANC ministers to move ahead with major transformation programmes without having run these effectively through ANC, and alliance constitutional structures. The reasons for this are often understandable, there are huge pressures on ministers to deliver. however, the results are usually the opposite, there is very often delay and confusion and not the expediting of effective policy formation and implementation.

11.2 ANC ministers have a responsibility to take issues of a strategic and transformational character to relevant constitutional structures - in particular to the NWC and relevant NEC subcommittees (which now span all major areas of governance). We are not, of course, talking about routine ministerial management issues. We are not talking about hamstringing cabinet ministers, on the contrary.

11.3 Proper processing of key transformational and strategic policy questions enables the ANC to get reports of what is in the pipe-line to its constitutional structures and to its broader alliance. This will also encourage broader input. In this way, ministers are protected from being forced out on a limb, or being thrown to the wolves by the commercial media.

11.4 There are also many other ways of ensuring dynamic contact around policy formation and co-ordination of implementation.

     Already there are some positive experiences with, for instance, a Housing Policy Unit, and an ANC-led Health Forum (which has tended to directly precede Min-MEC meetings). The Forum brings together the ANC Minister, ANC MECs, ANC extra-governmental structures, the alliance, and relevant ANC-aligned MDM and NGO formations.

What are the prospects of replicating this arrangement in other sectors?

What possibilities are there for grouping such forums into slightly broader meetings, for instance an Environment Forum (so that we do not get too departmentalised)?

11.5 In similar vein, and partly in answer to the last question, the first meeting of an RDP National Forum has been convened. This was convened by the ANC and includes the RDP Department in the President's Office, the Tripartite alliance, ANC provincial RDP co-ordinators, ANC RDP MECs (or their ANC provincial equivalents), and Provincial RDP ANC-aligned DGs. Future meetings are planned.

12. The Broad Mass Democratic Movement

12.1 Critical to hegemonic leadership and to a people-driven RDP is a mobilised and organised MDM. Many of our MDM sectors are weak. The ANC-led alliance needs to see the rebuilding of key MDM formations as a necessity for the ANC, and for effective governance itself.

12.2 Honest and constructive examination of all key MDM formations, including the Leagues is necessary. The ANC, and Alliance need to develop targeted programmes of action, including assistance with resources and cadres, to strengthen and rebuild key formations.

12.3 At least one annual MDM Congress needs to be convened by the ANC, at which a range of forces, including progressive sporting and religious formations, can collectively assess our performance in government, share perspectives, and clever op common programmes of action, etc.

13. Communicating a mass line

13.1 Another critical dimension to cementing the unity of a national democratic political bloc lies in the ability to effectively communicate a mass line. Effective reorganisation of our own formations and of broader MDM, CBO and progressive NGO organisations AND their broad unification around a common mass line is the way in which we can unleash the creativity of millions of ordinary people.

13.2 There are at least five dimensions to this:

     harnessing governmental communications facilities more effectively and purposively;

     using Parliament (parliamentary questions, etc.) more effectively to propagate our perspectives;

     improving our own dynamic inter-action with, and transformation struggles within, the main-line commercial media and the SABC;

     fostering, facilitating and being a leading force within the emerging community media sector (including the critically important Community Radio network);

     putting more resources into and greatly improving our own organisational media.

14. Provincial and lower levels

14.1 It will not he helpful if we practise a non-authoritarian, hegemonic political leadership at a national level, but fail to do this provincially.

14.2 At the provincial and also lower levels we need to replicate, with appropriate adjustments, all of the above principles. In particular:

     we need assert the strategic political primacy of ANC PWCs and PECs; and

     we need to ensure that the Tripartite alliance is meeting regularly and effectively at all levels.

15. Consultation versus implementation?

15.1 A developmental approach of the kind that we have adopted sees no fundamental contradiction between consultation and effective implementation. Indeed, the former is a precondition for the latter. But this does not mean that implementation is not often a critical problem, not least in our current situation. A number of basic points of principle need to he noted:

15.2 Consultation does not mean an endless cycle of discussion, without any implementation. It does not mean that we have to wait for unanimity before proceeding. In many sectors, a small minority with a vested stake in maintaining the status quo (taxi owners, perhaps, or monopoly industries) will seek to hold up democratic transformation. At the end of the day, there are often class or sectoral interests which are not going to be resolved in discussion. While all interested parties need to be engaged in consultation, transformation must be driven through by our elected democratic government and broader movement.

15.3 Partly related to 15.2, there is often a tendency for us to wait for the "perfect national" plan to emerge before we begin implementation. The pursuit of the "perfect" can drive out the good. This does not mean that we should implement programmes in incoherent or unplanned ways. But it does mean greater emphasis on getting implementation going and building into the project cycle evaluation and correction. The best programmes will not emerge from endless debate, but from actual experience that is constantly evaluated, corrected, and applied.

15.4 A key blockage in our present ability to implement is at the level of the public service. There are enormous problems in this area, and yet it is critical to effective implementation. Priority must be given to a clear transformation strategy in this area, and to actual implementation of this strategy, This also means seeking to influence politically, not in narrow party political ways, the outlook and commitment of the civil service to the reconstruction and development priorities of our country.

15.5 The problems with the existing public service are exacerbated by the multiplication of administrations that we have under the present provincial dispensation. In many respects, we are constitutionally bound to a system that is more expensive than we can afford, We need to do everything to ensure that we do not accumulate an even larger and more unwieldy civil service.

15.6 In deepening an ANC-led political centre as outlined in this paper, we must ensure that we do not fall into an habitual error. Political leadership structures without the next essential layer of implementation structures will not work. Strengthening the ANC NWC or SGO, for instance, does not just mean more, strategically purposive meetings for the leading officials in our organisations. It means, critically, ensuring that there is also effective administrative and organisational infrastructure.

15.7 When we speak of a political centre, we are really speaking of political leadership in a broader sense. The capacity of a constitutional structure like the ANC's NWC to play a decisive strategic role as a political centre depends on the effective, well-managed functioning of all levels and sectors of the broad ANC-led national democratic political bloc.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.