When I was asked to speak on the topic: The ANC Then; Now, my instinctive concern was which then. For the ANC even after an existence of nearly a century, there can be no definitive moment. Except perhaps April 27th 1994 when for the very first time, the people of South Africa were able to choose, in a democratic process, a government for their country. But that was but one step, towards the objectives set by the ANC founders.
The decade of the 1980s, in which both Ruth First and Dulcie September were killed, was a period of significant changes for both the liberation movement and for the apartheid rulers. At the end of the 1970s there had been an extensive clamp down on all forms of resistance: more individuals were detained, banished, or placed under house arrest; organisations and newspapers and other publications were banned, and most forms of political activity restricted. The white population was militarized. This was the prelude to Botha’s total strategy onslaught, as celebrations for the establishment of the South African Republic were planned.
However, these celebrations met with bomb blasts, boycotts and rallies marking a new wave of resistance; so too were the instruments of apartheid reforms. The tricamaral constitution was rejected by those it was intended to co-opt. The Local Authorities that were offered to the African people were boycotted. (In Soweto there was a poll of only 11%). In 1983, over 600 grass root organisations came together under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF). By the time the ANC called on the people to make the country ungovernable by destroying the instruments of their oppression, most of the new structures were dysfunctional. Rent and rates protests, and other forms of resistance grew. The National Union of Mineworkers and the newly formed COSATU extended their activities beyond the shop floor into the political arena. Sabotage and armed actions by MK and township youth also increased: from 45 in 1884, to 137, then 235 and 282 in 1988. There was a clamour for the release of Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners.
The total onslaught extended outside our borders. The front line states were destabilised and their economies attacked. There were two attacks by SADF commandos and Vlakplaas operatives on Maseru; Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe were bombed and attacked. Angola was invaded. ANC personnel were assassinated including Joe Gqabi(1981) in Harare, Ruth First in Maputo, the Schoon family in Luanda, Cassius Make and others in Swaziland and so on.
Apartheid agents operated in Europe, and established links with fascist and other right wing individuals and organisations, as well as mercenary networks. There were bomb attacks on ANC offices in Belgium, London, and Stockholm; and a bizarre plot by mercenaries to kidnap and assassinate a hit list of ANC personnel in London, including Joe Slovo. It is in this context that we should locate the assassination of ANC chief representative in France, Dulcie September.
While a few ANC members did settle and come to terms with a life in exile, life for the majority was uncomfortable and tough, with physical and emotional hardship and insecurity. To remain an ANC member required a great deal of commitment and sacrifice. Examples I have a son.
In the mid eighties, Mr Mandela began to engage with the authorities, to urge them to start negotiations with the ANC. He had made clear, on more than one occasion that prisoners could not negotiate, only the legitimate leaders of the oppressed could do so. After an initial gap, there was regular contact between Mr Mandela and ANC President Oliver Tambo, and they worked in tandem. Hence even as the armed struggle was escalated, the ground was being prepared for possible negotiations.
The cost of defending apartheid escalated, at the same time as financial and other sanction began to bite, adding to the pressures on the apartheid rulers, and the discomfort of white voters. Aware that their government could offer no solutions, growing numbers of whites began to contact the ANC, exploring policies and the future under an ANC government. These included student organisations, lawyers and other professionals, business, women’s groups, judges and individuals. Some of the meetings were supposedly secret, others were highly publicised. However, we had no illusions that the authorities were aware of what was happening and what was said.
In the ANC there was growing confidence that notwithstanding mistakes and setbacks,( and there were many) the tide was turning and victory was in our sights.
I want to stress that the decision to unban the ANC and release political prisoners was not the result of a miraculous conversion. Apartheid was unworkable, the country was ungovernable, and the regime could not find any credible black leaders with whom to negotiate reforms. Secret exploratory talks with the ANC leadership were opened but were designed to assess individual leaders and to find any weakness that could be exploited. The talks with Mr. Mandela were allowed with similar objectives. When the inevitable was accepted, the intention was still to retain power and protect white interests and privilege by other means.
In the ANC, though the commitment to fight to the bitter end remained, the great cost of such a struggle was always a matter of concern. The decision to take up arms was not a matter of principle, but because all peaceful forms of struggle were closed. Hence, however remote the prospect, the possibility of negotiations was always open. With the changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we were aware that financial and military support would diminish. We could not fail to be sensitive also to the price being paid by our neighbouring countries for their continued support for our struggle. There was also growing pressure from the international community, including from our supporters that we explore a negotiated solution.
Under President Tambo’s leadership, the ANC also began to look ahead to building the peace task team was established to consider the options of what kind of organisation the ANC should become. A Constitutional Commission was set up and constitutional guidelines issued. These were debated within ANC structures as well as the mass democratic movement, and also with the groups that came to engage with us. In the continuing dialogue, adjustments were made.
The Women’s Section convened conferences that gendered the Constitutional guidelines, and agreed a range of policies. A Commission on the Emancipation of Women of was established under the leadership of the President. The NEC issued a policy statement on the structured oppression of women in South Africa, and called for all South African Women to come together and draft a new Women’s Charter.
Links were established with the democratic movement to discuss strategy, as well as policy. A project on policies for Post Apartheid South Africa (PASA) enabled greater collaboration with democratic movement researchers. When the ANC was unbanned, these initiatives fed into the policy divisions established at headquarters, and into the negotiations.
Even before the unbanning, ANC structures were established by the newly released internal leadership. With the return of exiles, branches were established, a National Conference organised and a leadership elected with a mandate to negotiate. Considering the enormous gap between the political objectives of the ruling party and those of the liberation movement, the negotiations were relatively short. Many compromises had to be made by the ANC, including agreeing on a cessation of hostilities, while the SADF and police remained in place. Always the leadership pointed to the alternative to reaching an agreement: a protracted bitter and costly war in enemy’s territory, without the overwhelming support of the international community that we enjoyed.
Compromises were made on land, a matter that remains a problem. We refused to accept a federal system but eventually there was agreement on a unitary state, but with the simultaneous creation of provinces with exclusive and concurrent powers over a range of issues including education and health. We are still grappling with how to manage the resulting problems.
But refused any compromise on the matter of assigning rights on the basis of race, culture or language. Even before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, those would form the ANC in 1912, called for a non-racial South Africa, and never a Black South Africa. The founding principle of the ANC was that rights should vest in all South Africans equally. After much debate, agreement was reached on a united non-racial non sexist democratic South Africa.
All parties were welcomed to the negotiating table: so Bantustan parties, some right wing Afrikaner parties, participated. However, we maintained and stood our ground, that while we could negotiate an interim Constitution, the final one could only be agreed by a Constituent Assembly composed of members elected through a democratic process.
When the principle of no specific group or minority rights was accepted in the Constituent Assembly, then Vice President De Klerk led the National Party out of the Government of National Unity and resigned from Parliament.
Only now can we appreciate fully how much ANC was able to prepare before entering government. We need also to recognise that many issues were not considered adequately, neglected or ignored. But I never suggested that ANC members were not human!
Our policies were broadly conceived and sometimes without the time, necessary information or capacity to work out how they were to be implemented. Few if any ANC members had any experience of governance or management of a relatively sophisticated economy, and the many layered structures of government we were creating. We had put training programs in place, but there not enough cadres or time. Even today, some (but only some) of the problems of delivery, arise from the complicated governance structures we have.
Most of the previous public service remained in place, but many did not share our objectives and also often did not even understand them. As a result, in the first Parliament MPs spent an inordinate amount of time, redrafting legislation that did not meet the political objectives.
We failed to debate fully and understand the distinction between a liberation movement and a political party. Though President Tambo had established a task team to examine options for the ANC’s organisational form, he was never able to even look at its first report as he suffered a stroke. Thereafter, the ANC was overtaken by events. When the debate did emerge again after our return, there was no real understanding of what was required. In an endeavour to promote other agendas, the distinction between the two was limited to whether the ANC should remain an umbrella body covering a diversity of views, but with shared objectives.
As a liberation movement the ANC found the existing system in our country unacceptable. Therefore it could not be reformed, but needed to be uprooted and most importantly a new transformed society needed to be put in its place. In contrast a political party will focus of ruling, accepting the basic system, and competing with other parties on the basis that it can run the system better than them. At times the ANC appears ambiguous. Its focus is on ruling, and yet it holds high the lodestar of transformation. The question is where do you put the emphasis. The Government of President Zuma seems to be aware of the problem, but we need to see what its priorities will be and the balance it achieves.
The Ready to Govern Conference decided not to establish a Parliamentary Party and to retain the branch as the basic unit of organisation, decision making and choosing leadership. This was the origin of the one ANC, one centre of power policy. We did not consider adequately the link between the branch and the structures of government. E.g. Local government Councillors are supposed to be accountable to branches, but there is no organisational mechanism on how this should be done. Rarely was action taken again Councillors who were corrupt or ignored ANC structures.
We required a strong Executive to manage the process of transformation and reallocating resources. But the Constitution also provides for a strong Parliament, and places an obligation on the National Assembly to create mechanisms to hold every organ of state accountable. The Executive has not always recognised the status of Parliament, and by its action or inaction often undermined it. The opposition by claiming the Executive was accountable to it, instead of to Parliament, compounded the problem, by reducing the scope of accountability to a battle between Government and the opposition., rather than an accountability to the South African people through their elected representatives. All MPs through constituency work could have identified the problems of delivery and raised them in Parliament, rather than leaving it to people to take to the streets in demonstrations.
President Zuma is among those who have called for Parliament to strengthen its oversight role. But this will only succeed if the ANC and the Executive act to enable all MPs to do so.
The distinction between the party in government and the Executive was blurred when it became the practice for all members of Cabinet to attend meetings of the ANC NEC. This devalued the contributions of elected NEC members. Gradually policy debates were introduced and led by Cabinet Ministers. This practice ceased about 18 months ago, and I hope has not been revived.
The ANC Chairpersons function is to be the custodian of ANC policies, and was originally envisaged as a full time position. However, Cabinet Ministers have been elected to this position. As a result there has been a vacuum in the role of guardian of policies. It remains to be seen if the new Chairperson assumes this function.
While we did compromise on the position of the public service in the negotiations, there is nothing that prevents the government from having speedy enquiries, and from prosecuting those who have been found guilty of corruption or misusing public resources. Instead we have had lengthy periods of suspension on fully salary, and quiet resignations, instead of convictions for fraud or other crime.
Our National Anti-Corruption Forum, is voluntary, and has no power to take action. We could learn lessons from anti-corruption bodies in West Africa and elsewhere. President Zuma’s government has made a commitment not to tolerate corruption. If the political will is there to act, then we can make a significant impact on the level of corruption.
As we have just marked women’s day, it would be remiss of me not to comment on what is happening to women after the tremendous progress we have made. But I have cause for concern. Violence against women appears to be increasing, or is it simply that the climate has changed and more incidents are being reported? Perhaps this is so.
Statements made by some lawyers in court and slogans outside courts would be ruled out of order as sexist in Parliament. Comments by some trade union and youth leaders are a serious cause for concern, the more so, when ANC leaders do not respond by clearly articulating ANC policies.
Women in the liberation movement struggled for decades to gain recognition that just as apartheid was systemic racism embedded in the structures and institutions of our country, so too was sexism and patriarchy. Women do not simply face discrimination. Discrimination only applies, when a system is acceptable, but some groups are excluded: such as when black people are denied entry at some holiday resorts, or when Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxons and women are denied membership in clubs. Just as apartheid was institutionalised racism, so too, patriarchy and the subordination of women remains institutionalised in our country. Hence ANC policies speak of gender oppression, not discrimination, and a commitment to eradication, not to reform.
Do the leaders who speak about women understand our policies? In the election campaign some older women who joined COPE were reviled as senile or witches. In other cases debates were provoked about their looks or dress, rather than the policies they advocated. How do we explain the failure of our political leaders to oppose such attitudes and language?
Of particular concern is the way the new Ministry of Women Affairs is composed. Not the ministry itself, for this has been long advocated, and there are pros and cons on the matter. But what we have is not a Ministry focussed on women, but one that includes children and the disabled. I have received explanations that the Ministry will cover all vulnerable groups.
Have we not learnt that the vulnerability of children and the disabled arises from natural causes or accidents? That is not the case for women. The alleged vulnerability of women serves only to disguise patriarchy and male oppression of women. Should we not be shouting loud?
The resemblance of the language to what was being said by the apartheid regime in the 1960s, when women, children, the elderly and disabled were grouped together in apartheid policies excluding them from the urban areas is frightening. What does this portend for the future?
Let women celebrate. Let all South Africans celebrate women. But women must come together to defend our gains, and prevent a retreat into the past. We need to introduce women’s perspectives and experience into policy making. Only then will we have done our duty by the many women who died in the struggle and by the majority of South African women who remain mired in poverty.