The ANC after the national conference

David Masondo says unity is a precondition for realising conference resolutions

ANC Unity with the People for Radical Socio-Economic Transformation

David Masondo[1]


The ANC in its 54th National Congress resolved on the urgent need for a radical socio-economic transformation anchored around the vision of building a national democratic society characterized by the best features of social democracy and a developmental state. Amongst other measures that were agreed as necessary to achieve a national democratic society, include, but are not limited to, fighting corruption; expropriation of land without compensation; public ownership of the South African Reserve Bank; and building the manufacturing sector to grow and transform the structure of the South African economy.

The key issue is not whether these resolutions are feasible, desirable and possible, but whether the ANC together with the ordinary people have the power to undertake these resolutions. Without power derived from the people, these resolutions are not implementable. Power is derived from unity of the people within and outside the ANC. Hence the importance of the unity of the ANC itself, with the people; and of the people[2].

The ANC members, supporters and the progressive people of South Africa yearn for the unity of the ANC to ensure that the ANC remains their organ for their self-emancipation. As a result, the clarion call for unity was central in both the theme of the ANC’s 54th National Congress (ANC) and 2018 ANC January 8th Statement. This call is borne out of the historical role that the ANC since its establishment in 1912, has played in uniting the masses to fight against colonial oppression; and the fact that disunity of the ANC and its allies tends to create disunity amongst the oppressed and exploited people.

Since 1994, the ANC has accomplished significant achievements towards building a non-sexist, democratic, non-racial and united South Africa. No doubt, a lot still needs to be done to uproot the structural roots of racism, sexism, narrow and chauvinistic nationalism amongst the historical oppressor and the oppressed which will require maximum unity of the ANC, and the revolutionary alliance as organizational vehicles for our people’s self-emancipation. 

In this input, I argue that the immediate unity of the ANC itself, with and of the people is the precondition for the successful realization of the 54th National Congress resolutions. In fact, the unity of the ANC itself should not be a unity according to the leadership preferences by leaders themselves and members. Otherwise, it will be a ‘unity’ of warring factions. Secondly, the unity of the ANC and the people should not be what just a section of the South African people prefer. Otherwise, it would border on regionalism and tribalism; which are the antithesis of what the ANC stands for. Instead, the unifying of the ANC itself, with the people; and of the people should be based on congress resolutions.

It is impossible to transform the legacy of internal colonialism; and fight its contemporary class beneficiaries without unifying and organizing the people who are interested and have capacity to undertake radical socio-economic transformation because the legacy of colonialism is structured and institutionalized; and its contemporary beneficiaries are also organized. 

In fact, the ANC and ordinary people will encounter covert and overt resistance from the current incumbents of economic rights, including land, whose current owners accumulated it through colonial capitalist means. Therefore, individual effort will not make an impact. I will support the use of the expropriation of land without compensation and fight against corruption to show why it is important to unite with the people around these issues. 

In doing so, I start by stating what unity is; and ground the importance of unity in the historical experience of the ANC- led struggles against colonialism, and the contemporary task of radical socio-economic transformation. I end by laying out what should be done to deepen the unity of the ANC and the people; and the unity of the people as a basis for such transformation.

What is Unity?

What is unity? Unity means being together. It is a state of being one. Coins in one wallet are in the state of being together. But coins are not self-driven by either instincts or consciousness. Whereas, bees or spiders come together based on the instinct to construct webs and hives for a common goal, which is their survival. So, unity is not an end, but a means towards an end. However, unlike insects and animals whose activities are instinctual; human activity is conscious and purposeful.

Human unity and organization is a conscious activity aimed at achieving a common goal. Achievement of a common goal requires strength. The importance of unity has been captured in the popular notions such as ‘unity is strength’, ‘united we stand, divided we fall’. Even lifeless physical objects are stronger when they are united. However, organizing and uniting people is not the same as putting lifeless objects such as assembling different car parts to build a vehicle. Unity is only possible through conscious action. Furthermore, human beings ought to be aware of the conditions under which the particular action(s) are being undertaken, including the resources through which the action(s) is/are pursued, which are also historically determined and inherited from the past.

Homogeneity is not the same as unity. Difference brings different strengths amongst people pursuing the same goal. To illustrate, a choir – as a group of people who sing together, wins competitions in concerts if it has different singers with different singing skills and capacities: singers with soprano, tenor and baritone voices, but with the same goal. Organization is about the ability to harness the capacities and capabilities of different social forces and individual members of the organization to reach some common goal(s).

Based on the above, it means that the unity of the ANC itself; and with the people; and of the people, must be based on common goal(s), understanding of the conditions under which such goals are pursued; methods and allies to pursue such goals; and what has been achieved in the past and how, and why.

Necessity for Uniting and Organizing People

The conditions of oppression and exploitation do not necessarily generate consciousness and unity for socio-economic transformation. The uneven consciousness necessitates the formation of the organization and unites the oppressed for such transformation. In fact, left divided and unorganized, the oppressed and exploited people tend to understand their conditions in reactionary terms – either racially or tribally or geographically.

One-sided forms of consciousness, also generate a divided and contradictory consciousness in which the oppressed people may hate racial domination, but still prefer sexism and tribalism. They may yearn for democracy, but cling to tribal chiefdoms and kingdoms in the countryside. The ordinary people are not the same: some are passive, reactionary and revolutionary ordinary people. So, revolutionary consciousness is mediated through revolutionary organizations.

People are fundamentally divided into classes, that is, by what they own, which determines what they have to do to earn incomes for their own material reproduction. Colonial structures in Africa further racialized people; and reproduced pre-colonial patriarchy and introduced new forms of patriarchy and sexism. As a result, the South African people have been divided along race, class, gender and ethnicity for generations.

The structuring of South African society, specially since 1910, subjected black people to internal colonialism described as ‘Colonialism of a Special type’ to denote the idea that black people in general, and Africans of African origin in particular were deprived by the internal colonial oppressor of land, economy, political rights and culture through hegemony and violence, enforced through the colonial state’s repressive apparatus. The Africans in particular were left under despotic traditional leadership in the racially allocated 13 per cent of the South African land. In many cases chosen for them and assigned to them by the oppressor.

With the increased growth of capitalism in South Africa, new classes emerged. To be sure, colonialism gave rise to new classes amongst the African people; and black people in general. The system maintained and destroyed peasants. In its destruction of peasants, it created the proletariat through land dispossession which left landless peasants with no choice but to sell their ability to work to the internal colonial capitalists.

The other class generated by colonialism was the native middle class largely composed of educated sections of the natives to administer the colonial system; and priests to promote and propagate the Christian religion. Furthermore, subsequent to the colonial power’s failure to defeat pre-colonial political authorities (kingdoms and chiefs etc.) due to their uneven resistance, colonialism co-opted local traditional leaders that accepted colonialism; and obliterated non-co-operative and installed the co-operative to enforce indirect rule.

It is out of the creation of these classes that various organizations of the oppressed were formed to fight against oppression and exploitation. To begin with, the ANC was formed in 1912 after Africans of African origin were defeated in separate and disunited political battles with a more united colonial power. The formation of the ANC was a necessary response to the fragmented resistance to colonialism.

These African classes were affected by colonialism, and joined the ANC with their different class interests and approaches to the struggles against colonialism, which impacted on the nature of the ANC. The rise of capitalism led to the rise of trade unions and working class political formations (the Communist Party of SA in 1921 preceded by the International Socialist League formed in 1915). Women of all races formed their own organization. African mineworkers for instance, through the 1946 strike introduced more militant strikes, which also had a significant influence on the ANCYL’s 1949 Program of Action and later the ANC. 

Other national groups such as Indians and Coloureds also fought against colonialism through their political organizations, namely the South African Indian National Congress and the Coloured People’s Congress. The 1948 Nationalist Party electoral victory intensified institutionalized racism, which also became the ideology of the ruling class supported by the working class and white middle class which materially benefitted from the racial forms of political domination which enabled them to monopolize the markets: labour, land and money markets and so on.

As part of fighting apartheid, the Congress Alliance composed of the ANC, the Congress of Democrats, the Indian National Congress, the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU); united around the program of the Freedom Charter. Since the 1950s, the ANC in its strategic orientation has been anchored around the people because our own local and international experiences led us to the conclusion that people are their own liberation, hence the notions of people’s war, people’s power, organs of people’s power etc.

Since the adoption of the Freedom Charter by the Congress Alliance, a non-racial unity was forged[3]. The non-racial character and unity of the ANC was affirmed in the 1969 Morogoro ANC conference, which also affirmed the ANC’s revolutionary nationalism, and the National Democractic Revolution as a strategy based on the Freedom Charter as its strategic program.

The unity of the progressive people of South Africa was developed and carried through the mass struggles of the workers, youth, students, rural people, and clergy, and organized through the SACC, UDF, SAYCO, trade unions etc. and eventually forced the apartheid regime to unban anti-apartheid political organizations, which led to the negotiated settlement.

The negotiated settlement retained the key pillars of ‘colonialism of a special type’, the maintenance of the key economic aspects of capitalist colonialism in relation to the land and other economic resources. The negotiated settlement maintained a society based on capitalist market dependency and competition, with huge implications for the unity of the ANC and the unity of the people in post-1994[4].

A Critique of the Post-1994 ANC’s mode of Unity with the People

The above is a clear demonstration that the ANC together with its allies, has been the key organizational weapon through which the oppressed forged unity to fight against colonial oppression and exploitation. It is therefore not puzzling that in the post- apartheid South Africa, the ANC has also become a key political organ to represent the people in the context of representative democracy in representative institutions based on periodic elections. 

However, the recent local government elections signify the discontent and disunity that our people feel regarding the ANC. Whilst some actively voted against the ANC, many ANC voters abstained from voting to protest against our actions or inactions. The electoral outcome was an indication that we are increasingly disunited from the people of because of the corruption and arrogance (real or perceived).

Many of our leaders at various levels seem to be more concerned about themselves and pursuing their own class interests, including getting involved in corrupt schemes, than the noble goals of the movement, hence our disunity with the people. High levels of poverty and unemployment associated with our inability to change the colonial structure and composition of the South African economy, has also created the conditions for our disunity with the people. 

Since ascending to state office (some would argue even during the negotiations with the apartheid regime in the 1990s), we seem to relate with the people as passive participants in their own liberation; instead of organizing and mobilizing them as active agents for their own liberation. Just like paternalistic liberals, we seem to treat our people as mere victims of the system as opposed to agents for social change for their own revolution. This phenomenon of turning the ordinary people into passive participants in their liberation has been manifesting itself at three levels.

The first being within the ANC. Here, many of our branch members are only activated during internal organizational elections, and general elections. After internal leadership elections, many members and leaders expect some material rewards for supporting leaders. And if they do not get the expected ‘reward’ they start factions and manufacture grievances couched in palatable revolutionary language to justify internal quasi-protests which keeps the ANC at perpetual war with itself as opposed to focusing on the socio-economic challenges facing the people.

Secondly, we only mobilize people for mass rallies (January 8th celebrations) and voting in general elections, thereafter they return home as passive actors in the radical socio-economic transformation.

Thirdly, we seem to have also turned ordinary people into mere receivers of government service delivery. No doubt, government has to set the conditions for them to exercise their freedom etc. Even in instances, where there are occasional protests, the ANC is absent. Instead, they have become very quick to condemn the actions as actions of a ‘third force’.

Fourthly, we should probe into why there is a discernable withdrawal of organizational involvement of white, Indian and Coloured people in our movement. How do we unite, organize and mobilize the working class and middle classes amongst Coloured, Indian and White people around the radical socio-economic transformation platform? 

What is to be done?

1. Organizing and uniting with People around their basic needs starting with Land Expropriation without Compensation

As Amilcar Cabral advised, we should take into account that ‘people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits’. Therefore, the best way to unite with the ordinary people should be around their material interests. Land is one of the immediate issues around which the ANC should organize and unite with ordinary people.

The ANC’s 54th Congress resolved to embark on land expropriation without compensation. In fact, any land reform is more persuasive, when it is linked to economic growth and transformation, especially if changing the material welfare of ordinary people. Therefore, we have to construct good arguments for land expropriation without compensation and land reform in general with this in mind.

South Africa is still characterized by unequal, racialized and patriarchal distribution of land[5]. There is also a highly unequal and skewed ownership of land in the former Bantustans and urban areas in which ordinary people live on very small plots of uninhabitable habitable but unproductive land without title deeds. A large section of the middle class, living in mortgage loan houses do not have title deeds, since they owe banks, whose title deeds are owned by the banks themselves. There is also a problem of absentee landlordism, leading to under-utilization of land. 

Distribution of land enables people to generate incomes for their livelihood, including through agriculture and other socio-economic activities. Unequal ownership of land forces the landless to migrate to cities leading to the growth of informal settlements and more demand for social services, thus creating unplanned urbanization.

Without land distribution and access therefore, agriculture is not possible, therefore unutilized and under-utilized land means the land remains uncultivated, thus denying poor South Africans basic needs such as food.

Agricultural development is critical for economic growth and radical industrialization and changing the composition of the South African GDP. From agriculture comes the supply of food and raw materials that allows the non-agricultural labour force to produce consumer goods (food etc.); and raw materials for processing in industry. Industry supplies inputs such as tractors, pump sets, chemicals; to agriculture. Agriculture can also serve as a source of foreign exchange which permits the import of inputs for industrial production.

Clearly, the case for land reform is sound, including expropriation without compensation. The question is under what conditions should this happen in order to avoid arbitrariness and abuse; and whether the state’s current legislation is adequate to achieve this. Amongst other measures, the state should consider in cases of expropriation of land without compensation, should be underutilized and unutilized land for agriculture in order to guarantee food security and support other related socio-economic developmental activities.

2. Building People’s Organizations, Uniting Progressive Organizations through Parliamentary and Extra-Parliamentary struggles

To realize the objectives of policies such as land reform, people should be organized. So, organizing the motive forces of the NDR will be important. Organizing the people is different from mobilizing them. As earlier mentioned, mobilizing people only, turns them into passive participants in their own liberation. In moving forward, we need to build organizers within the ANC. To be an organizer one needs to become organically linked to the people. But a mobilizer does not necessary need to be an organizer.

The importance of establishing and maintaining close relations with mass formations cannot be overemphasized, if the ANC still wants to maintain the national liberation movement’s character. Hence, the ANC must forge networks with groups and organizations that are rooted in the daily struggles of the ordinary people; and learn from them.

As part of uniting and strengthening the critical part of the motive forces, one of the immediate tasks should be to seek to work together as one federation, which should include seeking measures to bring back NUMSA and other unions under the fold of COSATU. Through unity in action with organized and unorganized workers, we will be in a better position to learn from the people and lead the people.

We should also develop tactics for all levels of the legislature (national parliament, provincial and local legislatures). Forging unity of the progressive forces outside the Congress movement should be possible given many of the radical resolutions of the 54th ANC congress. These can inform the ANC’s approach to united front politics in parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles without losing our political organizational independence.

3. Building the ANC and uniting cadres for Radical Socio-Economic Transformation

The ANC needs cadres as a precondition for uniting the ANC itself and the people in order to carry out socio-economic transformation. The ANC as a mass movement also needs cadres who are well schooled in the revolutionary principles, goals and history of the ANC. Why? People are their own liberators only if they are organized and mobilized for such a liberation. Being oppressed and exploited does not translate into being interested in liberation struggles.

Cadres are members of the organization who have a clarity of revolutionary thought and are also enmeshed in mass struggles through amongst others, mass formations (civics, student formations, trade unions etc.). They learn from these concrete people’s struggles with the people and connect their struggles to other struggles of the oppressed and exploited across ethnic, religious and gender lines.

Cadres do not come out of nothing. Instead they are produced. Just like in the aforementioned choir, we also need to constantly practice and rehearse songs and equip ourselves with singing skills and knowledge in order to win choral music competitions. Political education, including formal education and concrete mass struggles are important mechanisms to build cadres in order to strengthen ourselves, and ensure that the revolutionary ideas become the ideas of society as a whole, thus energizing and encouraging the masses to act in a united fashion.

In carrying out concrete struggles, on the one hand, cadres should not be too ahead of the people. However, turning a blind eye when our ANC and members of society express and act in ethnic and chauvinistic ways is tantamount to opportunism. This will essentially water-down our vision and principles to accommodate reactionary politics. On the other hand, running away from the most regressive sections of the oppressed and exploited people, is also sectarianism, which can turn the ANC into a sect and become inward looking. These sections of our people need to be organized and mobilized into adopting the progressive values and politics of the ANC.

Democratic Centralism

Discipline, internal democracy and collective action are also very important in the organization. The democratic content of democratic centralism is the internal discussions based criticism and self-criticism, fair and free elections, within the organization. The internal debates and discussions are not just meant to tick a box to nominally fulfil the requirement of internal democracy within the organization. Instead, these are meant to convince other members based on well thought out reasons to advance social change.

The centralist content means that the agreed decisions must be implemented by all members of the organization regardless of their views during the discussion of an issue and then the leadership leads around the agreed positions. In the context of a choir, it means that the choir’s conductor conducts the choir based on the agreed melody, lyrics and words of the songs. And anyone who sings outside of the agreed songs is ill-disciplined. However, during the rehearsals, a member of a choir has a right to criticize and make suggestions on how the choir can perform better to be the best choir.

4. Deployment of Cadres based on their Individual Strengths

As earlier mentioned, unity does not mean sameness. The only sameness is in the goal(s) to be achieved. It only means that human beings with different material, intellectual, skills and knowledge and financial capacities are able to come together to pursue the same goals.

Part of the major problem in the movement is that we sometimes deploy and elect comrades, members and cadres to areas, particularly in organizational leadership positions and government where they are not strong, leading to failures which reflect very badly on the ANC, thus further causing a discord between the ANC and the people.

5. The State President, Jacob Zuma matter

The deep and complex structural South African problems; and the organizational challenges facing the ANC and its allies cannot be reduced to one leader of our movement. However, one of the immediate burning issues dividing the ANC itself; and causing a discord between the ANC and the people, is whether the state president, Jacob Zuma should continue to serve as the state president in the light of the weakening and destruction of state capacity, and corruption under his presidency, regardless of how the state president feels about his own personal guilt or innocence. Linked to this contentious issue is: whether the recall or resignation of the state president will increase the unity of the ANC itself, and with the people? And if it will increase the unity of the ANC, it will be the unity for and against what?

I think, as the ANC, we will be more united in principled manner with the people, if the state president were to resign or recalled, provided the matter is handled without humiliating him; and conversely without him reacting in a manner that embarrasses the ANC, and the South African people.

The demands for recall of the ANC-deployed state presidents in the recent past also requires the ANC to develop clear principles, standards, rules and procedures under which an ANC deployed state president or any other deployee can be recalled. Setting fair principles, standards and procedures will ensure that recalls of ANC deployees are not abused for individual and factional reasons.

This will, one one hand, significantly reduce the ‘victor’s justice’ logic in post-ANC conferences at all levels of the organization in which some elected leadership purge (un)elected leaders or members who have democratic dissenting views with dominant incumbent leadership. And the other hand, it will also set condition to disable deployed leaders and members from dividing and mobilizing people ethnically, racially and geographically to ensure that their well-deserved recalls are not effected or made difficult to defend own material interests at the expense of the ANC and people of South Africa.

It is clear that over-reliance on ANC leaders and members’ individual maturity, discipline and years of involvement in the revolution is not sufficient. The ANC should build its own standards and rules, which are above the minimum criminal standards in criminal law. It is for this reason, the ANC Integrity Committee’s composition, powers and operations should be revisited. 

It needs to be borne in mind, however, the success or failure of radical socio-economic transformation does not depend on the removal of Jacob Zuma and the institutional changes in the state, and within the ANC (e.g. standards and rules for recall). Instead, radical socio-economic transformation will depend on the on-going collective and unifying struggles and balance of forces within and outside the ANC in the post-Jacob Zuma presidency led by a non-corrupt and selfless ANC leadership.

The struggle for the transformation based on the ANC 54th National congress resolutions will be more protracted, and more difficult, and it will require maximum unity in perspective and action of the ANC itself, with the Alliance; and with the people of South Africa; and the unity of the people, and international progressive forces.

As Mao would put it, let ‘a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend’.

Let’s engage!

Thank you!


[1]These ‘speaking notes’ were first presented as the author’s individual views, at the branch meeting of the ANC Ward 78, Centurion Zone, Tshwane Region, 1 February 2018 to facilitate political discussions in the immediate aftermath of the ANC 54th National Congress held in December 2017.

[2] I use the notion of the ‘people’ in a non-racial sense to refer to the motive forces of the National Democratic revolution, namely, the working class (i.e. workers, unemployed, rural poor), strata (students, youth, professionals) and certain sections of business class.

[3] See Everatt, D. 2009. The Origins of Non-Racialism: White Opposition to Apartheid in the 1950s.

[4] It is beyond the scope of this input to deal with how the intra and inter-class dynamics have played themselves out within the ANC and amongst the people in the post-1994 South Africa.

[5] 2017 Land Audit Report: Phase II: Private Land Ownership by Race, Gender and Nationality. Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Republic of South Africa.