Deconstructing the ANC’s agenda - Tony Leon

Speech by the then DA leader analysing the ruling party's ideology of 'transformation' (June 10 2004)





THURSDAY 10 JUNE 2004 – 12H30

“Deconstructing the ANC’s Agenda


The opposition in South Africa today faces a set of challenges:

  • We need to provide South Africa with a sound analysis of the state of the transition to full democracy in our country;
  • We need to outline clearly why we reject the ANC’s revolutionary programme of “transformation”, which informs all ANC policy and behaviour;
  • We need to offer an alternative, liberal democratic vision of the future;
  • We need to articulate a policy programme in support of that vision that can inspire South Africans and win their support.

This speech is the first part of a two part series. In it, I wish to outline very clearly where we disagree with the ANC’s approach and programme, and why we believe the transition to full democracy in our country needs to be strengthened.

In the second speech, to be delivered on Youth Day next week, I will outline the DA’s alternative to that approach and programme, and a means to ensure that our country does achieve the full promise of the constitutional and democratic pact of 1993 and 1996  – the basic bargain of our nation.

The President of South Africa – and his party- has said some hard, and in our view inaccurate, things about the Democratic Alliance.

He has presumably done so in order to enrich and enlarge the public debate and discourse. I welcome the opportunity to engage in this discussion and to join a debate which has barely begun after a decade of our new democracy.

In order to so engage, I need to present our view of the ANC’s agenda. I will also repay the President in coins from his own currency – by deconstructing his party’s seminal policy and driving ideology.

Understanding transformation

To comprehend the ANC’s behaviour, and provide a coherent analysis of it, one must first understand the ANC’s conception of itself, as outlined in its many publications.

The ANC does not view itself as an ordinary political party, one among a variety in a normal democracy. Rather, it sees itself as a movement engaged in a “National Democratic Revolution”, the purpose of which is to bring about a particular outcome.

At one time the leading intellectual lights in the ANC, who tended to be members of the SACP, regarded the advent of liberal democracy in our country as the first stage in a “two-stage revolution”, the second stage of which was meant to involve a transition to socialism.

But the dominant faction in the ANC today is Africanist, not communist, and the ANC’s goal is the “emancipation” of the historically deprived black majority, and the creation of a utopian society. And it believes that this can only be achieved through “democratization”, which requires African “hegemony” in society – a situation that can only be realized through the hegemony of the ANC. 

In the ANC discussion document Nation Formation and Nation Building, Joel Netshitenzhe, the ANC’s leading Africanist, writes that "in building a new South African nation what is required is a continuing battle to assert African hegemony in the context of a multi-cultural and non-racial society."[i][i] (This is, of course, logically contradictory.)

The document endorses the view that the "main content of the National Democratic Revolution should find expression in the leadership structures of the ANC, and indeed of the country as a whole. This is usually referred to as 'African leadership.'"[ii][ii]

Thus the ANC views itself as the “vanguard” of the African majority, in much the same way as the communist party in Lenin’s Soviet Union regarded itself as the “vanguard of the working class.” The ANC believes it organically embodies the political, social and economic aspirations of the African majority, and that it is therefore the “natural” government of our country.

And again, writing in 1996 Joel Netshitenzhe stated that, “The National Democratic Revolution is a process of struggle that seeks the transfer of power to the people. When we talk of power we mean political, social and economic control.”[iii][iii]

Over the past decade South Africa has made significant progress in many areas. But we should be frank enough to acknowledge areas of national weakness. In my view this conflation of the ANC, the “African majority” and “the people” is the source of much that has gone wrong in South Africa over the past 8 years. For it gives rise to a perverse conceptualization of what “democracy” is: if the ANC naturally represents the African majority, and if democracy is rule by “the people”, then it follows that “democratization” necessarily entails the extension of ANC control.

The ANC uses two means to achieve its desired African hegemony, which it equates (and in our view confuses) with democracy: the one involves the extension of ANC control over all “levers of power” in society; the other involves the dubious concept of “demographic representivity”.

I shall deal with each of these mechanisms in turn. 

Hegemony over the levers of power: transformation and the ANC’s cadre policy

Joel Netshitenzhe, writing in the ANC’s journal Umrabulo, explains transformation thus: “Transformation of the state entails, first and foremost, extending the power of the ‘National Liberation Movement’ over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on.”[iv][iv]

In order to give effect to this extension of hegemony, the ANC adopted a resolution on Cadre Policy at its Mafikeng conference in 1997, which mandated its National Working Committee to identify “key centres of power” within the state and society; deploy cadres to those centres; draw up a comprehensive cadre policy and deployment strategy; establish various structures to oversee the deployment process and to ensure that cadres remained loyal to the party. 

In the run up to the Mafikeng conference, the ANC published three documents, all of which mentioned the need for such a Cadre Policy as a means to achieve “transformation”[v][v]

These documents were followed in January 1999 with the publication in Umrabulo of the ANC’s Programme of Action, which included this comment: “Our failure to prioritise the transforming of key ideological centres (such as universities, the privately owned media, research and policy institutes, with the exception of the public media) and the neglect of our internal propaganda machinery has resulted in a public debate about the process unfolding in the country which at best is shallow and at worst anti-transformation.”

Finally in October 1999, again in Umrabulo, the ANC published a document called Accelerating Change: Assessing the balance of forces in 1999. In it, under the heading “Media, the Public Debate and Hegemony”, the ANC states that:

  • “This area is critical, because even though we may have made progress in material terms, unless the forces for change are able to exercise hegemony, it will impact on our capacity to mobilise society.”
  • “The transformation of the SABC did take much longer than we thought and more needs to be done at middle management level. With regards the print media, the ownership structures remain a problem.”
  • “The movement also needs to look at other elements of the ideological apparatus in society responsible for the promotion and development of ideas. This includes universities, research and policy institutes, culture, etc.”

There are many in the ANC who do not accept the legitimacy or desirability of autonomous institutions in the state or society. They are seen as obstacles to the popular will, particularly when “controlled” by white South Africans. Thus one means of securing “African hegemony” is through the deployment of loyal cadres to “levers of power”.

The ANC’s national deployment committee was dissolved sometime in 2001, in part I believe because the DA brought the matter up in parliament, and in part, perhaps, because the President thought it dangerous to have his deputy in charge of deployments. But cadre deployment itself still goes on, through less transparent and official means.

Transformation, Demographic Representivity and Affirmative Action 

As I have already argued, “demographic representivity” is, for the ANC, a means of achieving African hegemony in South African society.

It is essential to understand the nationalist and racist conception that underlies the linked ideas of African hegemony and demographic representivity.

For the ANC, black South Africans are not individuals with a unique outlook, particular interests and specific circumstances.

Rather, individual black South Africans simply represent a larger whole – “the people” – which itself is treated as an individual personality.

 It is a fatal flaw to assume that “demographic representivity” is the kind of affirmative action that is designed to eliminate imbalances and which, having achieved its aim – a “normalization” that involves colour-blindness – should fall away.

For demographic representivity specifically refuses to take into consideration the individuality of people – their different desires, interests, cultures, skills, and so on. Under the ANC, demographics shape destiny as a direct consequence of government policy.

It is instructive to note that Hendrik Verwoerd advocated a form of demographic representivity in the 1930s. Verwoerd believed that Jews were over-represented in the commercial sector and the professions, and that Afrikaners were under-represented. In order to correct this imbalance, he argued, the state should intervene to ensure that each “racial group” (among whites) would have its share according to its proportion of the (white) population.[vi][vi]

But Verwoerd’s idea was not implemented when the NP came to power in 1948. It was regarded as too radical.

I do not make this point in order to suggest that the ANC can be equated with the authors of Apartheid, but merely to show that nationalisms all share certain false assumptions.

I should also emphasise that in a situation in which all South Africans enjoy equal opportunity, black South Africans would be the majority in most institutions. But they would not be in those positions to represent a larger whole – “the African majority” – and they would not be there to represent a collective worldview or a particular ideological agenda. They would be there as individuals, with their own views and beliefs. This is the situation towards which DA policies strive.

The ANC’s belief in African hegemony, and the essential sameness of all black South Africans, also explains why “transformation”, in the form of “Black Economic Empowerment”, may legitimately involve the transfer of wealth to black billionaires who, by virtue of their blackness, provide vicarious empowerment to the millions of black South Africans still languishing in poverty and despair.

Black Economic Empowerment, in the ANC’s conception of it, is really a kind of partial – or ‘silent’ as one of its chief beneficiaries calls it – nationalization of industry. On this view state ownership is not required because black ownership amounts to the same thing: “the state”, “the party” and ‘the African majority” having been conceptually collapsed into one another.

But the ANC’s nationalist conception of race, and the principle of demographic representivity to which it has given birth, has another, more destructive implication. For those standing outside of the African majority are viewed and often treated as a kind of recalcitrant class enemy if they display any sort of independence of view or spirit. This is particularly true if they position themselves outside of the “consensus” on “transformation”.

Thus it is that all forms of criticism become evidence of racist motives, designed to hold onto “White hegemony”, which is the converse of “African hegemony.” It is part of the ANC’s intellectual and political dishonesty that it goes out of its way to exclude a section of the community from full citizenship, and then proceeds to accuse those very people of a lack of patriotism.

For the ANC, “good whites” are whites that have accepted the principle of African hegemony and African leadership. These whites are given a place at the table, as long as they accept that they will never sit at its head. They are also called “progressive”, as they were in the President’s recent letter to the ANC, while the DA, which rejects such notions as “African leadership” or “White leadership” or any form of racially defined leadership, is derided as “conservative.”[vii][vii]

It remains now to outline briefly the major consequences of the ANC’s nationalist character, its belief in the principle of African hegemony and leadership, its programme of transformation, which involves extending its hegemony over all aspects of community life, its cadre policy and its obsession with demographic representivity.

National consensus and the Constitution

The first and most important casualty of the ANC’s revolutionary agenda, which expresses itself in the programme of “transformation”, is our country’s constitution.

The constitution is essentially liberal democratic in its construction: it provides for the separation of powers, including oversight powers for the legislature and an independent judiciary, a bill of individual rights, multi-partyism and the establishment of a number of institutions designed to provide a check on the executive.

But the liberal nature and intent of the constitution is directly sabotaged by the ANC’s desire to bring all centres of power under its control, including those specifically identified in the constitution as requiring independence of the ruling party and its executive.

This affects the independence of the judiciary, the oversight role of the legislature, the independence of the public broadcaster and the Chapter Nine institutions.

Moreover, our constitution does not provide for the extension of any kind of hegemony over the media, or business, or sport, or related areas of civic life.

It is beyond the scope of this speech to run through the long and growing list of “transformed” institutions which are badly run by ANC cadres, but such an exercise is necessary on another occasion.

What is more important now is to make the observation that the consensus the ANC continuously calls for, which is a consensus on the programme of transformation, fundamentally misses the point – indeed, subverts the spirit if not the letter - of a liberal democracy.

South Africa appears to be moving to what Fareed Zakaria called an “illiberal democracy.”[viii][viii] For constitutional liberalism goes beyond majoritarian government and free and fair elections. It involves a rigorous separation of power and encouragement of debate and plurality, mutual trust, open intellectual borders and crucial restraints on the exercise and abuse of power – a complicated system of checks and balances which at root, are designed to prevent the accumulation of power and the abuse of office.

That is why parliament has become so weak in South Africa today and why we need to strengthen it. The ANC sees it as a venue for non-debates about non-issues. We crucially see it, and try to use it, as the most effective watchdog and check on executive over-reach.

The point is that South Africa has already achieved a consensus, and it has a name: The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

The ANC’s demand for ‘consensus’ is in fact a call to join it in undermining the constitutional and liberal democratic foundation of our society. It is therefore not the DA that needs to become part of the consensus in South Africa. Rather, it is the ANC that needs to recommit itself to the constitutional and liberal democratic consensus already achieved.

The Death of the Rainbow Nation

The DP once produced a document which caused an outcry. It was called, “The Death of the Rainbow Nation” [ix][ix], and it sought to argue that the constitution’s promise of non-racialism was being sabotaged, damaged and destroyed by the ANC’s re-racialisation of our society. This is the second consequence of the ANC’s programme of transformation.

The ANC and others sometimes attack the DA for opposing transformation on the grounds that we cannot ignore the history of discrimination in South Africa and need to take corrective action to “level the playing field.”

Indeed we cannot and the DA never has proposed or practiced such ignorance or historical amnesia.

That is why such an attack is on a straw man. For the DA is not opposed to policies designed to level the playing field. Indeed we have adopted many that do just that. But as I have shown, transformation is by no means a synonym for affirmative action. The advocacy of demographic representivity is not founded on a desire to “normalize” the situation, if by “normalize” one envisions a situation in which individuals, irrespective of race, are able to compete for positions on the basis of their skills and talents.

For the advocacy of “demographic representivity” is founded on the belief that black South Africans form some sort of immutable whole, and on a desire for African hegemony and African leadership, and therefore cannot possibly lead to the colour-blindness that Minister Lekota recently called for.

This is a tragedy, and the opportunity for a truly non-racial South Africa will not easily come again. The new South Africa was founded on a rejection of racism and the assumptions of racism. The opposite of racism is the idea that people are individuals of equal worth and dignity; that their identities are not defined solely by their racial demographics; that they should have equal and full citizenship; that they should enjoy an equality of basic opportunity.

These noble ideas are being undermined by the ANC, not promoted by it.

The closing of the South African mind

A third consequence of the ANC’s transformation agenda is what one might call “the closing of the South African mind.”

Transformation has become an immutable given in our society. It has been put beyond objection and debate. Support for transformation is the necessary condition to avoid being “racist”, “reactionary”, “unpatriotic” – indeed even “counter-revolutionary”.

There is fear across the country that one might incur the displeasure and wrath of the ANC; that one might be denounced as a racist; that one might inadvertently express agreement with or support for someone who has already been denounced as a racist – someone like the leader of the DA, for example.

The sad truth is that there is precious little intellectual independence from the ANC in business, in the media, in civil society, in the universities. Indeed even in the rest of the opposition, there is no real independence from the ANC – Azapo, the NNP, the ID and others are all obsessed with positioning themselves within the ANC’s analysis.

We desperately need in our country a plurality of views and true intellectual and moral independence from the ruling party.

The return to state-led development

The ANC is now backtracking on its commitment to redistribution-through-growth, as expressed in its GEAR policy of 1996. This is also final consequence of the way in which the ANC has conflated itself and the state.

Over the past year we have begun to witness a reversal to the philosophy of growth-through-distribution. The over-reliance on the Extended Public Works Programme, the change of heart concerning the privatization of key parastatals, the excessive regulation of the private healthcare industry and the on-going intervention through economic charters. These are all signs that the ANC has a misplaced faith in itself as the agent of economic “emancipation”, and that it does not believe that private, independent enterprise is the best means of generating employment and opportunity.

Summing up

Having set out this analysis of the ANC’s philosophy and programme I need to make the point that I am not suggesting that South Africa is heading in the direction of some kind of totalitarianism, although one can never tell exactly where a revolutionary agenda will lead. Nor am I advocating the status quo, or the protection of white privilege, as some critics of the DA have suggested is our cause.

But what I am suggesting is that South Africa is certainly on the road to becoming a closed society dominated by a party elite that is motivated by a narrow racial nationalism and a desire for too much control.

The consequences are a growing tendency to abuse power; mounting evidence of high-level corruption; an entrenchment of old racial divisions and a move towards statism, as the ruling party systematically collapses the boundaries between itself and the state and increasingly encroaches on freedoms through state interference and over-regulation.

And what is most concerning of all, is that the spirit, and potentially even the letter, of our constitution is being imperiled by a transformation agenda and cadre policy that involves extending party control over the very institutions that are meant to provide a counterweight to the ruling party and its potential to abuse power.

The DA’s alternative: an open opportunity society

The Democratic Alliance stands for an open opportunity society founded on the bedrock of our constitutional order.

In my Youth Day address next week, I shall unpack in some detail what this means, and why it provides our country with a radically different understanding of what our transition to full democracy requires.

For now I wish to highlight the three key elements of an open opportunity society: freedom, opportunity and safety.

“Freedom” involves the protection of our liberal democratic constitutional order, which separates power, enshrines checks on the power of the executive, provides for the separation of party and state, protects individual rights and champions a critical and independent civil society. It also involves promoting a society in which individuals have the freedom and space to be themselves, to make their own choices and to pursue their own happiness.

Opportunity” involves the promotion of policies which give people the wherewithal to exercise their freedom. These policies must address the legacy of apartheid and provide all South Africans with expanding choices. They must also provide a welfare safety net for those who are not in a position to help themselves. 

“Safety” refers to protection from the many criminals who prey on our people and who rob them of their freedom and their opportunity.

The DA way, as I shall argue next week, rests not on the collectivist notion of “the people” or the “African majority”, but on the liberal notion of the individual who enjoys a unique view of the world and whose independence must be nurtured and cherished.

I hope that in the time allotted to me I have succeeded in outlining with some coherence our analysis of the ANC and have managed to highlight the key difference between us. And I hope too that what I have said will be considered seriously and might provoke a rigorous reassessment of the quality of our democracy and its prospects for success and sustainability.

In particular, I hope that our first decade of freedom and democracy will not lead to an ethos of complacency and self-congratulation. There is much to celebrate. But there are dangers to our constitutional order against which this country should set its face.

I thank you.


[i] Nation Formation and Nation Building – The National Question in South Africa, July 1997

[ii] Nation Formation and Nation Building – The National Question in South Africa, July 1997

[iii] Umrabulo, 4th Quarter, 1996

[iv] Umrabulo, 1998

[v] The document Challenges of Leadership in the Current Phase (July 1997) states that the ANC should use cadre deployment as a means of ensuring that such “centres of power” as “all sectors of government”, the economy, and the “ideological arena” were “truly in the hands of the people.”[v][v]

The ANC Strategy and Tactics (July 1997) document stated that the ANC must “continuously improve its capacity and skill to wield and transform the instruments of power. This includes... a cadre policy ensuring that the ANC plays a leading role in all centres of power.”[v][v]

The Commission on Governance (16-20 December 1997) stated, “Political appointments at senior levels of the public service need to be extended to local government administration.”

[vi] Dr. H.F. Verwoerd “Die Joodse Vraagstuk Besien vanuit Die Nasionale Standpunt: ‘n Moontlike Oplossing” Die Transvaler Vrydag 1 Oktober 1937.

[vii][vii] Writing in the weekly journal ANC Today, on 4 June 2004, President Mbeki compared the NNP’s decision to “strengthen and deepen” its relationship with the ANC, with the political philosophy of the Democratic Alliance, “The sleight of hand that has produced the illusion consists in the fact that the DA has managed to retain the label "liberal", while transforming itself into a "conservative" party. From 1994, as the DP, it set out to win the support of the traditional supporters of the NNP, continuing the age-old struggle between the "conservative" and "liberal" tendencies in white politics.”

“Thus, as the DA correctly determined, the NNP had taken the remarkable and historic decision to abandon its post as the champion of white "conservatism", and join the ranks of those who genuinely seek the "radical and fundamental change" the DA falsely claims to support.”

“Remarkably, the principal antagonists in the bitter struggle to determine the future of our country committed themselves to work together to build a new united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. This represented a development that would not be easy to find in any other country.

For it to succeed, required that one of the antagonists, the ANC, should commit itself in word and deed to the task of building the national unity and reconciliation for which the TRC had been created, forgiving the harm that had been done to our people in the name of white supremacy.

It required that the other antagonist, the NNP, should also commit itself in word and deed to the task of building national unity and reconciliation, and thereby turn its back on the policies which, in the past, had divided our country into hostile and contending factions.”

[viii] Fareed Zakaria; The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (2003)

[ix] Death of the Rainbow Nation – Unmasking the ANC’s Programme of Re-racialisation; Democratic Party Discussion Document, February 1998

Issued by the DA, June 10 2004