On the ANC's draft strategy & tactics

An analysis of the hubris and power hunger of the ruling party from early 2007

Part 1: Inside the mind of the ANC. What this document says, and why it is important.

President Thabo Mbeki's state of the nation address [2007] has received blanket coverage in the South African media. By contrast, the release of the ANC's draft Strategy & Tactics has attracted minimal comment. This is strange because this document is arguably more important, and certainly of far greater enduring relevance, than the president's speech.

The Strategy & Tactics document sets out the intentions, strategy, and self-conception of the ANC, and it is meant to guide the liberation movement in between its national conferences, which are held ever five years.

The previous Strategy & Tactics, adopted in 1997, was a seminal document. Amongst the objectives it set out for the ANC were the marginalisation of a ‘counter-revolutionary' white minority and the extension of party control over the levers of state power. It also announced the re-introduction of democratic centralism as the guiding principle of the ANC's own internal organisation.

The preface added to this Strategy & Tactics at the national conference in 2002 revealed that the ANC was now ready to pursue the Africanisation of "ownership and control of wealth". The tensions that would result from the decisive pursuit of this objective would require, it stated, tactical dexterity combined with firm commitment to principle.

These documents have proven to be a very reliable guide to the intentions and consequent actions of the ANC over the past ten years. That said they can be easily misread. There are two reasons for this: The one is that this ANC leadership often uses words more for their moral connotations than their actual meaning. For example, ANC documents refer to "de-racialisation" when they actually mean "Africanisation".

The other, is the related tendency to lay claim to all values seen as desirable - even though they might be strictly incompatible. The stated intention of extending control over the judiciary often co-exists with an expressed adherence to the principle of the separation of powers. Such self-deception and hypocrisy should not be mistaken for doubt or contradiction - this ANC leadership has priorities, one just has to understand what they are.

With these caveats in mind, what does the 2007 draft Strategy & Tactics say and what does it reveal about the current state of the ANC? Ideologically, there is very little that is new in the document but there are significant changes of emphasis.

This document is far more open about the racial objectives of this ANC leadership than the early version was. What was implicit in the 1997 document has now been made explicit.

The document begins by reaffirming the view of South Africa 's past, initially formulated by the SACP in the early 1950s, which goes under the name of Colonialism of a Special Type. The key tenet of this doctrine is the belief that all the advantages of the white minority have been attained through the robbery, dispossession and exploitation of the black majority. The "racial imbalances" that resulted are therefore illegitimate and immoral - and as a result the ANC is justified in employing almost any means to uproot them.

The document states that a key element of "transformation" remains the systematic programme to correct this "historical injustice" through the deliberate advancement of the black majority, women and the disabled. The ultimate goal of this programme is for the racial proportions of "all centres of power and influence" to conform to those of society as a whole. It states that discrimination against the white minority will "decline" as this objective is attained. But it suggests that it would continue to be used to police any deviation from these proportions that were favourable to that minority.

It argues elsewhere that the movement should ensure "that state institutions reflect the demographics of the country, including appropriate representation of women and people with disability. This applies to the public service in its totality as well as specialised institutions such as the judiciary, the police, intelligence agencies and the defence force".

The document emphasises the distinction between the "ideal state" to which the ANC aspires, and those "tactical positions that the liberation movement may adopt from time to time, taking into account the balance of forces within our country and abroad". The two should not be confused, it says, advice that those in business and the media would do well to heed. When senior ANC cadres in the state emphasise that ‘demographic' proportionality is their objective, they should be taken at their word, for they are reflecting the deep ideological commitments of the current party leadership.

One recent example of this is the police's employment-equity plan, issued in early January by national commissioner, Jackie Selebi. It states that ‘ideally' the police should be 79% black, 2,5% Indian, 8,9% Coloured, and 9,6% white by 2010; and that, in order for these targets to be attained, severance packages should be re-introduced in order to hasten the exodus of white police officers.

Another is the statement by the director general of the minerals and energy department, Sandie Nogxina that what government was striving for was an Africanised South African mining sector, "which is truly representative of the country's demographics".

Such statements suggest that, as a matter of principle, pressing economic and institutional considerations will eventually be overlooked in favour of pushing through with complete racial transformation.

Curiously, at the same time as the document gives such open expression to African nationalist objectives, the anti-white rhetoric so prevalent in the previous version has been greatly toned down. The white minority, and their political representatives, are no longer defined as a counter-revolutionary element in society. The new version describes their political and other organisations as "legitimate expressions of a school of thought that should be challenged, but at the same time accepted as part of democratic engagement".

The basic reason for this apparent paradox is that the white minority is no longer seen as the obstacle or threat that it was ten years ago. The state has been captured and the ideology of African nationalism - although not always recognised as such - now reigns supreme. The document itself claims that "at least in public discourse, except for a tiny minority, those apprehensive about change are concerned more with pace and scale rather than substance".

Part 2: The rot inside the ANC. Absolute power is absolutely wonderful.

In 1997 Alexander Johnston wrote that the ANC of that time was occupying "an ill-defined space somewhere between a liberation movement and a constitutional political party." The difference between the two was that an ordinary political party only claimed to represent part of society, pursued limited goals, and was the temporary "custodian of state power, pending the next verdict of the electorate". By contrast, a liberation movement was "the destiny of the nation on the march"; mobilised the people in "pursuit of unambiguous national goals"; and, "deployed" its activists according to its needs. 

The Strategy & Tactics document adopted at the end of that year was a very firm re-assertion of the ANC as the latter kind of organisation. The objective of the ANC, it said, was to "fundamentally transform" state and society. To do so the ANC would have to learn to "wield the instruments of power" and ensure for itself "a leading role in all centres of power" through a policy of cadre deployment.

Ten years on the new draft Strategy & Tactics continues to reject the idea that the ANC should become an "ordinary electoral party". Instead, it says, it should be "a party of the future, using political power and harnessing the organisational and intellectual resources of society to attain the vision of a national democratic society".

There is a certain irony to this formulation as the term used to describe the future society is highly archaic. It dates from a December 1960 conference in Moscow of 81 communist parties which adopted a declaration that communists operating in developing world should aim for the creation of an "independent state of national democracy" in their countries.

More seriously, the document reveals that not only are the ANC's totalitarian aspirations intact, but to an important extent they have already been realised. In 1998 a high level party document bluntly set out the intentions of the ANC with the regard to the state:

"Transformation of the state" it said, "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."

Just under nine years later the draft Strategy & Tactics boasts that the "prime prize" of control over "state power" has now been achieved. And indeed, of all the institutions listed in the paragraph above only the courts are not yet completely under the power of the liberation movement. The document states that the ANC will "continue to promote the transformation of the judiciary" an indication that previous efforts to break the back of its independence have by no means been permanently shelved.

Contrary to some press reporting there is going to be no reversal of the policy of cadre deployment, nor any let up in the requirement that ANC members, wherever they may be located, place loyalty to the party above all other loyalties.

The document states, "In order for it to exercise its vanguard role, the ANC puts a high premium on the involvement of its cadres in all centres of power" something which requires the placement of party members and supporters in state institutions, the media, and business.

It adds that "The ANC should give strategic leadership to those of its cadres in institutions of government" and should act as the "ultimate strategic centre of power for its members". The ANC, it says, "needs massively to strengthen its monitoring and evaluation capacity" in order to ensure that cadres in the state carry out their assigned tasks. 

This idea that ANC is entitled to rule over all spheres of society is based partly on the belief that only it can realise the vision of an ideal future, and partly on the idea that its members are somehow more virtuous than the rest of us.

The document claims at various points that the ANC's struggle for power "evolved to embrace the best in human civilisation and value systems"; that it is now on a "civilising mission"; and that its members are the "most advanced elements of society".

There is nothing new in the belief of a ruling caste that the maintenance of civilisation somehow depends solely on them. But as George Orwell observed, if its power is to endure it has "to have a strict morality, a quasi-religious belief in itself, a mystique". By this measure the ANC is seriously in trouble. The discovery by British and German investigators of the payment of massive bribes in South Africa's arms deal suggests that no sooner had the "levers of state power" been grasped than they were being wielded for corrupt purposes.

It is worth noting in this regard that Chippy Shaik - who as head of acquisitions in the Department of Defence during the arms deal is alleged to have extracted a $3m bribe from one of the bidders - was one of the early beneficiaries of cadre deployment. At the time of his appointment he had no obvious qualifications for the job other than his ANC background.

While the rot goes back a long way it has, as ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe acknowledged to the Financial Mail recently, now spread "across the board. It's not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money".

High-level corruption is slow working but deadly poison for even the most seemingly entrenched dominant party. The draft Strategy & Tactics does recognise some of the symptoms of the problem. It acknowledges that "patronage, arrogance of power, bureaucratic indifference, corruption, and other ills" have arisen from political incumbency. But, it displays no real understanding of the underlying causes. If it reveals anything it is that the current ANC leadership remains intoxicated by the idea that "Power is wonderful and absolute power is absolutely wonderful".

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb - in two parts - in February 2007.