Equality, heart of a National Democratic Society
The declaration by former Deputy State President FW de Klerk that he and others like him "did not sign on for the National Democratic Revolution" is not in the least bit surprising. However, his claim that the ANC's vision of a national democratic society stands in contradiction to the Constitution cannot go unchallenged.
Speaking recently at an event organised by his foundation on the 20th anniversary of democracy, De Klerk argued that the ANC, in its pursuit of transformation, has deviated from the principles and values of the constitution. He blames this on the ANC's "dangerous ideology" of National Democratic Revolution (NDR). De Klerk couldn't be more wrong, about both the NDR and the constitution.
Among other things, De Klerk claims that the non-ANC parties in the constitutional negotiations "were never consulted about the ANC's approach to transformation and we do not accept it". De Klerk seems to forget that the constitution was drawn up by the Constitutional Assembly, a democratically-elected body that represented the collective will of the South African people.
He seems to forget that in 1994 the majority of South Africans - nearly two-thirds - actually voted for the ANC's approach to transformation, and have done so several times since. The fact that De Klerk chose not to accept a programme that the majority of South Africans did may go some way to explaining why the party he led no longer exists.
De Klerk claims that, unlike its negotiating partners, the ANC did not view the constitutional negotiations as the means to achieving a final national constitutional accord. That's nonsense. In both word and deed, the ANC has placed the constitution at the centre of its vision for a new South Africa. It has not only upheld the values of the constitution, but has pursued policies that advance the constitutional requirement to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free each person's potential.
In describing its "dangerous ideology" of National Democratic Revolution, the ANC's 2012 Strategy and Tactics document says: "Our democratic political system is founded on political, socio-economic and other human rights which are enshrined in the country's Constitution." These are not the words of an organisation that views the constitution as nothing more than the means to achieving state power.
De Klerk asserts that " our new Constitution is a transformational document. It enjoins us to transform South Africa to ensure that everyone will be able to enjoy the rights that it guarantees in a society based on the values that it envisions. Secondly, because there are widely differing perceptions of what transformation means and widely differing views on the type of society in which it should culminate. These differing interpretations of transformation lie at the heart of our national debate and of growing divisions within our society."
At the heart of De Klerk's argument, however, is the claim that the ANC's transformation programme is incompatible with the equality clause in the Bill of Rights. Again, he is wrong. The equality clause is in fact fundamental to the transformation agenda and is not contradictory to the National Democratic Revolution. Not only does it provide the basis for the ANC's transformation agenda, but it also establishes transformation as a constitutional imperative. For those who genuinely wish to see a truly transformed South Africa that is dealing with the legacy of apartheid there is no approach other than set out in the equality clause of our constitution
The clause says, among other things, that equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. It further says that to promote the achievement of equality, measures may be taken to advance people who have been disadvantaged by unfair discrimination.
Simply put, the constitution says the achievement of equality may require steps to redress the injustices of the past.
Those who wrote the constitution understood that equality cannot be achieved by proclamation. It is something that has to be achieved progressively through deliberate and sustained action.
Since the divisions in our society are predominately based on race, it stands to reason that foremost among our concerns should be the achievement of racial equality. At the same time, we must work to eradicate the related injustices of gender discrimination and income inequality.
Over the last 20 years, the policies and programmes of the ANC have been directed towards precisely these tasks. These include the commitment of resources towards meeting the needs of the poor. The provision of free houses, electricity, water, sanitation, roads and other social infrastructure are all part of the economic empowerment of the black majority. So too is the expansion of access to education. More than 80% of schools are now no-fee schools. The proportion of university students who were African increased from 49% in 1995 to more than 66% in 2010. Over the same period, university enrolment more than doubled.
Alongside these programmes, which have a had a tangible impact on the lives of millions of people, the ANC has also pursued policies around employment equity and black economic empowerment. These too have borne positive results. The black middle class doubled in size between 1993 and 2008. There has been a 325% growth in the proportion of blacks in senior management since 1996.
This is not nearly enough to address the enormity of the apartheid legacy, but it demonstrates that the "dangerous ideology" of the ANC is progressively redressing the injustices of the past.
De Klerk decries the "ideology of demographic representivity" while seeking a society "in which race is no longer an issue or a source of division". What he does not seem to realise is that race will continue to be an issue for as long as there are such stark disparities in the material conditions of black and white South Africans. Race will remain an issue until all echelons of our society are demographically representative.
Zakes Mda articulated this in his article on race in the City Press when he said: "The perception among some South Africans, both black and white, is that the demise of apartheid and the advent of democracy automatically levelled the playing fields and, therefore, we should no longer look at our world with race-coloured glasses and, indeed, we should not even recognise the existence of the ‘racial' categories established by the social-engineering experts of the past.
"But I believe that colour-blindness is a myth. It is a faux-liberal position because, while asserting that it does not judge human beings by the colour of their skin, it legitimises the current arrangements where race is a central factor in determining the life chances of most South Africans."
Non-racialism is not merely about changing racial mindsets. It is about creating a society in which there is no longer a social or economic divide between the races. For as long as a black child is more likely to be born into poverty than a white child, South Africa will not be truly non-racial.
Although we have made significant progress, the disparities between black and white remain. In 2008, 61% of Africans lived below the poverty line. Only 3% of whites did. For as long as such a situation obtains, race will continue to be an issue.
The policies of the ANC do not judge people by the colour of their skin. But in a society in which a person's circumstances are still largely defined by their race, it is both unavoidable and necessary to take account of the colour of a person's skin when implementing measures our constitution envisaged may have to be taken to promote equality.
De Klerk would have us believe that the ANC is re-racialising South Africa. What he fails to recognise is that South Africa has yet to be de-racialised.
We have made significant progress over the last 20 years in our efforts to achieve equality, but there is still much more that needs to be done. As the ANC, we will continue to do everything we can to advance transformation - whether De Klerk signs up to it or not.
Cyril Ramaphosa is the ANC Deputy President. This article first appeared in the ANC newsletter ANC Today.
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