In defence of the new ANC

Speech by Jeremy Cronin, ANC MP and SACP deputy general secretary

We are half way through the party political responses to the state of the nation address. I think good things have been said; obviously from our side of the House, but also from the other side - and I want to acknowledge some of those in a while. But underlying the inputs coming from the opposition benches is an agenda; often subtly put, sometimes more crudely put.

For the better part of two years the ANC, or at least parts of the ANC, have been having a debate about the so-called two centres of power. Now, hallelujah, suddenly a number of these opposition parties have woken up and asked: What is there in it for us? One prominent speaker on the other side talked about a power vacuum following Polokwane. They are all circling around this issue, hoping for a gap in the market. There is no gap in the market and still less is there a market for you in that gap, which doesn't exist.

Some of you are trying to pit the ANC against the ANC government. Let's have a vote of no confidence in the ANC government says the ID, thinking that it is riding some Polokwane wave, whilst completely misunderstanding what happened. They are riding a wave but there is no one with them on that wave.

Others are trying to pit the government against the ANC. The leader of the DA said that the President must stop the national democratic revolution: Presumably, the national democratic revolution of populists and the unrealistic left that the hon Sandra Botha referred to.

The DA has changed its tune a little bit. Typically. Having tried to pit the government against the ANC, they are now hedging their bets. They are trying to do both things. On they one hand they say: Dissolve the current government. But on the other hand they say: Let us try and flirt with President Mbeki against the ANC. Let us present ourselves as the moderate centre.

Hon Botha, do not confuse sitting on the fence with being in the centre of South African politics. To be sitting on the fence, which appears to be the historical mission of your party and all its predecessors in their various acronyms, sitting on the fence means you are on the left. Not my left, but the left of the left-behinds.

The hon Holomisa also played this game quite subtly. He began by playing the homeboy game. There is nothing wrong with that. He referred to his Transkei origins. At the end of his speech he switched to Xhosa - nothing wrong with that either, of course - and then used that to infer jokingly, but in jokes there is always a serious point, that there was some Communist threat and some Commmunist conspiracy. He then came and shook your [Mbeki's] hand. This was a joke and it was subtly done but lurking in there is the kind of issue that we are seeing in Kenya today: The flirtation with gaps or imagined gaps and playing cards which are very dangerous cards. There is no gap and you will not succeed in seeking to divide the ANC and the ANC from the ANC government. The evidence of your failure is already apparent in the course of this debate.

President Mbeki's state of nation address has been very well-received by not only the general public, but by the ANC, by Cosatu, and by the SACP - let it be said. That was not a choreographed response. The SACP commended the state of the nation address for many, many things, such as the detail, the general thrust of it, and many specific issues.

There were also differences. The SACP, for instance, commended the President for his role in Zimbabwe, for the long hours put into a very difficult situation, bringing together intractable sides, and so on. But the SACP said: We are not sure that what remains is simply procedural. We are not sure whether it is a good choice of words. It is not the fault of the South African government if these agreements are not implemented. They cannot be implemented by SADC or the South African government. They need to be implemented by the Zimbabwean government. In the view of the SACP, which I am not representing here, that is not just a procedural matter. That is the matter for a debate. It is not some strategic clash, not some parting of ways within the alliance. It is democracy and it is a debate and a discussion.

At the heart of the ANC's debate around the two centres of power has been a reaffirmation of longstanding ANC policy. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, at a time when the ANC was conducting an armed struggle, amongst other things, we had to be extremely and constantly vigilant that the pressures, the excitement, the logistical challenges of our military struggle did not overwhelm the essential political content of our struggle.

We said in the slogan of the day that the political must be in the command. And therefore, at that time, institutionally, programmatically, and in terms of codes of conduct and values, we had to work constantly against the danger - which exists in any national liberation struggle where there is a military component - of making sure that the ANC was a political centre first and foremost.

A ruling party, as opposed to an illegal national liberation movement conducting an armed struggle, has other challenges. And we know those from any ruling party situation, of technocratic and bureaucratic capture. There is that danger, even, of corporate capture and of corruption.

When the hon Buthelezi spoke of corruption, we were listening to him. We don't disagree with you. If you want to see a sustained concern about the problems of corruption and the problems of being a ruling party and the challenges that it brings, have a look at the organisational report of the ANC at Polokwane. It is a real issue and therefore, institutionally, organisationally and programmatically, we need to be very vigilant as a ruling party against those dangers. This means allowing the circulation of democratic oxygen within our own organisation.

How can 4 000 delegates decide on the future president of South Africa, we are told [by the other parties]. Some of those parties will have three delegates, and five delegates, and maybe 200 delegates, deciding who is going to be on the top of their list during the elections. The 4 000 delegates of the ANC at Polokwane were not deciding who is going to be the future president of South Africa. They were deciding who is going to be on top of the ANC list. The voters of South Africa will decide who will be the next president of South Africa. The voters in their majority will decide and if they decide not to go with the top of the list of a three-delegate party, then it is not the fault of the ANC.

To affirm that the ANC needs to be a key political strategic centre doesn't mean the abolition or dissolution of other centres of powers. Sometimes the two centres of power debate can give you the impression that there are only two possible centres of power. There are multiple centres of power in any modern society. On the contrary, for the ANC to play the role of a political strategic centre, it requires many centres of power to be flourishing. We need to respect the professionalism, the technical capacity and the autonomy of state organs. It is absolutely essential if we want to play that political centre role. We also need to respect Parliament. If the ANC is going to play a political centre strategic role, then we need to transform and develop and enhance the capacities of Parliament. It is absolutely critical. We need a multiparty institution - which it is.

When the hon Holomisa calls for a national indaba, that national indaba should be held here. This is what we are. We are voted to be the national indaba so let it be that; not a rubber stamp for anyone. Let us be vibrant. For this reason, amongst the hundreds of resolutions passed at Polokwane - you only remember one resolution and are completely fixated about that - was an important resolution that we must, as this Parliament, put an end to floor-crossing. There has been a debate in the ANC. There has been a debate in other political parties. From the ANC's side we are convinced that this is necessary to enhance the legitimacy and good standing of Parliament.

The lessons we have learned from the floor-crossing episode - which may or may not have had its legitimation in an earlier period - is that it runs the danger of dragging us into the politics of politicians, of us as full-time professional politicians: The politics of lists, of wheeling-and-dealing and of individual career interests. It takes us away from the politics of millions of ordinary people, of housing, unemployment, of poverty and so on. That is one of the important mandates we are carrying. We need to strengthen Parliament and not to weaken it.

Coming out of Polokwane, the ANC's political committee is committed also to fulfilling an important constitutional requirement. This Constitution says that this Parliament must develop legislation to enable us to amend Money Bills. It is very important. Not to go and play wild and free with Money Bills and the Budget, but it is an important responsibility that we have to have an oversight over public spending. As the ANC we expect the support from all political parties in driving through what is in fact not a "maybe" or an "if", but a constitutional requirement.

The opposition parties will do their best to divide the ANC but they won't succeed. The ANC is united, not because it is a monolithic identity but based on our political vision, our commitment to the Freedom Charter, but above all, a sense of responsibility to over two-thirds of the electorate who know from their own lives that, "amandla ngawethu, maathla ke a rona!" is not just a slogan but a profound understanding that they might have few things, few resources, little capital, no shares perhaps on the JSE, but they do have the possibility of a united, collective power, their majority.

That is the historical and contemporary role of the ANC: To provide a political, unifying coherence to that majority. That is a role that will not be assumed by proclamation. It is not a role that you can just affirm through a resolution at Polokwane. It is something that requires daily struggle.

Jeremy Cronin is an ANC MP and a member of the party's National Executive Committee. He is also deputy general-secretary of the SACP. This is an edited version of the unrevised transcript of his speech in the debate on the President's State of the Nation Address, February 12 2008