Only a united ANC can meet the needs of the poor
Our country has gone through eventful and puzzling few days. We have seen members of the ANC calling media conferences to outline problems they have with the organisation or to announce their resignation from the movement. This has been carefully choreographed to give a picture of a crippling crisis of sorts in the African National Congress.
Granted, there have been organisational challenges within the ANC for years and we have never hidden this fact. We have acknowledged that the build up to the Polokwane conference had been robust but also very bitter and painful. Preferences for certain candidates were so pronounced that some members whose candidates were not elected at the conference might have felt that they have lost their home in the ANC. Such thinking is alien to the movement. The ANC belongs to all its members equally.
Conference instructed the ANC leadership to engage members in every Province in a process of organisational renewal, to heal the rifts and re-unite the organisation after Polokwane. The difficulties in some of the Provinces pre-dated Polokwane, and had not been attended to over a period of time. We had to revert to old tried and tested traditions of the movement, to re-open the space for internal debate which had been closed for years, so that members could talk and help to heal the rifts.
The National Working Committee have since January 2008 been meeting in various Provinces on Mondays to work with our structures to resolve differences and unite the ANC, in line with the 1912 mandate from the founding fathers and mothers of our movement.
It has been an uphill battle in some provinces due to entrenched positions as matters had been left unresolved for too long. It has been a difficult exercise also because it became clear that some of our senior members had decided to challenge the authority of the new leadership, either in government or in some structures of the organisation. The democratic notion of accepting the choice of the majority despite one's own preferences appeared to have been thrown out of the window.
We found ourselves with members who had dubious agendas and who clearly did not want to be led. We are pleased that they have now come out into the open instead of operating clandestinely within our structures. We urge others who are actively working behind the scenes to also declare their intentions and allow the ANC to move forward in unity.
It is interesting to note that such a challenge is nothing new, judging by what our icon Isithwalandwe Nelson Mandela said during a Presidential address to the Transvaal ANC congress in 1953 entitled: No Easy Walk to Freedom".
"In Congress there are still many shady characters, political clowns, place-seekers, saboteurs, provocateurs, informers and policemen who masquerade as progressives but who are in fact the bitterest enemies of our organisation. Outside appearances are highly deceptive and we cannot classify these men by looking at their faces or by listening to their sweet tongues or their vehement speeches demanding immediate action. The friends of the people are distinguishable by the ready and disciplined manner in which they rally behind their organisation and their readiness to sacrifice when the preservation of the organisation has become a matter of life and death. Similarly, enemies and shady characters are detected by the extent to which they consistently attempt to wreck the organisation by creating fratricidal strife, disseminating confusion and undermining and even opposing important plans of action to vitalise the organisation".
We respect the right of anybody to form political parties of their choice and to resign from the ANC. This is a free country and membership of the ANC is voluntary. No serious liberation movement would allow factionalism within its ranks and permit people to undermine it openly from within as this will halt the progress the ANC is making to speed up change in its effort to create a better life for all.
That is why we have suspended factionalist members in order to unite and refocus our organisation. It is only a strong and united ANC that can unite the nation to meets the needs of the poor. They factionalist members will undergo disciplinary processes as outlined in our ANC Constitution.
We also have disgruntled members who are willing to work with the leadership to resolve differences. These are members who joined the ANC not for leadership positions but because they believed in its values, policies, its Constitution, proud history and traditions. These are the cadres and members of the ANC and who want it to succeed.
We have a duty to listen to these members so that they can help us improve the way the ANC is run and to solve the outstanding issues which cause concern. The NEC members will visit all parts of the country to meet with the membership and discuss the current situation and any other issues.
Some members may be angry at the recall of the former President of the Republic in the same way that others were furious with the dismissal of the former Deputy President of the Republic in 2005. Others are angry about certain decisions taken by local leadership. These are all some of the issues we must manage working together with our membership. It is all part of the culture of the ANC as its members speak out when things go wrong, but within the discipline of the organisation.
We value every single member of the ANC and do not want to lose them to people who want power at all costs. There are many people who have been sadly ill treated over the years but who remain within the ANC as loyal and disciplined members. We respect them for that.
Over the past week we have also listened with great amazement to assertions by former comrades that there is no internal democracy within the ANC. What is amusing is that this is said by people who have used their leadership positions over the years to stifle democracy and bulldoze others whose views they disagreed with, and who are now running away from democracy in the ANC. We have been working day and night to undo their legacy to remove factionalism and fear within the movement.
While healing the organisation, we are also gearing ourselves to fight the 2009 elections. That is why some unfortunate decisions have been taken, for example to remove some provincial Premiers either due to poor performance or being an obstacle to unity. Claims that the recalls are part of post-Polokwane "purges" are incorrect. We have stopped some provinces from removing Premiers where we were not convinced that strong grounds existed for a change of leadership. All Premiers are ANC deployees and we will support them in their work to deliver services to our people.
The 2009 elections are essential for taking forward the transformation outlined in the Freedom Charter, described by Madiba as a "a beacon to the Congress Movement and an inspiration to the people of South Africa".
In an article entitled "In Our Lifetime", published in Liberation - a "Journal of Democratic Discussion" in June 1956, Madiba warned that a mere appraisal of a document however dynamic its provisions or content might be is academic and valueless "unless we consciously and conscientiously create the conditions necessary for its realisation. To be fruitful such appraisal must be closely linked up with the vital question of whether we have in South African society the requisite social forces that are capable of fighting for the realisation of the Charter and whether in fact these forces are being mobilised and conditioned for this principal task''.
We are going to the ground to mobilise these forces to get people to register to vote and to participate in the transformation process. We will be celebrating with our people the successes of the last 15 years of the ANC government, while urging them to continue assisting the ANC to make this a better country. We will be doing so fully acknowledging and applauding the role of former Presidents Madiba and President Thabo Mbeki in ensuring the achievements of the ANC governments since 1994.
We will be talking to all sectors of society who are our key stakeholders in building a better life, such as traditional leaders, religious leaders, business, women and youth formations and non-governmental organisations. We will be asking for their views on how to strengthen our priority areas such as education, health, fight against crime, economic transformation, rural development and agrarian reform.
In all humility, we are convinced that the ANC is the only organisation that is democratic, truly cares for the people and that produces policies that can truly transform this country. It rigorously consults on processes hence internal debate and internal democracy will always be part of ANC culture and tradition.
As you read this, we are holding an Alliance Economic Summit in Johannesburg, putting our heads together with our allies to build an economy in which the creation of decent jobs, eradication of poverty and ending inequalities are central.
We must also reaffirm, as we have always done, our commitment to the Constitution of the Republic. The ANC fought and worked hard for the Constitution and all principles enshrined in it including the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and equality for all. We are and pose no threats to the judiciary. It will never be under attack from the ANC. The sunshine democrats who accuse us of this know that they are being opportunistic.
People are leaving the ANC not because they dislike ANC policies but because their own personal ambitions were suppressed through non-election in Polokwane. We reiterate that nobody should be or will be marginalised simply because they voted for a particular person in Polokwane, or because they had raised uncomfortable issues.
The unity of the movement is paramount and comes before the personal ambitions of any member or leader.
Madiba reminded us of the importance of unity in his message to the ANC's Kabwe conference in 1985. "In the course of its history, the ANC has survived countless storms and risen to eminence partly because of the sterling qualities of its membership, and partly because each member has regarded himself or herself as the principal guardian of that unity. All discussions, contributions and criticism have generally been balanced and constructive and, above all, they have been invariably subjected to the over-riding principle of maximum unity. To lose sight of this basic principle is to sell our birthright, to betray those who paid the highest price so that the ANC should flourish and triumph''.
The thousands of our members who joined the ANC because of its values and principles will never lose sight of these principles. When there are problems they will not run away from the ANC. The test of time in our lives as cadres of the movement is how we endure difficulties, and how we are able to face the challenges and deal with them within the movement.
The legacy of those who run away will always be questionable. We will always wonder why they joined the ANC in the first place.
This article by ANC President, Jacob Zuma, first appeared in ANC Today Volume 8, No. 41 October 17 2008