South African’s National Liberation Movement

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National Conference​

Discussion Documents

Challenges of Leadership in the Current Phase

16 December 1997


One of the tasks the National Conference is charged with is the responsibility of electing a leadership collective. This is a matter that should be discussed openly within constitutional structures of the movement. Such discussions should be informed by the strategic tasks of the organisation and the challenges that it faces in the current phase.

In this process, it is natural and necessary that there should be contest among individuals and lobbying by their supporters. Our challenge is to ensure healthy and comradely competition, so that we emerge from this process united, with a leadership suited to the current phase. On the other hand, if persued in dark corners, and in a spirit of self-interested sectionalism, the process would degenerate into debilitating contests which divide the movement and divert it from the major task of social transformation. It could also be easily exploited by forces of counter-revolution.

This paper looks at the context in which leadership debates should occur and proposes criteria for the type of leadership the ANC needs in the current phase.

Strategic Objectives and the Implications for Leadership

The central objective of the ANC is the transformation of South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society. These tasks are further elaborated in the RDP and other documents. They refer to meeting people`s basic needs, developing our human resources, building the economy, democratising the state and society, and building a united nation. Running like a thread through all these tasks is mass involvement.

The ANC should ensure that power in all sectors of government, in the economy and in the ideological arena, is truly in the hands of the people and that it mobilises the people to continue being their own liberators. In deploying the movements cadres we should ensure a proper balance among these various centres of power Furthermore, account has to be taken of the balance within the leadership between cadres in government and outside, as well as the class and national forces the ANC relies on to effect transformation.

While it is correct to look at the traditions of the ANC from years of struggle, we should also acknowledge the new situation within which we operate as the leading organisation in government. This has thrown up new tasks which are in many ways of a different nature. Indeed, as we alter our social environment through the act of social transformation, in the same measure we alter elements of our own character as a movement.

Character of the ANC and Implications for Leadership

The ANC is a broad mass movement, as distinct form a narrow cadre-based party. This will thus find an expression in its membership in general as well as in the style of leadership, including how “popularity” is sought and gained.

The ANC is a. non-racial movement. In this context, the main content of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) remains the liberation of the black people in general and Africans in particular. The Strategy and Tactics document from Morogoro goes further to underline that this principle should find expression in the composition of leadership structures of the ANC. From its birth, the ANC called for unity among the African people – to bury the “demon of tribalism”, and ensure that in its geographic spread and public face, the movement is seen as truly national in character.

The ANC is, in class terms, a liberation movement representing the interest of the working class, the rural poor, professionals and Black business which was by definition, small business. Because of national oppression, these forces were defined essentially along racial lines. The organisation also recognises the leading role of the working class in the NDR. By implication workers should have a central role to play in both the membership and leadership of the ANC. The new situation may require that this general definition is broadened somewhat, but the essence remains.

Over time, the ANC has embraced the principle of gender equality as one of the central features of national liberation. As with the working class, the fact of holding the view of gender equality should be reinforced with equitable representation of women at all levels of the movement. In the same way, the ANC also recognises the important role played by various other sectors of society such as youth, the educational sector, civic associations, the religious community, traditional leaders and so on.

To be national in character and be seen as such, and to ensure that the ANC is in constant touch with the people, the movement allows for ex officio representation of the provinces on the National Executive Committee (NEC). However, it is also critical that among the directly elected NEC members, there should be as even a provincial spread as the democratic process can allow.

Leadership Background and Experience

Individuals are shaped also by their own experiences in struggle. In the ANC, one of the positive qualities has been to unite various strands of political experience. Historically, this finds expression in the form of those who, before 1990, were “mainly” in prison, in exile, in MDM formations, in professional work and in broad patriotic front organisations. This may include some capable members who may not have been at the forefront of the struggle but have joined the ANC in the 1990s and are making an invaluable contribution in the new phase of the NDR.

It is however, a fallacy to treat these various streams as rigid and distinct categories, each walled in from others. The truth is that the majority of individuals are found in two or more of these categories. In addition, while such political background and experience will contribute in shaping individuals` approaches to issues, the consciousness and identity that define individuals cannot be confined merely to these political experiences.

In the context of the current phase of the NDR, account also has to be taken of the capacity of individuals to play leadership role in governance. While education may not be the only factorwe have to acknowledge the reality that the current technological age requires certain general academic and specialised knowledge. And the presence of such leaders in the NEC will enhance the role of the ANC as the governing organisation. On the other hand, the profile arising from their work will make such leaders more visible than others. Therefore, care has to be taken to ensure that the advantage arising form such deployment does not result in an NEC made up mainly, or only, of those leaders in government.

Adherence to all these principals all these principals in considering candidates for leadership does not mean reductionism: in the sense of counting heads and doing “class, racial, ethnic, provincial, ministerial/parliamentary and gender arithmetic”. Various leaders will at once represent various streams Further, we should discourage attempts to mobilise on narrow sectional tickets. Individuals cannot project themselves as representatives of exiles, of the MDM, ethnic groups and so on. An attempt to use these attributes as a basis for opportunistic mobilisation is divisive and misleading. Rather, emphasis should be placed on the contribution that individuals make or wish to make to the task of transformation.

Leaders should be elected on merit. In the NEC they are not sectoral representatives but part of an integrated collective. However, the emphasis on integration should not subtract from the requirement that the NEC “melting pot” represents and is seen to represent a synthesis of not one but the cross-section of various strands and identities. Overall, the ANC should strive to be the microcosm of the motive forces of transformation and in broader terms, the microcosm of the South African nation being born.

Principles of ANC Organisation and Qualities of Leadership

The challenge of ensuring balanced representation in an integrated leadership is not merely for appearance. Different strands should bring their experiences to bear on decisions taken by the leadership, to reflect the interests and aspirations of the motive forces of the NDR

This is important not only because of the NEC is the highest decision-making body between conferences, but also because the ANC is not a federal organisation. Therefore, the central leadership structures have an important position with regard to defining policy and in its implementation which affects each level of the organisation. Certainly, far-reaching decisions should, as a matter of principle go through thorough consultation. One of the organisational principles of the ANC is active participation by members in decision making. But the NEC remains the highest body between Conferences to take final and binding decisions.

Like with all social phenomena, such final decisions will not necessarily reflect the passionate views of the people directly affected precisely because national considerations have to be taken into account. In other words, a policy decision will often reflect what Frederick Engels referred to as a “parallelogram of forces”. The parallelogram of forces reflects the complex equilibrium of various forces pulling in different and sometimes opposite directions. NEC leaders are obliged to promote and defend the collective decisions that emerge from their discussions.

In broad terms, an ANC cadre and more particularly NEC members should have, among others, the following political qualities:

  • An NEC member should understand ANC policy and be able to apply it under all conditions in which s/he finds him/herself . This includes an appreciation , from the NDR stand-point, of the country and the world we live in, of the balance of forces, and how continually to change this balance in favour of the motive forces of change.
  • An NEC member should constantly seek to improve his/her capacity to serve the people. S/he should strive to be in touch with the people all the time, listen to their views and learn from them. S/he should be accessible and flexible and not give her/himself the status of being the source of all wisdom.
  • An NEC member should win the confidence of the people in their day-to-day work. Where the situation demands, s/he should be firm, and have the courage to explain and seek to convince others of the correctness of decisions taken by constitutional structures, even if such decisions are unpopular. S/he should not seek to gain cheap popularity by avoiding difficult issues, making false promises or merely pandering to popular sentiment.
  • An NEC member should be above reproach in his/her political and social conduct – as defined by our revolutionary morality – and through force of example, act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike. Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the NDR includes not only being free of corrupt practices. It also means actively fighting against corruption.

Individual Personalities and Organisational Environment

There are no ready-made leaders. Leaders evolve out of battles for social transformation. In these battles, cadres will stumble and some will fall. But the abiding quality of leadership is to learn from mistakes, to appreciate one`s weaknesses and seek to correct. them.

As a bearer of social experience, an individual`s personality traits play an important role when in positions of leadership. A key quality is the ability to influence and to be influenced by others in the collective without losing one`s identity. Yet another is the conviction to state one`s views boldly and openly within constitutional structures of the movement. In addition, without being disrespectful, an individual should not cower before those in more senior positions in pursuit of patronage, nor rely on cliques to maintain one`s position.

The struggle for social transformation is complex where at times, personal interests will conflict with organisational interests. From time to time, conflict will manifest itself between and among members and leaders. The ultimate test of leadership includes:

  • striving for convergence between personal interests – material, status and otherwise – and the collective interest. Yet the movement itself should strive to take personal interests into account when deploying cadres, and ensure that the willingness to sacrifice is rewarded in an appropriate manner.
  • handling conflict in the course of ANC work by understanding its true origins and seeking to resolve it in the context of struggle. Whatever difficulties individuals face, attempts should be made to resolve them through constitutional structures.
  • the ability to inspire people in good times and bad, to reinforce members` and society`s confidence in the ANC and transformation. The authority that a leader exercises should come from genuine acceptance of the leader by the membership, not through suppression, threats, patronage or connivance in promoting defiance.

Broad Challenges of Conference in Electing the New NEC

Over the pest few years the ANC has gained a wealth of experience from its work in government. This naturally has affected the character of the organisation and its leadership, with a new emphasis on building the capacity to govern and implement programmes to uplift conditions of the poor. This is an important, if not most critical, terrain in the current phase: the success or otherwise of the ANC depends on how it performs at this level.

Yet it would be a mighty error to separate this function from the tasks of building the ANC as an organisation. It is not individuals as such who are in government, but ANC members deployed to fulfill a function. The parameters within which they carry out their functions are defined by the ANC and they should account to it. Mass participation, which is so central to the success of the RDP, requires that the ANC mobilises the people to take part in transforming their own lives. It is the ANC as an organisation that should strengthen the forces which objectively stand to gain from the success of the NDR. These forces include the Tri-partite Alliance, the mass democratic formations, the broad patriotic forces and so on.

This critical element has suffered because of a lack of a deployment strategy In the period leading up to the formation of the democratic government. As the President said at the opening of the 1994 Conference:

Ours was not a planned entry into government. Except for the highest echelons, there was no plan for the deployment of cadres. We were disorganised, and behaved in a manner that could have endangered the revolution

This has weakened the ANC`s role as an organiser of the people and political centre of the broader movement for transformation.

In so far as leadership elections are concerned, Conference will need to ensure an NEC that reflects the main areas of ANC work which are government and full-time mass work. The latter entails ensuring that there are sufficient full-time NEC members in the ANC, as well as leaders from the working class and other sectors of society not deployed in government. With regard to the working class in particular, at its recent Lekgotla, the NEC undertook to consult Cosatu about the principle of their leaders making themselves available for election to the NEC. This is besides the call for organised and unorganised workers to take active part in ANC structures and the recognition of the fact that the interests of a class are not necessarily and mechanically articulated only by members of that class. In terms of gender balance, members should deliberately identify women who are capable of and/or have the potential to assume leadership positions. And, in nominating leaders in general, the question of their commitment to gender equality should be put on the agenda.

An issue that needs thorough examinations is that of rejuvenation of the leadership in terms of electing young cadres who have done well in various fields. There are graduates of the Youth League, MK, SASCO, etc. or other young workers and professionals – young men and women who have a contribution to make at this level. This is important not only for purposes of the unique contribution the youth can and should make in the NEC, but because we should actively start building the leadership of the future in actual practice today.

It is also critical that Conference address the question of the track record required for individuals to be elected into the NEC, and similarly into other levels of leadership. For instance, we could include in the ANC constitution the condition that a member can stand for the NEC if s/he has been a member for 5 years, 3 years for the PEC, 2 years for the REC and 1 year for the branch. This will help ensure that people demonstrate a consistent track record in ANC work before serious responsibilities are thrust on them.

The movement`s cadre policy should include a deliberate process of “career-pathing”, where areas in which cadres can make a decisive contribution are identified and they are deployed in such a way that their future career is broadly mapped out. Through such deployment and multi-purpose training, cadres should be able to advance from the lowest to the highest levels within the movement and in other sectors of society. This should include systematic political training of cadres and leaders alike in the form of the various courses, workshops and “schools” that are part of the movement`s programme.

Broad Challenges of Conference in Electing Officials

The criteria applying to the NEC as a whole are even more relevant with regard to the officials. In addition, the NEC has made the strong proposal that the SG, Deputy SG and TG should be full-time in the ANC. The temptation in recent years has been conveniently to relax such a requirement in order to accommodate individual candidates. To continue doing this now, with the glaring weaknesses of the past three years will be irresponsible.

Another challenge is the fact that President Nelson Mandela will not be standing as President and Conference will have to find a new leader to take the baton – a personality with the qualities to continue the traditions of Dube, Makgato, Luthuli, Tambo and others. Needless to say, it is a challenge that cannot be taken lightly.

While the issue of “a single presidency” is appreciated, the question has been posed whether the ANC Deputy-President should automatically translate into Deputy-President for the country.

There are obvious disadvantages of having two Deputy-Presidents (ANC and Government):

  • It my create a sense of power and fiction between them. This will undermine an integrated approach to both governments and the ANC, and perpetuate the false notion of “two ANC`s”,
  • Both the President and Deputy President should get/receive mandates from the ANC Conference to ensure that the movement as a whole participate in determining who the country`s Deputy-President should be.
  • While it is critical that the SC and other officials are full-time in the ANC, one of the most critical tasks in the current phase is to use the main lever of change – the state -to good effect, and the presence of both the President and the Deputy-President of the ANC in government will help ensure this.

However, the following advantages of having 2 Deputy- Presidents (one in ANC and one in government) need to be considered

  • This will allow the new President, in consultation with the NEC/NWC, the time and space to select the country`s Deputy-President taking into account the needs of government, whereas the ANC`s organisational needs may dictate election based on entirely different criteria.
  • It may undermine broader cadre policy to seek to elect a Deputy-President for both the ANC and the country in preparation for succession beyond 2009 – if the next President serves two full terms. Rather than cast this in stone, in the form of a “10-year guarantee heir-apparent”, it should evolve naturally over the years, with a wider pool of young cadres from whom the leaders would be elected.
  • The Deputy-President of the ANC does not have to be based necessarily at national government level nor even full-time in the ANC. This will allow the ANC the space to select from a wider canvass of leaders, rather than being constrained by the narrow requirements of government.

The decision of President Mandela not to stand as ANC President has also evoked questions such as the need to continue to bring his experience, strengths universal popularity and other qualities to bear on the work of the ANC. Both formally and informally, mechanisms should be found to ensure this. For example, for him to continue as a member of the ANC “Presidency”.

Additional Questions for Consideration

The experience that the movement has gained in the past 3 years has brought to the fore the question of ensuring a. commitment from candidates for any of the senior positions that they will serve their full term. When we were still new in the current terrain, and were struggling with matters of appropriate deployment, it was understandable that there would be destabilisation. But this should be avoided from the beginning at the approaching Conference. How this can be ensured is a matter that requires further discussion.

Because of the nature of the ANC as a mass organisation, members of the movement come to know about leadership mainly from media exposure. As such, good cadres in positions that do not allow them such exposure are not given the necessary recognition when it comes to election into positions of leadership. Another upshot of this is that individuals then seek recognition by clamouring for positions that would give them such media exposure. How do we enure that the background, experience and qualities of all potential NEC candidates are brought to the attention of the membership and, particularly, Conference delegates?

Related to the above is the question of the parameters of lobbying and campaigning. What rule, should be developed to ensure healthy and comradely contest, rather than campaigns of denigration or hero worshipping of individuals? To what extent should the media be used in this regard – if at all,

A proper understanding of` “full-time ANC work” should be developed. This could mean working on a daily basis at ANC HQ, or holding the position of a member of a legislature, but with the necessary space to work most of the time at HQ. The advantages of the former are obvious. With the latter, it will ensure that the leader/official concerned is in touch with the parliamentary caucus and governmental business


These issues are meant to generate open and robust discussion within our ranks. In these discussions, we cannot avoid, against the backdrop of the current phase of the NDR to call for maximum vigilance. It is only natural that forces of counter-revolution will seek to influence the process, try to use it to divide the movement, and even manoeuvre to place their own candidates at the highest possible levels.

While the machinations of the counter revolutionary enemy should be kept in mind, the fact of their existence should not be used to stifle debate. In the final analysis, the right to elect the national leadership resides nowhere else but with the membership and their elected delegates. Democratic engagement, vigilance, ingenuity and integrity are the qualities that have characterised the ANC as a collective over the years, and they are the mainstay of its strength today.

“Leadership” does act only entail being a member of the NEC. In any case, all ANC members arc meant to be leaders of communities and sectors in which they operate. The corps of ANC leaders of branches, regions and provinces form a critical layer of the leadership of the NDR. While the NEC is the highest decision-making body in-between conferences, its success depends on other levels of leadership and the membership in general.