South African’s National Liberation Movement

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National Conference​

Report of the Secretary General

2: Political Background

17 December 1997

The three years that have passed since the 49th National Conference have witnessed many significant political developments, largely due to the programme and activities of the ANC.

It has been a period in which the democracy achieved in the April 1994 election became more firmly entrenched within society. The adoption of the new Constitution signalled the formal end of the country`s transition process, and set in place the mechanisms and institutions of a full constitutional democracy.

The last three years has seen the maturing of the institutions of political democracy as they have grown to occupy a central place in society more broadly. The local government elections and the establishment of representative local councils throughout the country completed the establishment of democratic governance at all levels.

The national parliament and provincial legislatures have through their work placed themselves at the centre of the legislative transformation of South Africa. The national and provincial executives have equally succeeded in stamping their authority on the reconstruction and development of the country.

The institutions envisaged in the Constitution to support, protect and enhance democracy – the Human Rights Commission, Commission for Gender Equality, Public Protector, Auditor General and Electoral Commission – have all been established, and are carving out a role for themselves in promotion of a democratic nation founded on respect for human rights and dignity.

The foundations for democratisation have also been laid in other aspects of peoples` lives through instruments like the new Labour relations Act, the various Education Acts which prescribe new forms of governance in our educational institutions, the introduction of assessors from our communities to advise in the courts of law, and many others which are detailed elsewhere in this report.

Entrenchment of Democracy

Alongside the entrenchment of democracy, the last three years has seen the increasing stabilisation of South Africa – socially, politically and economically. The upheaval and conflict which characterised the dying years of apartheid has been firmly relegated to the past.

Political violence has been dramatically reduced, despite attempts by remnants of the old order to fuel simmering tensions. Instances of political violence have generally been dealt with positively and swiftly. The government has demonstrated that it has both the capacity and the political will to stamp out violence wherever it surfaces.

The success of the efforts to reduce the levels of political violence has uncovered a deliberate agenda to use crime as a vehicle for destabilisation. The covert networks of the apartheid state, frustrated in their efforts to sustain the political violence of the past, have turned to criminal activities to achieve the same effect.

The nature of this crime and the role of highly organised national and international syndicates is no doubt intended to undermine the stability needed to consolidate democracy. Nevertheless, progress is made each week in cracking these syndicates.

Some success has been achieved in turning the tide against crime. However, the exposure of these criminal networks remains one of the country`s chief priorities in the maintenance of stability and peace. We also need to continue our work in communities to empower them to be active combatants in our fight against crime.

We should also not underestimate the extent of dehumanisation brought about by the decades of apartheid. Neither should we underestimate the levels of degradation which that morally depraved and corrupt period entrenched very deeply in all sections of the population.

We now know that well organised syndicates orchestrate and control serious crime in South Africa. We also know that crime has become acceptable as jobs for many in the context of joblessness. This creates an easy pool of disposable perpetrators. In some of our poor communities criminals and their lifestyles have become role models. The rebuilding of the moral fabric of our society needs to become central in our fight against crime and must be integrated into our work in communities.

The past three years have seen remarkable advances in the delivery of basic needs and services to the people, which has been felt most keenly by the poor. The provision of housing, sanitation, water, health care, electricity and education has been impressive throughout the country.

Though much still needs to be done to redress the enormous backlogs faced in almost every area of delivery, the progress that has been made is starting to change for the better the lives of millions of South Africans.

Transformation of the economy

There has also been much progress in the transformation and growth of the economy. Efforts by government to encourage industrial development, capital investment and small business growth are having some promising results. The challenge of substantial and sustainable job creation remains an important one for the democratic movement and the country, with the country`s moderate growth failing to translate into significant new employment opportunities.

There are still many challenges and debates ahead in our efforts to transform the economy. There are ideological battles about the role of the state. There is evidence of sections of the business community continuing to collude with counter-revolutionary elements. There have been major differences between ourselves and our allies on key areas, such as our macroeconomic framework, GEAR.

This conference needs to pronounce itself on these matters.

While the democratic movement has responded with vigour and foresight to the challenges and realities of the new democratic South Africa, those in opposition to the ANC have not. They have not managed to seize the opportunities created for positive participation in the democratisation of South Africa. Instead they have forged programmes and alliances based on little more than a knee-jerk anti-ANC agenda.

This agenda, shared by most parliamentary parties and some extra-parliamentary organisations, amounts to nothing more than a concerted effort to frustrate and halt transformation at every opportunity.

This is most visibly evident in the chambers of Parliament, where this anti-transformation agenda has its most articulate spokespeople. It is, however, to be found outside parliament in many sites throughout society, in the NGO sector, in business, in the public service.

The National Party, unable to shrug off its past and unwilling to relinquish the substance of its racist ideology, has for some time been in a state of steady decline. It is caught in a paradox between a desire to broaden its support base, and the need to maintain the support of those people who see the NP as the party to secure the relative privileges they received under apartheid.

The last few months has seen the emergence of a new political party whose profile, composition and methods are more reminiscent of the old South Africa, rather than that of the new South Africa.

The United Democratic Movement, as is evident by its choice of name, has shown itself adept at political opportunism. Established as a vehicle to further the political careers of people whose ambitions had been thwarted within their respective organisations, the UDM has begun to exhibit many of the hallmarks of the old front organisations established by the apartheid intelligence structures – ethnic mobilisation, campaigns of violence and intimidation, like those seen in Richmond and Rustenburg, and stratkom-type propaganda campaigns.

This should perhaps not be too much of a surprise given the fact that the two key leaders, Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer and their spokesperson, Maritz Spaarwater, share a dubious past in apartheid`s security and military intelligence establishment.

Of serious concern to us needs to be the links between the UDM and elements seeking to rekindle violence. We note the pattern which became evident in Richmond, Rustenburg, the Vaal triangle, the East Rand and the Eastern Cape. We need to be vigilant about this in all provinces because we suspect that there is a move afoot to plunge our country back into the pre-1994 violence as a strategy to impact negatively on the election in 1999 in general and on the ANC`s electoral chances in particular.

Although an organisation with little potential to mobilise meaningful support behind it, the UDM has clearly established itself as a fervent opponent of democratic transformation.

Relations between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party over the last period have been characterised by a welcome easing of tensions, accompanied by a significant reduction in political violence. This has been the result of the impressive efforts of the ANC KwaZulu/Natal leadership in particular, and leaders within the IFP.

This has created the space for the further normalisation of politics in KwaZulu/Natal, and the uninterrupted development of communities in the province.

None of the smaller political parties in parliament has managed to have any meaningful impact on the national political scene. Though they continue to represent tiny interest groups, they tend to generate a disproportionate amount of noise and political bluster both within parliament and in the media.

A rather unfortunate element has crept into our political landscape, that is the increasing racial divides around transformation. As we all know, there was so much consensus of late about the need to end apartheid that one of the most rare species is a South African who supported apartheid. Notwithstanding the lack of honesty this reflects, we were pleased that there was this resounding rejection of racism, albeit rather belated. We were also pleased with the concomitant agreement to eradicate all inequalities. Now that we are implementing this, we find that those who benefited unfairly under apartheid are refusing to let go of their privileges. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly so, we find that the historically white parties are using this retention of unfair privileges as the cornerstone of their mobilisation against the ANC.

The ANC needs to find ways to challenge the beneficiaries of apartheid, particularly white south Africans, to support our drive to implement the equality which our constitution guarantees.

One of the most important elements of the consolidation of democracy over the last period, has been the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Established to expose the atrocities of the past, and, in doing so, to further the cause of reconciliation, the TRC has done sterling work in uncovering, however painful, many of the human rights violations which were carried out in the name of apartheid.

It has provided the most significant vehicle yet for the voices of those who suffered gross human rights violations to be heard. It has clearly demonstrated how thoroughgoing the system of apartheid was; how it was an evil system where a clique within a minority government plunged this country into a civil war. The testimonies bear evidence to the random and wanton nature of the abuses meted out by those in power.

It has also provided an opportunity for perpetrators to come clean on their past, and, in return for full disclosure, to receive amnesty for politically-motivated offences.

Further than allowing South Africa to come to terms with its past, the TRC is assisting in the process of establishing and entrenching in the national psyche new social norms based on respect for human life and dignity – and of accountability of elected representatives and political leaders.

The ANC`s approach to the TRC needs to be commended for its frankness and honesty. More than any other political organisation in the country, the ANC has made every effort to be brutally frank about its past; what motivated it; what structures existed; who staffed those structures; the activities of those structures; what programmes it had embarked on and why. The leadership has assumed full political responsibility for all actions of our cadres who acted in pursuance of those programmes, hence the decision by all those in the command structures during the period under review to apply for amnesty for all such acts carried out by our cadres.

We are the only organisation which has been willing to own up to its shortcomings and to outline in detail its approach to questions of human rights, reconciliation, amnesty and reparations.

The NEC had established a committee, chaired by the deputy president, to ensure that the ANC participates fully in the work of the TRC. The committee has attempted to assist provinces to set up provincial desks. The committee played an important role in ensuring that our members and indeed members of the public come forward to the TRC.

This approach stands in stark contrast to that of the National Party, in particular, which squandered a prime opportunity to acknowledge the extent of its culpability for the widespread violations that characterised its rule. Despite overwhelming evidence, and the persistent pleas of victims, the National Party refused to accept responsibility for the violence which it knowingly and deliberately unleashed against the people of South Africa.

The National Party were not alone in their approach. White business has been equally unwilling to acknowledge the role it played in the maintenance of apartheid, and the violations of the rights of workers which it was only too willing to sanction. They were dishonest too in their refusal to admit that they actively benefited from apartheid and that they colluded with the apartheid regime to marginalise black people in the economy.

We need to define what reparations are appropriate to ensure that the victims of human rights abuses are honoured, and that whatever special needs they have are catered for. Our branches and regions need to look at ways in which communities can contribute to this.

It is with anger that we witness the exhumations of the bodies of hundreds of freedom fighters. The reburial of these cadres will be a major responsibility next year.

As the TRC winds up its work, Conference needs to deliberate on its achievements and shortcomings – and should provide direction on how to ensure that the process of nation-building and reconciliation is carried forward after the TRC has completed its mandate. We also need to identify outstanding tasks for the TRC, our organisation, other organisations and society at large.

2: Political Background