South African’s National Liberation Movement

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National Conference​

Discussion Documents

Organisational Democracy and Discipline in the Movement

1 July 1997


Events of the past few years have sparked debates about the democratic culture of the ANC. Questions are raised as to whether we have become a movement which is top-down, elitist and lacking a climate for free, open and critical debate.

Although this perspective comes mostly for people outside the ANC, increasingly cadres and structures of the movement are expressing similar perspectives. These concerns are often raised where the NEC intervenes in problems of leadership (such as the Free State, KwaZulu/Natal, the Northern Province and ANCWL Conferences), in issues of policy (such as the macro-economic strategy-GEAR), or of tactics such as the approach of the NWC on the various border disputes.

The response to such concerns from leadership points to the ANC constitution which gives the NEC powers as the highest decision making organ. In addition, it points to the fact that the ANC is not a federal organisation and that central leadership structures occupy an important position in defining policy and implementing that policy which affects each level of organisation. However, membership and structures affected by such decisions question the process through which these decisions are made.

Another area of concern in this debate about a democratic culture is the extent to which individuals who disagree with the dominant view in the movement are seen to be marginalised or victimised. This is a concern which has been raised in Parliament in particular and has also been raised in the general debates and lobbying around leadership in the movement. Furthermore, the movement has been plagued with what seems to be widespread problems of political discipline at leadership levels, particularly in the run-up to provincial conferences last year.

There is no doubt that the ANC has a proud and rich history of a democratic culture and debate within its ranks. This culture prevailed and flourished even under the difficult conditions of exile, underground and repression. However, this is a culture which is continually changing as conditions change and as the movement adapts itself in pursuit of the National Democratic Revolution(NDR).

The purpose of this discussion document is to raise some of the major issues which define how we view the internal democracy of the ANC, and issues of dissent and discipline in the movement. It needs to be read along with all the other papers contained in this edition of Umrabulo.

Democracy as a Goal, Principle and part of our Strategic Approach

The NDR is a process of struggle which seeks the transfer of power to the people. Within this, the central objective of the ANC is defined as the transformation of South Africa into a united democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society. This objective also defines the character of the ANC and means by which we have conducted the struggle for this objective.

The ANC constitution, as adopted in 1994, has following to say about the democratic character of the ANC as a liberation movement.

  • The ANC is a non-racial and democratic liberation movement;
  • The ANC is a democratic organisation whose policies are determined by the membership and whose leadership shall be accountable to the membership terms of the procedures laid down in the constitution.
  • The principles of freedom of speech and free circulation of ideas and information shall operate within the ANC.

Since the negotiations, thee are very few political parties and movements who do not say that they are fighting for democracy. However, when you look at their organisational culture and structure, it is clear that the ANC is one of the few movements which actively seeks to create a democratic culture as both a goal and as part of its organisational operations. The movement itself should therefore be a learning organisation or a school of democracy for its cadres and members who lead society in building democracy.

Principles for Organisational Democracy

There are a number of principles that the ANC adheres to in terms of organisational democracy. These are discussed below.

1. Elected Leadership

Leadership of the ANC is elected at all levels, and re-elections are held at regular intervals. No single individual must become irreplaceable. In addition, elected leadership can be recalled before the end of their term of office if they are not disciplined. Members, according to the constitution, have a right to take part in elections and be elected to any committee, structure, commission or delegation of the ANC.

2. Collective Leadership

The ANC has leadership collectives, instead of a single leader, at all levels of organisation – BECs, PECS, the NWC and the NEC. The constitution sets out the powers of each of these structures and they are expected to operate as a collective. This means that there must be continuous and ongoing consultations on matters affecting the ANC. In addition, it means that all members must take responsibility to explain and ensure the implementation of decisions taken by these collectives. Collective leadership also means that leadership skills, experience and knowledge must be shared.

3. Consultation

The structures of the ANC are set up in such a way that it allows for meetings at regular intervals. The ANC branch is the basic unit of the organisation and membership participate through monthly meetings and branch Annual General Meetings (AGMs). Furthermore, branches are represented at other structures of decision-making such as regional and Provincial Councils and Conference and, finally, at the highest decision-making body of higher structures through a system of ex-officio representation at all levels of the ANC. For example, all provinces and Leagues have representation on the NEC.

Having outlined the above provisions in our constitution for consultation , we should debate and discuss why situations occur such as the examples mentioned in the introduction of this document. It is a problem that our structures are ineffective.Our structures are not used to ensure adequate consultation by leadership and/or membership. Are therefore other demands that make it difficult for us to have ongoing consultations?

Consultation is not an end in itself. We have consultations to ensure that there is popular support in the ANC for certain decisions and policies and are able to explain them to others and to the public in general. Consultation is also part of ensuring that as a liberation movement we remain true to our calling that our people should shape their own destiny, and that the ANC is the correct vehicle through which to do this.

4. Powers of National Conference

The National Conference of the ANC is the highest decision-making body of our unitary organisation and can ratify or change any decision or policy adopted by structures at other levels. National Conference consists of mandated individuals from all constitutional structures of the movement at all levels of organisation. That is why we have discussion papers before Conference general meeting PGCs and other forums to discuss issues and to elect our delegates to Conference.

In its deliberations, Conference adopts the Strategy and Tactics and other policies which must guide the movement until the next conference. Sometimes, National Conference gives power to another structure such as the NEC or a special conference (like the Ready to Govern conference) to adopt policy. Provincial, regional and branch conference and AGMs are guided by the policies and Strategy and Tactics adopted by National Conference. The National Conference of the Leagues are also bound by the decisions of Conference.

The Strategy and Tactics document sets out the overall objectives, character and strategy of the ANC. It is a broad document that guides the movement from one Conference to another, and is often relevant for decades, depending on the objective conditions. The Conference, in this context, does not concern itself with matters of detailed tactics. For example, the creation of united South Africa is part of the strategic objective. The various border disputes and how to resolve them are matters of tactics. These tactics are decided upon by balancing the inputs from structures directly affected and the national interest, which in terms of ANC policy, is the creation of a unitary country.

Conference also decided on matters of policy, usually within the context of broad guidelines which are contained in resolutions.The constitution also allows for the creating of various structures to develop detailed policy, such as the Policy Department.In the new situation, in the context of being a majority party, questions which have confronted us over the past few years include the following:

  • how do we ensure that the ANC constitutional structures always lead in the development of policy, especial matters of detailed policy?
  • where we have detailed policy, how do we monitor the implementation of such policy?
  • what scope do we give to different structures responsible for implementation (such as ANC constitutional structures-NEC, PEC etc. and cadres deployed in parliament and government) and to be creative in ensuring our policies are implemented?
  • what are the policy decisions which need widespread consultation and what are the policy decisions which need widespread consultation and what kind of consultation are we talking about?

5. Mandates, Accountability, Reporting

In the context of the above our organisational structures should provide elected members with mandates to guide them when they represent us in various structures of the ANC and elsewhere. When we elect MPs or councillors, we should have policies and broad strategies for how we want to transform a particular sector, and the role our cadres should play and combine towards this process.

This is not say that we do not encourage individuals deployed to express their views, nor that those elected to leadership position. We expect all the members of our organisation to think for themselves, to be able to raise and debate their ideas at any time, and to be able to take initiative to further the goal of our struggle. We expect leadership to lead our movement, ensuring that we respond to challenges and that we implement our programmes. However, when there is a need to change in strategy or policy, we expect leadership and elected representatives to consult and get fresh mandated on the new direction.

In order to do the above in a way that does not undermine our capacity to be an effective government, one of the key challenges of the ANC remains building its capacity to give policy direction to its cadres deployed in different sectors, to have mechanisms of ongoing reports and assessment and strong structures which can respond to process of consultation.

Reporting back, whether as MPs our councillors to our constituencies and constitutional structures, as elected leadership to our PECs, PGCs, BECs and general meetings, or as members who have been assigned particular tasks, is an important part of democracy. Information is a source of power, and if not shared, it can undermine the democratic process.

This raises the issue of how as an organisation we communicate with our members and structures. Often, information is confidential information then films its way into the newspapers in a distorted form. The ANC therefore needs to devise ways of keeping our members informed through organisational structures while we use media much more effectively to communicate. our message.

Another related matter which needs to be raised in the context of report back, is how we locate constituency work of MPs and MPLs in the context of the general programmes of the ANC, and how the parliamentary facilitate ongoing contact between our elected representatives and communities.

6. Criticism and Self-Criticism

We do not believe that any of our members are beyond criticism. Our movement and our strategies are also not beyond criticism. This means have regular evaluations, questions must be asked and constructive criticism encouraged. We must also have a cadreship and leadership who are humble and prepared to listen to constructive criticism. Part of being a cadre also means an ongoing process of self -criticism, evaluation, learning improving our strategies, tactics and policies as a movement.

Most of us would broadly accept the above. However, the challenge is to integrate this understanding into the work of our constitutional structures. For example, should the NEC, PECs, RECs have, at least once a year, a session built into their regular constitutional meetings to assess themselves as leadership collectives and the strengths and weaknesses of individual cadres who serve on these collectives?

7. Democratic Centralism

The ANC is a unitary and national organisation. Its operations are guided by the principles of democratic centralism which includes the following:

Decision of the majority prevail
After debate and discussion on a particular issue in the correct structures, a decision is taken which is binding on all members of the ANC. Even if an individual has motivated or voted for a different position, that individual will have a responsibility to implement and defend the decision that has been taken. This approach presents a number of difficulties. One of the central problems with this approach is the following question:

What happens when a comrade is a member of two or more organisations within the alliance and a mandate is conflicting? For example, a member of the ANC PEC is bound by the decisions of the NEC on GEAR. However, that comrade may also serve as a member of the SACP`s Central Committee where the perspective on GEAR is different. To which mandate will the comrade be bound and how are these conflicting mandates deal with in public? The alliance partners are independent and will therefore differ at some point on issues of tactics and sometimes on strategy. In such instances, it must be clear when speaking in public and internal platforms what mandate the comrades is fulfilling. When raising debates as ANC, COSATU or SACP members, comrades should do so in a manner that is not destructive to the alliance, its individual members and their organisational decisions.

It is part of our democratic culture to debate and discuss our strategies, policies and tactics in order to clarify ourselves and deepen our understanding of these issues. This includes the right to question whether decisions that have been taken are the best and most suited to current conditions. However, we must know what decisions are open to question and how these need to be raised. Guidelines on this issue may include the nature of the decision (is it broad general policy such as our position on free and compulsory education or is it a specific decision such as the decision to deploy a particular cadre to a specific position) and questioning decisions within structures.

Decisions of higher structures bind lower structures
As a unitary organisation, this principle applies. Because of this there is the provision for ex-officio representation of lower structures in all higher structures in all higher structures of the ANC. The NEC is the highest decision-making structure between national conference and therefore has the overall responsibility of ensuring that conference resolution and our Strategy and Tactics document are implemented, that the constitution is upheld, that it leads lower structures and maintains the character, discipline and unity of the ANC and that national interests are balanced with sectoral and geographical consideration and interests.

Responsibility of leadership and cadres
The nature and character of the ANC means that cadres and leaders must take their responsibilities and rights seriously. For example, leadership collectives at all levels often have to take decisions in the interest of the movement which may be unpopular. A leader who is part of such a collective has the responsibility to understand the motivations for such decision and explain it to the membership and the public in general.

This also means that leadership collectives must be in touch with popular sentiment in our structures as well as with public opinion. In this way, when decisions are taken, the movement can take along its support base and not make errors of judgement which may backfire.

Cadreship must display strength of their convictions to raise matters and problems in forums where they have the opportunity to do so, even if this may risk individual promotion. The interest of the organisation must be placed above self-interest . Leadership, on the other hand, must ensure that there is a climate that allows for the open debate and raising issues and deal with victimisation should this arise. The responsibility for the democratic character of the ANC is the responsibility of both leaders and cadres.

Our cadreship and our leadership must strive for personal attributes such as commitment, dedication, loyalty, respect for others, modesty, incorruptibility and critical, independent thinking.

The above principles enable the ANC to fulfil its role as a national movement, uniting different sectors, national groups and the country as a whole. These principles assist in achieving organisational unity, capacity and political cohesiveness which enables the ANC to lead the alliance, the mass democratic movement and society in general, as well as to be the leading party in government, the driving force for transformation and to exercise effective political and organisational leadership at all these levels.


Discipline is a weapon of struggle and transformation. It does not exist for its own sake, but to safeguard the unity of the movement, ensure that it is able to fulfil its historic mission and achieve its objectives. Discipline is a political matter.

Members voluntarily join the ANC and become cadres of the movement in order to contribute towards changing and transforming our society. As a national liberation movement, the ANC has basic principles, strategies, norms and an organisational culture and structures which set the parameters for this contribution by individual members and cadres. Part of the discipline of the ANC must therefore be to ensure that its members and cadres internalise these principles, strategies, norms and organisational culture through political education, participating in debates and being tasked with certain responsibilities.

Our constitution says the following about discipline in the movement:

  • Disciplinary proceedings should not be confined to violations of the basic principles and norms of the ANC and not be used as a means of stifling debate or denying members their basic democratic rights;
  • In addition to misconduct, which directly violates the norms of the ANC, any abuse of office, corruption, sexual harassment or misappropriation of funds shall give rise to proceedings.

The constitution also gives members responsibilities. These include:

  • to take the necessary steps to understand and carry out the aims, policy and programmes of the ANC;
  • to deepen his/her understanding of the social, cultural, political and economic problems of the country;
  • to fight against racism, tribal chauvinism, sexism religious and religious and political intolerance or any other form of discrimination or chauvinism;
  • to observe discipline, behave honestly and loyally carry out decision of the majority and of higher bodies.

In dealing with discipline of individual members and cadres, they must be treated as comrades, with an awareness of the various levels of personal and political development and their various levels of responsibility. In the process, contradictions which are antagonistic and non-antagonistic are looked at.

When a member, cadre or leader contravenes the constitution or code of conduct of the ANC, procedures are put in place to deal with the issue. These procedures are based on principles of fairness and justice They include:

  • availability of information as to what constitutes breach of discipline, through widespread distribution of our constitution and code of conduct to members and cadres;
  • written notice to the person affected and a reasonable opportunity to make his/her defence,
  • the right to have the matter reviewed by the next higher body of the ANC,
  • penalties which are aimed at allowing the person to rehabilitate,
  • giving the ANC the right to protect itself from infiltration and elements who seek to divide the movement and to take it away from its course as a national liberation movement.

In light of the above, we should assess the effectiveness of our code of conduct in our deliberations on it. We need to look at how we use it to deal with new situations such as a code of conduct signed by our public representatives at various levels.


The democratic culture of the ANC, and indeed its organisational and political discipline, is central to the character of the ANC. This culture of democratic and open debate allows us to come up with the most progressive policies and to allow the organisation to correct itself from within. This is what distinguishes the ANC from the political parties and movements in the country and in many parts of the world.

This democratic culture and discipline is not something that we can be complacent about. It is therefore fitting that as the ANC approaches its last National Conference before the end of the Millennium, its members, cadres and leaders take stock of this matter and reaffirm our commitment to our essential character as a movement.



National Conference​

Discussion Documents

The Character of the ANC

1 July 1997

The terrain on which we are operating

The character of the ANC must be determined by the nature of the core tasks that confront the national democratic revolution (NDR) in our country in any specific historical time.

The democratic breakthrough of April 1994 was an important moment in our liberation struggle. Over the past three years, the ANC, as the national ruling organisation, has succeeded in opening and directing a huge process of transformation that will certainly be drawn out in character.

Even with the 1994 democratic breakthrough and the enormous transformation that is underway, the legacy of centuries of colonial oppression, and decades of white minority rule, continue to be the reality that defines our society.

The character of the ANC is informed by the over-riding, strategic imperative of overcoming the consequences of this legacy. In our 1994 Strategy and Tactics document, we continued to place ourselves within an ongoing struggle for national democratic transformation.

It is also the legacy of colonialism and minority rule, that defines both the key tasks and also those social forces which are most likely to be the motive forces that will drive forward the struggle for transformation.

These core, strategic considerations inform the ongoing national liberation movement character of the ANC.

But what is meant by the ongoing “National Liberation” Character of the ANC?

The continuing national liberation character of the ANC relates to what has already been noted ­ the defining reality of our society is the continuing legacy of colonialism and white minority rule. This legacy still impacts upon every aspect of our society. It impacts upon the ways in which black people in general, and Africans in particular, are differently affected by everything, ranging from unemployment, to literacy, to life expectancy levels. The ANC focuses its energy upon mobilising around the aspirations and transformation objectives of this historically oppressed majority. We also celebrate and continue the traditions of liberation struggle we have led through this century.

The national liberation character of the ANC is the foundation of a true (as opposed to a superficial and cosmetic) non-racialism. Our rootedness among the historically oppressed, and our determination to focus on the struggle to overcome the legacy of minority rule, is not based on an ethnic or racial exclusivism. On the contrary, the ANC has always promoted non-racialism and the idea that South Africa is a home for all its peoples. Any genuine democrat and any genuine patriot in our country, white or black, should appreciate that the central democratic and nation-building tasks of our situation relate directly to the struggle against the historical racial oppression of the majority of our people.

What is meant by the ongoing “Movement” Character of the ANC?

The movement character of the ANC relates to many factors. These include:

  • our commitment to a mass approach line, that is, the belief that the people of our country must be their own liberators. The tasks that confront us require the active involvement of popular forces. This movement tradition, which can be referred to as the masses in movement, is continued in our present commitment to a people-driven RDP. It is found in our attempts to develop, in the new conditions of our country, many new forms of popular activism and governance (ranging from community policing forums, to participatory local government budgeting, to work-place forums). The ANC, particularly through its branch-level structures, must attempt to be an active political force in the daily lives of our people. In brief, the ANC seeks to be more than a party of mass support, and more than an electoral machine. It also seeks to be a movement of mass participation;
  • the movement character of the ANC also relates to our long established traditions of building a “broad church”, an “hegemonic” organisation that does not seek to define itself in exclusivist, or narrow ideological terms. The ANC has been, and necessarily remains, home to a variety of progressive ideological currents ­ nationalist, Africanist, socialist ­ and of a variety of different classes and strata, all united behind a common commitment to national democratic transformation. The multi-class, multi-strata character of the ANC does not, however, mean that the ANC neglects the significance of class. The ANC is a multi-class/multi-strata movement with a bias or leaning towards the black working class and the rural and urban poor. This bias is based on our conviction that it is these social forces that make up the major motive force for ongoing transformation. This bias does not, however, mean that we give up a broader leadership role in regard to other social forces. In particular, the ANC seeks to organise and win over to the national democratic struggle, the emergent black middle and upper middle strata and capitalist strata. More broadly the ANC, from its base amongst the historically-oppressed, seeks to provide a broad leadership over the great majority of South Africans;
  • our movement character also refers to the style in which, for many decades, the ANC has functioned. We have attempted to be a force for cohesion in the centre of a broad range of allied organisations, mass democratic and community based structures. We have, as the ANC, not undermined the ideological and organisational independence or autonomy of these organisations, but rather to interact with them, and fuse or combine their energies, constituencies and diverse capacities into a common national democratic purpose.

But has nothing changed?

Does reaffirming the national liberation movement character of the ANC mean that nothing has changed over the last decades, and especially over the last three-and-a-half years? Of course not, many things have changed.

Major changes include:

The shifting class and strata realities in our society. While the overwhelming majority of poor, unemployed and marginalised people in our society are black, the last few years have seen the rapid development of a new black, upper middle-class. The gap between the richest ten percent of blacks and the majority has grown very rapidly. Many of the ANC`s leading cadres have benefited directly from these new realities. The promotion of tens of thousands of formerly oppressed is a progressive development, but it does need us to be thoughtful on this issue. We must ensure that the ANC continues to represent the interests of the great majority, and not, narrowly, those of an emerging new elite. What is now needed is not a “poorer the better” moralising outlook. Rather, we must ensure that both ideologically (in the values and policies we develop) and organisationally, the new powers, wealth and privileges do not become an end in themselves, but are used in the service of the national democratic struggle. The best means for ensuring this strategic objective is keeping the movement, mass participatory character of the ANC. This is the best antidote to the danger of our organisation being transformed into a narrow, professionalised machine, enjoying support, but not empowering mass participation.

New international realities. In the midst of our own rapid, negotiated transition, the international forces were changing around us. The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet bloc. This has introduced new dynamics, and new possibilities into our continent. We need to review and partly redefine what is meant, relative to these new realities, by the national democratic project. It is a review that must also take into account, not just a changed global balance of forces, but the historical record and lessons to be learnt from the national democratic project in other African (and Asian and Latin American) countries. Again, it is not a question of abandoning our national liberation heritage, but rather, on the basis of our historical experience, and very significant continental and international prestige, playing an active international role in the development of movement to movement, party to party solidarity for reconstruction, development, democracy and national self-determination.

The changed international landscape includes the major crisis of socialist societies in the 1989-1991 period. As the ANC we cannot just ignore this reality. While the ANC is, ideologically, a broad-church, all ANC members have a stake in ensuring that the socialists in our ranks, and the socialist formations (like the SACP and COSATU) with which we are allied, conduct an open and intelligent process of socialist renewal ­ learning from the lessons of recent history. It is interesting to note that the relative revival in electoral politics of left and socialist forces, from India, through much of eastern Europe, to Italy and France, Mexico and Japan, in the latter part of the 1990s, has been accompanied by considerable organisational creativity. Broad fronts, green/left parties, coalitions and the inter-facing of electoral parties and progressive social movements have been important features. In many respects, our national experience of movement and alliance politics, far from being “something of the past”, might have much to contribute to progressive politics of the next century.

But the most important changes with which, organisationally, the ANC must come to terms, relate to the new terrain on which we are operating. These are the challenges of contesting elections in the context of a multi-party dispensation, and of assuming responsibility, as the ANC, for governance.

The new challenges of elections and governance

Amongst other things, these new tasks demand that there are multiple forms of participation and organisation within the ANC. Of course, long before April 1994, we had to meet this kind of challenge. The armed struggle, underground work and exile conditions required an organisation that was highly disciplined, with a clear chain of command, in which there was a network of full-time cadres in the machinery. On the other hand, those very conditions coupled with the imperatives of our people`s war and mass mobilisation strategy, required a high degree of localised initiative and independence on the part of our cadres, and also a much wider range of active participation from our broader membership and support base. It also called for creative ways of working within, leading, but also learning from, a wide network of allied formations.

But do the imperatives of multi-party elections not mean, as some have argued, that we should radically change the character of the ANC? Should the ANC not become:

A centre-left election party?

In this debate, terms are often thrown about loosely. The “movement” structure of the ANC is contrasted with a “political party” structure, and so forth. We should not be dazzled by terms, or become stuck in a debate that is just semantic. However, often in this debate, assumptions are made about the “modern”, “centre-left”, social democratic party. It is therefore useful to consider, in general terms, the contemporary evolution of typical centre-left parties in the advanced capitalist countries since these are often held up as models.

The “modern” political party, at least in its centre-left versions, in many of the more established democracies, characteristically evolved out of the mass trade union movements in the second half of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century. The party emerged as the electoral wing of the labour movement. Initially, it was the labour movement that was better resourced. The party derived its finances and much of its cadreship from the trade unions. Its policies were often also considerably determined by the labour movement.

In time, this relationship between the labour movement and the centre-left party became less close. The party, especially where it was elected into office, developed an independent capacity and a growing independence from its social movement origins.

This independence was deepened (and was even necessitated from the perspective of electoral politics) by the changing social and class landscape of the advanced capitalist countries. This changing landscape involves the following:

  • there has been a decline in the relative size of the unionised, blue-collar (largely male) working class;
  • this change is fostered, in part, by the mass media, by the growth of the service and public sectors in the economy, and by new social identities. Voting habits have therefore become more complex. For related reasons, other progressive social movements have assumed prominence. They include women`s, students` and youth movements, peace movements, minority rights groups, life-style movements ­ like gay rights ­ ecological movements, solidarity movements, etc. The relationship of these progressive movements (many of them designated as a “new left”) to the established centre-left party has been quite complex;
  • international economic trends towards financial globalisation have also undermined the capacity (or reduced the willingness) of centre-left parties to hold national capital to social accords. This has undermined the capacity to deliver on welfare, and thus weakened the credibility of these parties in the eyes of their former core, trade union constituency.

In the context of all of these changes, the trend has been for many of these centre-left parties to become much more narrowly focused on elections, using the professional techniques of the mass media to win, not activists, but supporters/voters. The core of the party becomes a relatively small professional group, specialising in media, image projection, polling, policy-making and fund-raising. The party leadership, when not in power, gravitates to the parliamentary caucus and shadow cabinet. When in power, it is the cabinet itself which dominates the party. The party is not really the leader of a broad movement. Social movements (the trade unions, but also the “new” social movements) interact with the party more as lobbyists and pressure groups and less as part of a single movement (for reconstruction, or transformation).

When the forces in the media here in South Africa, push the ANC to transform itself into a “normal political party”, it is usually something like the above scenario that they have in mind. It is a scenario that fails to locate the ANC within the particular challenges and possibilities of our own national situation. It is also a scenario that often greatly exaggerates the state of health of “normal” political parties elsewhere in the world.


The ANC has, correctly, sought to professionalise its capacity to fight and win elections. We need to constantly improve on this capacity. This requires dedicated and year-round attention to mass media messages, the projection of key leadership personalities, constant polling, and all of the techniques of modern, multi-party electioneering. However, these must complement and be woven into our movement character as opposed to supplanting it. They must be integrated into ongoing movement work, our mass programmes of action, our cadre development, and our branch work.

The ANC has to meet the challenges of contesting and winning elections. But this is not the sole, nor necessarily the most important function of the ANC`s political machinery.

Above all, we must remember that:

  • South Africa is not a typical, and relatively stable, advanced capitalist country, where elections are sometimes won or lost on the basis of tax policy, or percentage points in a budget deficit reduction programme. We are confronting a huge challenge, a massive transformation effort of reconstruction, development and nation building. Multi-party elections are an important, but not the most important, political reality of our society at this time; and, fortunately,
  • the ANC does not confront the same, diminishing, “natural constituency” problems that typical centre-left parties in the advanced capitalist countries encounter ­ which is not to say that we should be complacent about always retaining our electoral support.

The South African situation has its own specifics. This does not mean that we should ignore the rich legacy of lessons and experiences that we can gain from many quarters. But it does mean that we should not be dazzled into becoming a “normal political party”, because there is some universal law about this. Nor should we assume, as much as the media constantly insists, that until the ANC splits into a centre and a left, we will not have a “healthy, normal opposition”. Ours is not a normal situation, and the situation will not become “normal” simply because we copy what are assumed to be the party political delineations of the advanced capitalist countries.

The ANC, Legislatures And Government

Besides elections, an even more challenging area for the ANC in the post-April 1994 period has been how to relate to, and co-ordinate our efforts within the legislatures and a range of government structures (cabinet, ministries, security forces, provincial government, parastatals, local councils).

We have addressed this question in many forums, including at the ANC NEC`s January 1997 lekgotla. We will not repeat in detail the many resolutions taken and suggestions made at these forums. At the core of them are the following positions:

  • the constitutional structures of the ANC must assume an overall political, strategic primacy over the legislative and governmental institutions in which we are located;
  • this basic position of principle should not, however, be interpreted in a mechanical way. The range of decisions and responsibilities, the policy-making capacities, and the sheer pressures on legislatures and government institutions will often far outstrip the capacity of ANC constitutional structures to make a meaningful and timeous contribution. It is, therefore, a question of overall strategic leadership that is required from the ANC, and not a detailed, hour by hour intervention. Nor should we pretend that the definition of what is routine and what is of broader policy significance is easy, or likely to be undisputed;
  • to ensure the effective development and implementation of ANC policy, it is also critical to strengthen ANC caucus structures in cabinet, legislatures, and wherever appropriate;
  • for the same objectives, the policy-development capacity of the ANC needs to be greatly strengthened.

For the purposes of our National Conference we also need to debate structural arrangements that can strengthen the interaction between ANC constitutional structures and governmental and legislative institutions.

There are two possibilities:

  • while the ANC in both the National Cabinet and National Assembly happen to be well represented in the present NEC, this is a matter of chance. Just as there is formal representation on the NEC from the Leagues, should we not consider, for instance, having formal representation on the NEC from the ANC National Assembly caucus?
  • on the other hand, but with the same principle in mind of ensuring the broad representativity of the ANC`s leading structures, we could consider placing a cap (a limitation) on the number of Ministers, MECs, MPs and MPLs in the NEC. In the current ANC NEC, comrades from government and legislatures are in an overwhelming majority, to the detriment of greater representativity from the ANC organisational structures and the broader movement.

The Tripartite Alliance

The character of the ANC, as we have already noted, is partly shaped by its role as the leading formation in a broader alliance and a still broader mass democratic movement.

The alliance, like the ANC itself, is in the first place, based on the objective social realities of our country. South Africa is a society in which the great majority of our people have been (and remain) the victims of sustained national oppression, but in which the majority class force is the working class. The deep interconnectedness between national and gender oppression and class exploitation remains the core objective circumstance underpinning the tripartite alliance.

The alliance is also based on the strategic union of the three component formations. The strategic assessment of the leading socialist party in our country (the SACP), and of the largest trade union federation (COSATU), is that the socialist and working class struggles cannot and must not be separated from the national democratic struggle led by the ANC. The ANC`s alliance partners accept, and campaign for, a perspective of a common, national democratic struggle, requiring broad national unity of purpose in the face of the immense challenges confronting our country. Both alliance partners seek to win socialist and working class forces over to the ANC-led movement. Naturally, both parties will also seek to propagate their ideological and class perspectives within the movement. This is natural, but they must also be expected to do so in a non-sectarian and non-exclusivist manner.

We have already noted the underlying, objective social realities behind our alliance, and the broad national strategic convergence of the three alliance partners. However, an alliance also requires a clear programme of action. Such a programme is contained in the RDP. In the past three years we have not always succeeded in giving practical, programmatic and organisational expression to our strategic alliance. As a result, issues which have divided us, like government`s macro-economic strategy (GEAR), have assumed a prominence that is out of proportion to the realities of our situation. The macro-economic debate is a serious debate, but ours is not a “macro-economic” alliance, and agreements or disagreements on an issue like this should not be allowed to obscure the huge process of transformation which we are working towards. Nor should it obscure the vast areas of common interest and strategic agreement amongst us. In the coming period, the alliance needs to develop a much more concrete and shared programme of action around which we build our organisations, and our cadres.

If governance has added many new possibilities and also complexities to the tasks facing the ANC, it has also brought new challenges to the broader alliance. As members of a governing party, for instance, leading ANC cadres now find themselves playing the role of managers/employers of tens of thousands of ANC members/supporters, and also of organised COSATU affiliated public sector trade unions. The inevitable tensions in these new realities do not have to become unresolvable contradictions. Still less do these tensions have to lead to an “inevitable break in the alliance”, as some of our opponents hope. On the contrary, these kinds of challenges underline the need for an effective alliance that is able to manage and negotiate sectoral perspectives and interests within the wider context of a common national democratic transformation struggle.

Our alliance is an alliance of independent, autonomous formations that have a shared interest in each others` strength and well-being. We do not expect one or another alliance partner to submerge its interests or perspectives. Debate within our formations and between them is natural and to be welcomed. We do, of course, expect such debate to be conducted in a constructive and comradely way.

But our independence as formations should not be thought of as an indifference to the realities within our respective organisations. The ANC, for its part, has a direct interest in supporting its allies and their organisational and policy-making capacity. In particular, the development of an alliance-wide cadreship and the strategic deployment of ANC cadres across the range of alliance and MDM formation is critical for the ANC itself, for the alliance and mass movement, and for the coherence of our national democratic struggle.

The leading role of the ANC in the present historical circumstance (a circumstance that is likely to remain over a long period) is based on the centrality of the national democratic tasks confronting all progressive forces in our country. It is not a “pre-ordained” role, nor is it a leadership that can simply be asserted and then bureaucratically enforced. The chairperson of an ANC branch is not, automatically and by definition, the “leader” of the alliance in a particular locality. Leadership is something that has to be built, nurtured and earned in a continuous way.

The capacity to play this leadership role is not the sole responsibility of the ANC. The SACP and COSATU have every reason to help the ANC in developing this capacity. There are situations where an ANC structure at the local level, for instance, may fail to play a unifying and leading role. It may fall to a COSATU local to take up the process of rebuilding democratic forces in that particular locality. This task should not be undertaken in the spirit of “taking over from” and “displacing” the ANC, but rather in helping to rebuild an ANC that is capable of assuming its historical role.


The more than three years that have passed since the democratic breakthrough of April 1994 have confirmed that the ANC must constantly adapt and renew its character. The character of our organisation is not some timeless reality. But these past three years have also confirmed that the ANC, in assuming new responsibilities, must do so with a sense of the relevance of our historical and organisational experience.

The ANC is a broad movement, at the heart of a complex series of alliances and mass democratic formations. It is a movement that is capable of winning elections and of governing with discipline and coherence. In this ANC we have an organisational reality that may well be an important model for progressive political organisation in the coming century.