South African’s National Liberation Movement

Close this search box.


National Conference​

Discussion Documents

Strategy and Tactics

30 August 2002

  1. Strategy and Tactics of the ANC should inform discussion of all issues, in preparation for National Conference.

  2. The Strategy and Tactics document adopted at the 50th Conference in 1997, “All Power to the People – Building on the Foundation for a Better Life”, defines the environment within which we are conducting the struggle, the character and the objectives of that struggle, the forces to carry it out as well as opportunities and obstacles.

  3. Are all sections of the 1997 Strategy and Tactics document still relevant? Have there been major developments in the past five years that are not reflected?

  4. A proper discussion on the need or otherwise to amend/rewrite the current Strategy and Tactics document will require that all of us should have thoroughly read the document as adopted at the 50th National Conference. The discussion otherwise becomes an exercise in futility: for instance, with additions proposed of issues that are otherwise contained in the current document.

  5. After comments from branches and other structures, concrete proposals will be taken to Conference for further discussion and final decision-making.

    Defining Strategy and Tactics

  6. Strategy represents the broad definition of the ultimate objectives of struggle: in brief, what kind of society we seek to create, the forces that are objectively the drivers of the struggle, and the forces arraigned against them. Tactics are the variety of methods used to attain those objectives, including the instruments used to wage the struggle and how to mobilise and organise the motive forces.

  7. Broadly, the strategy of a revolutionary organisation does not change in substantial ways during that particular struggle. However, its content can be improved as the objective situation changes and in the light of new experience. This may include interpretation of the basic objectives (such as provisions of the Freedom Charter) or introduction of new qualitative elements (such as non-sexism).

  8. Tactics used in each phase of struggle depend on the objective environment in which the struggle is waged. The methods used by the adversaries also influence tactics. A correct reading of the balance of forces in each phase is therefore critical to making tactical choices.

  9. Such phases are not defined in terms of calendar years, conferences or national electoral cycles. Rather they may reflect major changes in the alignment of forces for and against the struggle, shifts in the international situation, availability of new instruments to wage struggle and insights gained in practical work.

  10. These categories of “strategy” and “tactics” are defined in the context of the NDR. If the canvass were armed struggle or governance, one could define narrower categories of “strategy” and “tactics” for each one of them. In other words any activity can have its own categories of “strategy” and “tactics”.

  11. While strategy informs tactics, the latter can have a critical impact on strategy. For instance, major tactical shifts can influence at least the interpretation of the strategic objective. Some major tactical decisions (such as embarking on armed struggle) can assume strategic proportions. And some tactical shifts can over time congeal into a change in strategic outlook: the transformation of quantity into quality.

    Evolution of ANC Strategy and Tactics

  12. During various phases of struggle, the ANC has occasionally introduced major reformulations of its strategic positions. In some instances, major shifts have led to new formal strategic policy positions.

  13. At its founding in 1912, freedom was defined by the ANC in a specific and narrow way, such as demanding the vote for “all civilised men”. This approach changed over the years, reflected in the adoption of the African’s Claims calling for universal suffrage against colonialism and imperialism in 1943 and, most significantly, the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955.

  14. In terms of tactics, petitions were reinforced and later replaced by mass struggles including strike action, defiance of unjust laws and later a combination of armed struggle, underground work, mass mobilisation and more systematic international work.

  15. During these periods, the imperative of uniting African people was augmented by mobilisation of all blacks and white democrats. Further, the central role of the working class and the critical importance of non-sexism were appreciated. Various organisational forms were adopted to mobilise these forces – including the emergence of the Tripartite Alliance – led by the ANC.

  16. The Congress of the People in 1955 was a seminal event in that, for the first time, a brief but comprehensive programme defining the new society we seek to create was elaborated. The ANC and others adopted the Freedom Charter as the strategic objective of the NDR. It remains such a manifesto.

  17. However, interpretation of the provisions of the Charter has evolved over time, influenced by the objective national and international environment. Interaction with progressive global experience has also affected the outlook of the ANC.

  18. Some of the milestones in this regard are:
    • the elaboration of provisions of the Charter at the 1967 Morogoro Conference in a global period that the Conference defined as an “epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism”;
    • Constitutional Guidelines for a Democratic SA adopted in 1989 in a period of intense revolutionary struggle, characterised also by attempts at broadening national and international alliances and preparation for negotiations;
    • the RDP and Ready-to-Govern Documents in 1993 as the democratic movement started to address the detailed challenges of governance in the build-up to the first democratic elections.

    ANC Strategy and Tactics
  19. As indicated above, the strategic objective of the ANC has found articulation in a variety of documents, as have the tactical programmes, in the form of Conference resolutions and decisions of the NEC.

  20. In the post-1955 period, a number of documents sought to capture the tactical choices, proceeding from the premise that the Freedom Charter defined the strategic objective: e.g., the 1958 National Conference with heightened repression and the threat of banning, Operation Mayibuye as the armed struggle was being launched, and the Gaborone NEC decisions in 1963 after the Rivonia arrests.

  21. In 1969 at the Morogoro Conference, after the Wankie and Sipholilo experiences, and in line with traditions among revolutionary movements, these articulations were, for the first time, consolidated into a comprehensive Strategy and Tactics document. The document outlines the history and character of the struggle and elaborates an understanding of the strategic objectives as contained in the Freedom Charter.

  22. This document persisted until a new one was drafted at the Kabwe Conference in 1985. This in part reflected the time span between Conferences; but in part it was because the Morogoro document retained its broad relevance. However, in the period building up to Kabwe, particularly after the 1976 uprising and changes in Southern Africa, new approaches had evolved in actual practice.

  23. The changes included consolidation of the ANC as a revolutionary movement; the balances that needed to be struck between armed, underground and mass struggles; and nature of the international, regional and national balance of forces.

  24. Attempts in the post-1990 period formally to define Strategy and Tactics in a comprehensive document, have resulted in drafts adopted in Durban, 1991 and Bloemfontein, 1994. The regular redrafting reflected the fluidity of the situation, with major strategic and tactical choices being made as the situation evolved.

  25. In 1991 the movement had just emerged from the underground and was grappling with the complex task of negotiations; in 1994 it had just become the leading force in government. Mafikeng 1997 therefore presented an opportunity to articulate the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics in the light of experience in government.

    Content of the Strategy and Tactics document

    The following major issues require noting from the 1997 Strategy and Tactics document:

    Issue of gender

  26. Unlike with previous S&T documents, Conference expressly decided that issues of gender should be integrated into all sections of the document.

    Balance of forces

  27. The document defines this in the context of the negotiations process, the outcome of the negotiations, nature of the emergent democratic state, and in debating the question of counter-revolution in the post-1994 period.

    Character of the NDR

  28. While confirming the strategic objective of the NDR, the S&T document seeks to introduce matters of state power attained, as well as the relationship between the strategic objective and the formal constitutional dispensation achieved with the adoption of the democratic Constitution. It also poses questions around primary and secondary contradictions in the new milieu.

    Motive forces of the revolution and character of the ANC

  29. The document reiterates the traditional approach with regard to these forces, and elaborates on two issues attendant to the assumption of power: the place and role of the emergent black bourgeoisie and the challenge of “social distance” arising out of being in political office. International situation

  30. This section seeks to characterise the nature of the international situation in which we have to operate, including a unipolar world and globalisation, and how the interests of SA, Africa and the developing world can be pursued under these circumstances.

    Programme of National Democratic Transformation

  31. Broad challenges in the critical spheres of social transformation are identified, informed in the main by the RDP. This covers issues of democracy and governance, meeting social needs, economic transformation and safety and security matters.

    Pillars of struggle

  32. In the conclusion, the S&T document summarises the main current tasks in the form of five pillars:
    • to build and strengthen the ANC as a movement that organises and leads the people in the task of social transformation;
    • to deepen our democracy and culture of human rights and mobilise the people to take active part in changing their lives for the better;
    • to strengthen the hold of the democratic movement on state power, and transform the state machinery to serve the cause of social change;
    • to pursue economic growth, development and redistribution in such a way as to improve the people’s quality of life; and
    • to work with progressive forces throughout the world to promote and defend our transformation, advance Africa’s renaissance and build a new world order.

    New developments, new experiences, new challenges
  33. With regard to most of the issues identified above, there have been new developments and/or new experiences that pose new challenges going forward. In some instances, new debates have arisen within the ANC and its allies, which may require better articulation. What needs to be weighed in each instance is whether these are of such a fundamental nature that they would require amendment to the S&T document or the drafting of a new one.

    Briefly, some of the issues that can be identified in the post-1997 period are:

Balance of forces

  1. There has been some fluidity in the international balance of forces, reflected in such developments as better self-assertion by forces calling for a humane world order, new discourse on the impact of globalisation and prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank and broad acceptance of Africa’s agenda as reflected in NEPAD. Does globalisation fit into descriptions of stages of capitalism, with imperialism previously described as the highest stage of capitalism – are we beyond the stage of imperialism?

  2. At the national level, the ANC has been returned with a larger majority in 1999, extreme right-wing forces have been significantly neutralised, difficulties persist in the area of ideological discourse, a new spirit of patriotism is taking root, advances have been registered in transforming the state, and limited progress has been made in transforming the economy.

  3. Combined, these and other factors have created the possibility for more rapid social transformation, within the context of “continuity and change”.

    Character of the NDR

  4. The issue of the relationship between the democratic movement and capital has been subjected to much scrutiny, with important conclusions on such issues as pooling of the fiscus, state capital and social capital; and defining the relationship with private capital as that of “unity and struggle”. This is proceeding from the premise that one of the central tasks of the NDR is to change apartheid property relations. Within this context, there is also the broader question of tactical alliances between the liberation movement and “patriotic capital”, which is broader than just the black bourgeoisie.

  5. Debates in the Tripartite Alliance on various tactical issues, have raised sharply the issue of the management of secondary contradictions among the motive forces of the struggle.

  6. Further, we need in clear terms to define the values underpinning the society we seek to build. Related to this is the issue of national identity.

    Motive forces of the NDR and character of the ANC

  7. A critical matter that has arisen in the debate on motive forces is the very definition of motive forces and whether in particular the black bourgeoisie can still be characterised as part of these forces. The approach in the Strategy and Tactics document is based on the understanding that a motive force “objectively” stands to gain from victory of the NDR. This definition is based on standard ANC and Tri-partite Alliance methodology used over the past decades. The question is whether the theoretical method and/or national and class alignment have so changed as to require a review.

  8. The issue of the concrete meaning and expression of the vanguard role of the working class in the NDR, and in this phase in particular, has arisen, from concrete experiences. So has the question of the composition of the working class and the progressive trade union movement with the growth of the service sector and the IT industry, as well as the relative preponderance, in this union movement, of state employees. Related to these issues is the question of the relationship between the NDR and socialism, and how the ANC positions itself in this regard. This has also been impacted upon by the decision of the ANC to join the Socialist International.

  9. The organisational expression of these motive forces includes the ANC as the leader. One of the central organisational challenges is how the ANC should relate to other organs of civil society, and how we characterise the latter in the light of the post-1994 experience.

    International situation

  10. The question here is whether the reading of the balance of forces as briefly outlined above would require a reformulation of this section of the Strategy and Tactics document. This includes the issue of the character and role of the “anti-globalisation” movement.

  11. Related to this is the question of the sovereignty of states in a globalising world, and the challenge this presents to the new South African state. Some lessons have emerged from various experiences about the kind of overt and covert subversion that developing countries can be subjected to. Not least of these is the concrete expression of the clamour for Africa’s resources and the power of transnational corporations in global economics and politics. How do we protect the integrity of our democratic state under such conditions?

  12. The post-September 11 situation evinces ascendancy of right-wing forces in developed countries, characterised among other features, by unilateralism, shameless pursuit of interests of capital, and xenophobia. In addition, we need to note a tendency towards the emergence of new global centres of power such as the European Union, the US, Japan and China – with all kinds of contradictions among them.

    Programme of National Democratic Transformation

  13. The section dealing with transformation of the state and governance needs to underline the central role of local government.

  14. Among the qualitative advances made since 1997 is the integrated functioning of government and possibilities to implement far-reaching integrated development programmes in rural and urban areas. This also relates to the broader question of spatial development and de-racialisation of South African society.

  15. Social Accord has become a possibility, and by the time of Conference, decisive progress may have been made. This may require more than fleeting reference as is currently the case in the Strategy and Tactics document. Further, in the economic area, the introduction of micro-economic reforms and the broader issue of a growth and development strategy may require specific reference.

  16. In the social sector, a matter that has loomed larger than outlined in the Strategy and Tactics document (currently referred to as “campaigns against epidemics”) is that of HIV/AIDS. Does it require specific reference in the document?

  17. The critical issue of the ideological struggle, as part of the challenge of transformation of society requires due emphasis. This applies to matters of media, education and arts and culture, and the role that the democratic movement and the state should play in this regard, to build truly South African consciousness, identity and values.


  18. The 1997 Strategy and Tactics states that the ANC, informed and driven by its understanding of the oppressive gender relations that exist both within and independently of class, national and other contradictions, integrates a gendered perspective in its outlook. It looks at the relationship between men and women, how our society is structured along gender lines and the impact of these relations in the whole society. The context in which gendered relationships emerge and the constantly shifting economic, political and social terrain is recognised. The ANC is therefore committed to ensuring a gendered perspective in its analysis, policies, programmes, strategies, values and principles. It is poised to ensure non-sexism and the transformation of gender relations in all spheres of life in our society. Key to its approach is the challenge of affirming and empowering particularly African rural and poor women, as they still largely remain the worst victims of patriarchy and the legacy of CST. (Strategy and Tactics, 1997).

  19. While the 1997 Mafikeng Conference therefore took an express decision that gender be integrated into all aspects of the Strategy and Tactics and while the above is a clear commitment, in reading Strategy and Tactics it is obvious that a gender edit of a finished document was done resulting in a “gender patchwork” without proper theoretical framework.

  20. The absence of a theoretical framework weakens not only Strategy and Tactics, but permeates throughout our analysis, policy formulations and programmes. Above all, it denies us a tool not only of analysis but also of monitoring and evaluating our policies and progress on our path to a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist society.

    Matters of formulation

  21. There are many detailed matters of formulation that an agreement to introduce substantive amendments would bring to the fore. Besides challenges of a thorough language edit which may be necessary to clarify and simplify some of the concepts, examples include:

    • we may need, under the pillars of struggle, explicitly to include the objective of uniting all our people – either as a separate pillar or by reformulating one of the existing ones;
    • integration of gender issues was done as mandated by Conference, but some have argued that in some sections, this creates an impression of patchwork, without proper flow;
    • questions have been raised about the formulation [Introduction, p1 column 2] that “the basic framework of our democratic achievement … is irreversible: but it can be derailed…” – to argue that a derailment would in fact be reversing this democratic framework;
    • the ANC is characterised [p22, column 2] as “the vanguard of all these motive forces of the NDR…”: whether a mass liberation movement be described as a “vanguard”.

  22. Discussion on whether these issues warrant a redrafting or rewriting of the Strategy and Tactics document should be conducted against the backdrop of the description of Strategy and Tactics in earlier sections of this discussion document. Among the issues to be kept in mind are:
    • determining whether a given issue has so changed the landscape that it impacts on the broad characterisation of our strategic objectives and the methods to get there;
    • whether the approach in the current document is not sufficiently broad to accommodate any shifts that may have happened, which shifts can be accommodated in elaborations and educational material on the Strategy and Tactics document;
    • that changes in detail do not have to be accommodated in a Strategy and Tactics document, thus requiring frequent rewrites; and that major shifts do not follow Conference and/or electoral cycles.
  23. It should also be noted that the Political and Organisational Reports of the NEC, presented by the President and Secretary-General respectively, are meant to capture major developments and current challenges. These, and the resolutions of Conference then inform the interpretation of the Strategy and Tactics document.

  24. However, it will be critical to examine the Strategy and Tactics document in detail to make a determination on this matter. A critical consideration in this regard should be that formulations in the document should not become a break on possible political and organisational advances. Nor should they ignore tactical and strategic shifts that may have happened, and thus render the document irrelevant.

  25. It is also important to avoid cluttering a Strategy and Tactics document with so much current detail that it loses much of its relevance within a short period. A useful device (used in some instances to accommodate important new issues) may be to draft a brief and pointed “Preface to the 2002 Edition” which would bring into perspective such developments and/or draw attention to any critical omissions.