Delegates sing ahead of the opening of the ANC's 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
The last 23 years of the ANC in government have taught us that it is one thing to start a revolution, another to win it, and still another to institutionalise it.

Institutionalising the revolution, translating ideals into action, and turning hope into reality have been the goals of the ANC. However, hegemony has been difficult to achieve.

The ANC is confronted by a new basis for policy development, the radical transformation of the state and society, the reconfiguration of the public sector, the establishment of inclusive deliberative structures linking diverse democratic struggles, and the inauguration of a new political culture.

Such a task requires the creation of new ideological positions that would allow the articulation of anti-racism, anti-tribalism, anti-sexism, anti-elitism, xenophobia, and anti-capitalism. These struggles do not spontaneously converge.

In order to establish democratic equivalences among them, a new “common revolutionary sense” is necessary. This would transform the political identity of different movements so that the demand of each movement could be articulated with those of others according to the principle of radical democratic equivalence.

For it is not a matter of establishing a mere alliance or coalition between given interests, but of modifying the very ideological identity of these circumstances that struggles against neo-liberal capitalist power to become truly democratic.

While the ANC has grown more aware of the demands for strategic change, the public is concerned about the readiness of the organisation to respond. The ability to handle the full implications of fundamental change is highly prized. All these have to take place against a knowledge economy which has become particularly volatile.

As the difficulties facing the ANC multiply, the electorate continues to analyse the pattern of the challenges involved, their causes and consequences, and the most appropriate questions for deliberation.

Now, with the ANC policy conference in process, this is an excellent time to synthesise the questions, identify the potential challenges, and provide a framework for fundamental change. How can the ANC, an increasingly socialist movement, engage in a process of radical transformation that would leave it in a position of significant political power, mindful of the considerable constraints on its ability to fundamentally transform society along the lines that it spelled out in the Freedom Charter?

What persuaded the ANC to accept electoral democracy as the starting point for radical transformation, instead of continuing to assume that revolutionary transformation is the appropriate point of departure? What are the implications for radical transformation given the fact that the apartheid enemy was not defeated? Why did the ANC decide to demobilise the civil organisations that contributed mightily to the decision to negotiate by the apartheid leaders?

How is the new, more liberal direction of the USSR, a powerful ally, shaping its policies? In which way does South Africa’s alliance with Brazil, Russia, India, and China - in the Brics constellation - generate power relations that can address economic, social, geopolitical, and ecological challenges?

Why did the ANC shift from the Reconstruction and Development Programme to GEAR, and move the economy closer to neo-liberal orthodoxy? What lessons can be learned from other liberation movements in Africa and Latin America that opted for a negotiated settlement - in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Uruguay? And what can be learned from liberation movements that gained state power by force - in Cuba, Angola, Nicaragua, Eritrea, and Mozambique? How different is the ANC’s political programme from those of other parties in Parliament with no revolutionary history?

Does the movement for radical transformation contain the basis of a political challenge that could lead to a reconsideration of its political trajectory? What can be learnt from such coalitions in Latin America and the rest of Africa? What ideological equivalences and disagreements exist among political parties that are to be negotiated? The destiny of the revolutionary movement may lie in such coalitions. Perhaps the most tragic thing to contemplate and imagine is what is likely to come after the ANC and the liberation movement.

To answer these questions, the following criteria should be considered: the degree to which the ANC can abandon neo-liberal market rationality and embrace socialism; decentralise power and adopt more inclusive decision structures; professionalise the public sector; demarketise education and training; curb corruption.

Other criteria would be to redistribute the economy under worker and social control; wrench power from corporations and their allied political and knowledge elites; adopt decommodification, destratification, and deglobalisation strategies in all key sectors of the economy; mobilise overlapping consensus among the social movements that have emerged recently in response to neo-liberal policy failures; provide leadership to the critique of neo-liberalism in various discursive fields.

The ANC needs to take seriously the social practises and discourses of neo-liberalism and the way in which these have become deeply entrenched in civil society, if it has to assist the public to understand the consolidation of neo-liberal hegemony. It has to take seriously the idea that various political struggles which might be read as contestations of neo-liberalism, should rather be seen as part of its evolution.

These challenges seem to have contributed to the simultaneous reproduction and transformation of neo-liberal hegemony rather than its impending demise. Far too little attention has been paid to the political dimensions of discourse communities imagining, promoting and sustaining neo-liberalism.

As much attention should be given to the ways in which larger political and economic structures, institutions, and interests are connected to social relations in the realm of knowledge, ideas, and interpretation. It requires the ANC to historicise and materialise radical transformation. This means understanding the history of the ANC as part of the history of ideas and liberation movements in Africa, Latin America, and globally.

Radical transformation requires the ANC to reject market rationality as well as oppressive hierarchies of knowledge, wealth and power.

The ANC has to come to terms with the dimension of conflict and antagonism, and has to accept the consequences of the irreducible plurality of values in a secular world.

This should be the starting point of the ANC’s attempt to radicalise the neo-liberal regime and to extend radical transformation to a range of social relations. The ANC must create the conditions under which those antagonistic forces can be defused and diverted and a truly inclusive democratic order made possible. This is the work of generations, and now under conditions not quite propitious, and partly of our own making.

* Nkondo is a member of the Freedom Park Council and Council of the University of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent