Opening the policy conference, President Jacob Zuma challenged delegates to engage robustly in conducting a diagnosis of the challenges confronting the ANC and find solutions anchored on the commitment to the age-old values of the ANC.
Addressing the first Tri-continental Conference of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America in Havana in January 1966, Amilcar Cabral said, “our experience has shown us that in the general framework of daily struggle this battle against ourselves, no matter what difficulties the enemy may create, is the most difficult of all, whether for the present or the future of our peoples. This battle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality”
His words aptly describe the path the ANC has traversed over the past two decades of freedom, characterised by internal contradictions and fierce contestations for the soul of the organisation.
The contradictions, though they may at times appear to be fierce contestation, are nonetheless a necessary condition in the evolution of any organisation to propel a forward momentum. Ours is to draw fundamental lessons from these contradictions which at times may be brought about by a healthy interface of diverse viewpoints but at times by alien conduct such as factionalism, membership buying and corruption.
Zuma reasserted the organisation’s unequivocal commitment to uprooting these evils which he dubbed a cancer that is eating away at the moral fibre of the ANC.
In this way he set a strong tone for the conference to rise to the occasion and find effective and lasting solutions to these ills.
As we commemorate the life and times of the giant of our revolution, former ANC president OR Tambo, both the national chairperson Baleka Mbete and Zuma called on the policy conference to reaffirm and acknowledge that the unity of the movement is sacrosanct and must be upheld above all else.
The 5th Policy Conference of the ANC takes place against the backdrop of internal contradictions and unprecedented challenges not only facing the congress movement, but also the tripartite alliance. The commitment of every delegate to the policy conference should be nothing short of a total commitment to deepening the unity and cohesion of the ANC.
Delegates dare not be found wanting in this regard, otherwise history will judge this generation harshly.
The ANC acknowledges that the setbacks experienced at the local government elections last year resulting in the ANC losing power in three metros require of the organisation to conduct a deep and honest introspection.
The ANC has equally heard the voices of the people and will respond to restore their trust to the movement. An honest introspection starts with an honest appraisal of the challenges and mistakes committed.
Hard questions must be asked of the choices that confront the movement today. The policy conference provides an opportunity to find ourselves and reaffirm the character and values our movement will stand and fall on.
Others have been quick to suggest that we have lost ourselves and forsaken the founding values of our movement. We have no doubt that this policy conference not only provides an opportunity for renewal, but also provides an opportunity to re-assert the ANC’s role as a political home that carries the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all South Africans.
The conference is poised to articulate policy perspectives that affirm a characterisation of the ANC as one with the people. History has demonstrated the ANC’s immense capacity to self-correct and will undoubtedly rise to the occasion in the crafting of policy perspectives that give practical expression to this self-renewal.
We are under no illusion that the outcomes of the policy conference must be a concrete expression of the will and aspirations of our people, particularly the poor and the working class.
In this third decade of our freedom, the ANC must continue to be the leader of all motive forces that stand to benefit from the advancement of the National Democratic Revolution. The ANC’s historic mission to create a nation-state that is truly emancipated, truly non-racial and truly non-sexist must find practical expression in all our policy perspectives and guide the advancement of radical economic transformation at all times.
It must never elude us that the pact we entered into with the people of South Africa in 1994 meant that the ANC not only belongs to those who hold membership cards, but every South African and this reality must find expression in all its programmes. Our quest for unity and cohesion extends beyond the ANC and includes the broader nation
The political developments over the past five years both domestically and internationally will come into sharp focus as delegates examine how these have affected the character of the ANC and the transformation project.
These discussions will culminate in the articulation of key tasks for the ANC to advance the NDR and the national transformation agenda which must give concrete expression to radical economic transformation over the next five years.
OR Tambo, addressing the 48th National Conference in July 1991, reiterated the importance of unity from the lessons of the Morogoro National Consultative Conference challenges in furthering the revolutionary struggle. Unity is the lifeblood of the ANC, the basis of its very existence. The ANC is the concerted effort of the people to achieve their common goals of a national democratic society and this is the essence of its unity.
We owe it to those who sacrificed life and limb and whose blood nourished the tree that bore the fruits of our freedom to defend the unity and cohesion of the ANC with everything we have.
In doing so, we must be honest in our diagnosis of the challenges and be robust in articulating the solutions.
The policy conference will also serve as a festival of ideas to craft a policy direction for the country well into the future. In the build-up to this conference, we had invited all South Africans to engage with the ANC in conversation on the policy direction they believe will place the country on a sound footing. This conference is therefore a culmination of this exciting conversation which will undoubtedly emerge with a blueprint of a future premised on the aspirations of ordinary South Africans.
The ANC as a listening organisation is giving concrete expression to their views. The president reaffirmed the ANC’s stance that the economy is the apex priority, hence conference deliberations must reflect this.
* Radebe is Minister in the Presidency and ANC head of policy.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.