1912-2012: African National Congress at 100

By John S. Saul

January 6, 2012 -- The Bullet -- There is good and obvious reason to celebrate the long history of the African National Congress (ANC): the organisation's marked dedication over 100 years -- since its founding in 1912 -- to the cause of the betterment of the lot of the oppressed African people in South Africa. It has also sustained an honourable commitment to a multiracial, pan-ethnic outcome to the struggle against the unequivocally racist system that both segregation and apartheid came to represent for so long in South Africa. And, not least important, the ANC is now in power.

Not that the ANC was alone in this struggle. The ICU, the Unity Movement, the Pan Africanist Congress and Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) were, of course, significant heterodox players over many years. Then, in the 1970s and '80s, the Black Consciousness Movement, the range of trade unions that would soon become COSATU, and the township insurgency that first burst into flame in Soweto and then, spreading dramatically, helped fuel the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) also had vital roles to play. Even more expansive in their import than any some-time "internal wing" of the ANC was a wide range of local outbursts and assertions as part of a genuine mass resistance in South Africa (one not always easily identified as "belonging" to any one or another broader movement).

Surge forward and building alliances

In short, the surge forward in South Africa was by no means monopolised by the ANC, despite the longevity of its existence, its persistence in exile and its occasional quasi-military appearance within South Africa's borders. Yet the ANC did manage to translate its popular salience (and that of Nelson Mandela), its international resonance (becoming much more credible in this respect with the virtual disappearance from the scene of its long-time Soviet-bloc allies!), its rather spottier presence on the ground inside South Africa, and its increasing and quite dramatic rapprochement with international capital into a winning hand in the on-going bargaining with the apartheid state. And it did emerge victorious in 1994. Moreover, the fact that it had by the 1990s abandoned any promise of offering a radical alternative to continued subordination to global capitalism (and to its leaders' own aggrandisement as the new well-rewarded masters of state power) did not, at first, cost it heavily at the polls. It was the party of "liberation" after all.

Indeed, as such, it began merely to absorb other centres of recent and significant public dissent. The South African Communist Party (SACP) was already well within the ANC's tent of power of course, but soon COSATU felt compelled to yoke itself as junior partner to the political juggernaut that the ANC had become. As for the UDF, many within it undoubtedly did feel the positive pull of ANC legitimacy but the fact is that those who did not were soon sidelined and the UDF disappeared, leaving long-time ANC/SACP stalwart Rusty Bernstein to bemoan, shortly before his death, that:

The [ANC's] drive toward power has corrupted the political equation in various ways. In the late 1980s, when popular resistance revived again inside the country led by the UDF, it led the ANC to see the UDF as an undesirable factor in the struggle for power, and to fatally undermine it as a rival focus for mass mobilization. This has undermined the ANC's adherence to the path of mass resistance as a way to liberation, and substituted instead a reliance on manipulation of the levers of administrative power. It has paved the way to a steady decline of a mass-membership ANC as an organizer of the people, and turned it into a career opening to public sector employment and the administrative ‘gravy train.’ It has reduced the tripartite ANC-COSATU-CP alliance from the centrifugal centre of national political mobilization to an electoral pact between parties who are constantly constrained to subordinate their constituents' fundamental interests to the overriding purpose of holding on to administrative power. It has impoverished the soil in which ideas leaning toward socialist solutions once flourished and allowed the weed of ‘free market’ ideology to take hold.

Renewed resistance

Renewed resistance – this time, increasingly, to the ANC in power – took a few years to jell, of course. But a distinct constituency, one that echoed the revolutionary sensibility of the past, has begun to articulate a radical grassroots politics that begins to surge past the illusion of ANC "victory". After all, some increasingly sensed, liberation must be about more than racial and national assertion. It must, they reason, also be about transcending class, about gender equality and about the expression of genuinely and effectively democratic voice.

And about policies – in the spheres of employment strategies, redistribution, education, health, water and electricity supply, and of a more internally focus ed and needs-driven industrial strategy – that exemplify some real attempt to overcome the great inequalities that no mere tinkering with such things as "basic income grants" can paper over. Fortunately, as noted, politics in South Africa has long been about more than the ANC – and so it will be again, many feel. For it is in this prospect, rather than in some mere wading through of the several hundred years of ANC hegemony predicted by the ever zealous president Jacob Zuma, that a fulfilling future for the vast majority of South Africans is most likely to be found!

Left alternative to the ANC?

But just how likely is that any such genuinely viable left alternative will surface? There is, on the one hand, the fact that the ANC's vaunted 60-70% of the overall national electoral support has in fact shrunk to rather lower than 40 per cent of the eligible voters (and, in local elections, much less than that) – given the rapidly falling number of those who these days actually choose to exercise their franchise. Meanwhile, on the other hand (as Peter Alexander has recently observed):

Since 2004 South Africa has experienced a movement of local protests amounting to a rebellion of the poor. This has been widespread and intense, reaching insurrectionary proportions in some cases. On the surface, the protests have been about service delivery and against uncaring, self-serving and corrupt leaders of the municipalities. A key feature has been mass participation by a new generation of fighters, especially unemployed youth but also school students. Many issues that underpinned [initially] the ascendency of Jacob Zuma also fuel the present action, including a sense of injustice arising from the realities of persistent inequality...[Moreover,] while the inter-connections between the local protests (and between the local protests and militant action involving other elements of civil society) are limited, it is suggested that this is likely to change.

Small wonder. For the chilling fact remains that while the economic gap between people defined in terms of racial categories (black as distinct from white) has narrowed statistically (as some blacks have become very rich indeed) the gap between rich and poor has actually widened. Needless to say, in South Africa such depressing facts are too readily apparent to cause surprise. The real question is: how long can it be before the anger these facts even now give rise to becomes ever more potent politically?

True, there will be many who see the prospect of a rebirth of principle – rebirth of the goal of justice and equality – as still being most likely to arise from within the ANC fold itself. Those of us who supported, for many long years through the global anti-apartheid movement, the ANC's championing of its cause can bring themselves to abandon such hopes only with great reluctance. But take, as well, the case of veteran ANC/SACP hand Ben Turok, who now feels driven to “the irresistible conclusion ... that the ANC government has lost a great deal of its earlier focus on the fundamental transformation of the inherited social system.” And to the conclusion that “much depends on whether enough momentum can be built to overcome the caution that has marked the ANC government since 1994. This in turn depends on whether the determination to achieve an equitable society can be revived.” It would be another thing, of course, were an old ANC loyalist like Turok to agree with me that the ANC, despite its brave history of 100 years, is ineluctably becoming yesterday's movement.

Yet it has become increasingly difficult to think otherwise, and increasingly necessary to divine some new counter-hegemonic movement, to delineate its possibilities and its prospects – and to make these potent in practice. Briefly, in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seemed to offer just such an alternative there. Only cruel repression by Robert Mugabe and his ZANU minions worked to deny the MDC its several rightful electoral victories there. How intransigent will the ANC be when it becomes apparent that, despite its long service in the cause of national liberation, its rationale for the retention of power has run its course?

Equally challenging: the fact that knitting together protest, however widely expressed, into a viable counter-hegemonic movement – counter both to the ANC and to its neoliberal, freely capitalist, agenda – is still a long way from realisation in South Africa. Indeed, the best an experienced observer as Thabo Mbeki's brother, Moeletsi, seems able to offer South Africans is a “Tunisia Day” set to arrive, he writes, in 2020! Then the South African masses will “rise against the powers that be, as happened recently in Tunisia”. For, in Moeletsi's words, “the ANC inherited a flawed, complex society it barely understood; its tinkerings with it are turning it into an explosive cocktail. The ANC leaders are like a group of children playing with a hand grenade. One day one of them will figure out how to pull out the pin and everyone will be killed.”

But what is actually needed is something else than this, something far more sustained and structured – something more self-consciously and effectively counter-hegemonic in concept and in purpose – than a "mere" Tunisia Day can offer. South Africans will have to be more creative and more imaginative than that in consolidating the kind of new movement necessary to realise a more just and equitable South Africa, a South Africa in which, 100 years from now, they can take further pride.

The liberation struggle continues.

[John Saul, veteran Canadian anti-apartheid and southern African solidarity activist, is also author of numerous books on African political economy. He currently serves as member of a formally constituted committee of international "friends" of South Africa's fledgling Democratic Left Front. A version of this essay will be appear in a forthcoming issue of Amandla! marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ANC in 1912.]

COSATU's message to ANC on its centenary
Zwelinzima Vavi
04 January 2012

Zwelinzima Vavi says ruling party's great strength has been its capacity for renewal

04 January 2012

President Jacob Zuma and Secretary General Gwede Mantashe
Luthuli House

Dear Comrade President and Secretary General

COSATU CEC message of solidarity to the ANC - wishing ANC happy centenary celebrations

The Central Executive Committee of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on behalf of its over 2 million members and all the structures of the federation sends its best wishes to the leadership and membership of the ANC on the occasion of the centenary celebrations. We also send our best wishes not only to the people of South Africa, but also to the peoples of Africa and the world over, as all of us mark this historic milestone.

COSATU is extremely proud to be in alliance with the oldest liberation movement in the African continent. The ANC has been the torchbearer of the African continent, the fountain of hope to millions of the oppressed and exploited masses of our people, a colossal giant whose track record in the struggle is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

The ANC's roots predate 8 January 1912! This year we are actually celebrating not just the institution called the ANC, because that institution is an organic expression of the collective struggles of our people initially led by their traditional leaders, as they resisted wars against dispossession of land.

We are therefore celebrating a struggle, whose collective experience is embodied in the ANC. The consolidation of those efforts into the ANC in 1912 proved to be one of the most important decisions our forbears made. This helped defeat one of the most potent weapons in the hands of the colonisers - dividing our people in terms of their different languages and cultures.

Today we are also celebrating one of the biggest achievements of the ANC - the triumph over the tribal divisions, regionalism and male chauvinism. We are celebrating the unity of the African people which over years extended to all the oppressed and white democrats who hated oppression and love freedom for all! Even though all of these divisive demons keep on rearing their ugly heads from time to time in our national politics, there can be no doubt that the cohesion and unity we are currently enjoying owes a great deal to the existence of the ANC.

The history of the struggle of the working class is at the heart of the history of the ANC. Similarly, the history of workers' struggles in South Africa would be extremely incomplete without the leadership role of the ANC. As we celebrate the centenary of the ANC we are bound to recall our history of oppression, enforced segregation, forced removals, police brutality and killings, countless massacres spreading over many decades. We remember our persecution and absolute humiliation.

As workers we remember Nongqawuse and the other countless tricks to force us off our land to go and work in the mines and farms. We remember the hut tax, the dog tax, and we also remember the filthy flee-ridden single-sex hostels and the active promotion of divisions by the employers who collaborated with the minority regime. We recall the humiliating queues of older and younger men standing absolutely naked for inspection by a white madam using a pen to inspect our private parts in the mines.

From protesting against the creation of the Union of South Africa to protests against the imposition of the Land Act of 1913, to the Group Areas Act of 1950, Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951, Bantu Authorities Act of 1951, Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952, Bantu Education Act of 1953, Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, Natives Resettlement Act of 1954, Natives (Prohibition of Interdicts) Act of 1956, Extension of University Education Act of 1959, Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959, Urban Bantu Councils Act of 1961, and the Bantu Homelands Citizens Act of 1970, all targeted the Black working class in its entirety in order to keep it subservient, super-exploited and subjugated.

It is important to underline the fact that as the working class grew from strength to strength, so did the ANC. Indeed, as the ANC grew from strength to strength, organisationally and ideologically, the working class got increasingly fortified in its struggles. In addition, we should note that the history of this great movement would be extremely incomplete, without the gallant role that was played by the South African Communist Party, which fashioned us with the tools of analysis and provided the much needed light when days were extremely dark.

We are celebrating one of the liberation movements that came to understand that our revolution must defeat three interrelated and antagonistic contradictions - of national oppression, class exploitation and gender oppression. The ANC is only one of very few liberation movements that understands that black people's oppression was not only based on their colour, but was equally a function of the inherent exploitative nature of the colonial capitalist system. The ANC understood that African women faced triple oppression in their homes, in society and in the workplace. The National Democratic Revolution therefore seeks to resolve the three inter-related contradictions.

The ANC is also one of the very few liberation movements that evolved towards a class perspective; it analysed society from a class perspective and was able to provide a rich dialectical synthesis of the concrete national, class and gender contradictions in its policy and articulations. The ANC did not just declare itself a progressive and left leaning formation. Its policies, actions and articulation reinforced it as a pro-working class and pro-poor anti-imperialist liberation movement.

The rich texture in the balance of class, national and gender perspectives is the rock and cornerstone on which the Alliance rests. The Tripartite Alliance of ANC, SACP and COSATU, with historic relationships with SANCO, do not exist anywhere else in the world. It is unique only to the conditions of the South African revolution.

When we sing "Hamba nathi mkhululi wethu" we mean this literally. The ANC promised to liberate us; the ANC, like a bulldog holding a bone, stuck to that promise with unbelievable tenacity. It may have taken longer than many other African countries; it may have been more costly, with far too many casualties not only in our country but also in the neighbouring countries - Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, etc., but, as the ANC promised, we witnessed the ushering in of political freedom in our lifetime. The 27 April 1994 breakthrough will always be remembered with fond memories not only by South Africans but also by the peoples of the world whose own contributions to our freedom should never be underestimated.

Since that 1994 breakthrough, the ANC has led a new struggle to replace colonialism of a special type and apartheid with a new order as envisioned by the true Congress of the People in 1955, which drafted ten simple demands, starting with the clarion call that:

We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people.... And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.

Today, the majority who were not there in 1955, when these undying words were ushered, are enjoying and making sense of these words of wisdom. Our Constitution is to an extent the realisation of this vision.

Under the leadership of the ANC we have made tremendous strides in building a better life for all South Africans. As we celebrate 100 years of the ANC we shall be celebrating the protection of workers' rights, not only in the Constitution in a manner no other constitution does anywhere else in the world, but also we shall be celebrating a range of progressive labour laws that have helped in tilting the balance of forces in the workplace to make super-exploitation of workers difficult as part and parcel of addressing one of the three interrelated antagonistic contradictions - class oppression and exploitation.

We shall be celebrating improved healthcare, in particular with the phased-in and progressive introduction of the National Health Insurance. We are particularly pleased to note that 1.4 million South Africans are in government's ARV programme and 15 million will be tested for HIV by June this year. The aim is to reduce the rate of infections by 50% and get ARV treatment to 80% of those who need it.

We shall be celebrating improved access to education, in particular the near universal access by girl children. We shall be celebrating the fact that 15 million South Africans have a roof above their heads. Millions receive support from government in the form of grants without which they will simply die of starvation.

The victories under the ANC are countless. Our task is to multiply and consolidate these advances. We know that ‘Rome was not built in one day' and as the ANC itself has said ‘more still needs to be done'.

The biggest challenge we face as we celebrate the centenary is the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality. With 36% or 7 504 000 people still unemployed, South Africa's rate of unemployment is higher than any other middle income country that we economically compare with. We know that 73% of all those unemployed are youth and mostly women and Africans!

Poverty remains widespread and continues to afflict millions with at least between 40% and 50% of the population living in poverty. We have become the most unequal society in the world, with 50% of the South African population living on 8% of the national income. This means that for every R100 of national income earned, almost 25 million people share just R8 a day.

COSATU agrees with the ANC that we can only overcome these economic challenges if we restructure the economy inherited from our ugly past. We must end its domination by mining, finance and heavy chemicals. We must end ownership and control of strategic sectors of our economy by a handful of people, be they black, white, foreign or domestic.

We must prioritise the expansion of manufacturing industry so that we beneficiate our own resources, using them to add value by turning them into manufactured goods and begin to reach the government's goal of creating five million decent jobs in the next ten years.

Unless we can embrace radical economic programmes and develop capacity of the state to intervene and drive development we shall not succeed to build a more egalitarian society that does not tolerate poverty and inequality.

To overcome this also means that we must return to our time tested values and principles. Revolutionary morality means consistently and robustly leaving no stone unturned in our 100% and total commitment for total liberation of our people. We need to return back to our value of selflessness and promote integrity and honesty by all members of society particularly leaders of the Alliance. Leaders must be beyond reproach! Unless we perform this task, we shall find it difficult repeat the feats of the past heroes and heroines of the movement.

Whilst welcoming many initiatives to deal with the cancer of corruption, greed and selfishness within our ranks, there can be no doubt that this is one of the biggest challenges of our time. COSATU together with the ANC has been ringing the alarm bells over the national crisis of corruption for many years. This cancer is eating away the heart of our democracy, driven by the capitalist culture of ‘me first' and ‘get as rich as possible as fast as possible'.

We must, together, defeat the existence in some parts of the political environment engulfed by growing stagnation and degeneration, the take-over of crass materialism in our ranks and society, greed, unbridled fraud and corruption. Together we must defeat ill-discipline, political arrogance and ideological backwardness that is compromising our revolutionary movement. We argue that we must draw a line in the sand on revolutionary morality that no one will cross.

Our task is to defend the space we created for ourselves in the historic 52nd national conference. We will continue to campaign for full implementation of all the resolutions of that conference. We will defend the current leadership collective from those hell bent on putting it on the back foot, undermine its authority and create divisions in the organisation.

Notwithstanding all these and other challenges we face, we remember a movement that led so gallantly for over 100 years. That is why we are celebrating today! We need to declare this coming decade a decade of the revolutionary cadre. The ANC has always adapted to new conditions - like a snake it has always left behind the old and bad looking skin to emerge with new methods that can be applied to new conditions. Our hope is that our generation will recognise that each generation faces its own challenges - our generation must do what the ANC has always done - adapt to new conditions!

Happy birthday to the people's movement - May you grow stronger and last for another centenary!

Long Live the ANC!

Long Live Nelson Mandela and all our stalwarts!

Long Live the memory of all our heroes and heroines!

Long Live Oliver Tambo and all soldiers of our glorious army Umkhonto we Sizwe

The ANC Lives - The ANC Leads!

Yours comradely

Zwelinzima Vavi
General Secretary

Issued by COSATU, January 4 2011