On trial for his life in 1964, Nelson Mandela explained his movement’s policies and the objectives that inspired the actions that placed him in the dock, saying: “The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the Freedom Charter. It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state.
“It calls for redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land; it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power.
“The realisation of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class.”
At the ANC’s centenary the monopolies Mandela referred to remain largely in white hands and they have prospered under democracy.
Successive reports of private sector under-achievement in employment equity indicate that the acquisition of political rights has not translated into the redistribution of economic power. Apartheid land-ownership patterns also remain unaltered.
After 17 years of ANC government the ANC Youth League, claiming to reflect a growing impatience with the pace of transformation among the well-nigh born-free generation who came of age during the second decade of freedom, have called for “economic freedom in our lifetime”.
Will their call produce the same resonances as a previous generation’s demand for freedom in our lifetime?
The first gathering in Mangaung on January 8 1912 was initiated by young leaders – the generation of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, George Montsioa and the Msimang brothers, young barristers who had recently qualified at universities in Britain and the US.
That inaugural meeting brought together two generations of African political leaders, but it was the vision of these younger men that drove the movement.
Adopting the name African National Congress in 1923, the movement also adopted The African Bill of Rights – the franchise for all civilised men – the pre-Union Cape colonial constitution. “Cape liberalism” was their lodestar.
Thirty years later young innovators, also led by a lawyer, Anton Lembede, constituted the ANC Youth League. They included Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
They had all been educated in South Africa and were inspired by notions of national self-determination, government by the consent of the governed and universal human rights. Theirs was a vision of radical transformation.
The freshly minted youth league was a radical lobby to transform the ANC into a militant movement with the capacity to lead a struggle to seize power and install democracy.
The previous 30 years was a record of failure. Lembede’s generation remade the ANC by assuming leadership. Within 10 years the youth league had become the dominant political formation among African students at Fort Hare, the University of Natal and Wits.
Future leaders of both the ANC and PAC served their apprenticeship in the youth league. By the late 1950s the league had left its stamp on the ANC and its Programme of Action guided the movement’s decisions.
After the reverses of the mid-60s rendered the ANC underground inoperative, the movement’s trained militants in MK, mostly young men and women, agitated for a strategy to prosecute the struggle more effectively. The 1969 Morogoro conference was the outcome.
Inside the country students at a number of tertiary institutions gave birth to the Black Consciousness Movement. The movement kept alive the spirit of resistance and struggle in an environment of conspicuous white prosperity sustained by state repression during the late 1960s and mobilised crucial sectors of the oppressed into political activity.
The wave of workers’ strikes, beginning in 1972, brought working people visibly into the struggle.
From these initiatives grew new working class organisations culminating in the establishment of Congress of South African Trade Unions in 1984.
1976 was an outstanding example of youthful militancy. High school pupils took to the streets, detonating a national uprising of unprecedented proportions. That uprising wrested the strategic initiative from the racist regime and set in motion an uncontainable drive to freedom.
The ’76 generation injected the energy of youthful rebellion into the ranks of MK. Those among them who did not “skip” helped reconstitute the trade union movement and later gave leadership to the Mass Democratic Movement.
Repeated cycles of initiatives generated among the youth have transformed the movement. But it was Mandela’s generation who devised the strategy leading to the democratic breakthrough of 1994.
History has vindicated the policies pursued by these successive generations.
Economic liberation, however defined, will not be achieved without the organised and focused participation of the youth. To be meaningful, youthful initiative must translate into credible programmes that will both inspire and empower the youth to shape their own future.
The well-crafted slogan and clever sound bite might capture the headlines, but are no substitute for reasoned discourse and well-formulated policies.
The content of economic liberation itself needs unpacking. Black Economic Empowerment has not led to the promotion of entrepreneurship. It has unfolded as the acquisition of equity in existing corporate structures, leaving the character and control of the economy largely unchanged.
“Prosperous African(s) . . . including the middle class” have indeed emerged since 1994, but they lack the ambition Mandela had anticipated.
The “deracialisation of ownership and control of wealth” have clearly not been enough.
The ANC nailed the standard of national unity to its mast at birth, hoping to forge a single nation from the diverse elements that make up South Africa.
Building a united nation requires bridging the gulf separating rich and poor. These are highly racialised and gendered inequalities, often replicating the disparities between urban and rural areas.
The ANC advocates government intervention to address them because formal equality evidently is not enough.
Many complain that such intervention has encouraged citizen passivity. It might well require the same degree of mass mobilisation achieved in the past to overcome the legacy of apartheid.
Such mass mobilisation requires the revitalisation of the ANC and its allies to once again become the tribunes of the people, offering leadership and actively engaging in the search for viable remedies in conjunction with the people. The tripartite alliance must become a living reality within communities and on the shopfloor.
In the past the ANC demonstrated a readiness to confront the problems facing it in an earnest search for solutions. It emerged with renewed resolve to prosecute the struggle more vigorously after arriving at a proper balance between internal and international work, with an emphasis on the reconstruction of the structures of the movement inside South Africa.
The accountability of the leadership to the membership was emphasised alongside mass mobilisation for the success of armed struggle.
Like other national movements, the ANC appealed to the past to mobilise support. It declared 1979, the centenary of the Battle of Isandlwana, the Year of the Spear, using the occasion to signal passing over from the defensive to the offensive.
Activists inside the country employed culture to popularise the Year of the Spear. The ANC subsequently used that medium of communication as well.
Cultural festivals in Gaberone in 1982 and in Amsterdam in 1987 created yet another front of the struggle for freedom. Its own ensemble, “Amandla”, mobilised international solidarity through stage performances.
During one afternoon in July 1987, Mandela’s 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium recruited millions, specifically the youth of Western Europe, Japan, Canada and the US, to support the struggle.
During the 30 years of illegality, by tireless campaigning, the ANC was able to make the struggle against apartheid the most significant moral crusade of the latter half of the 20th century.
Thanks to the leadership of Tambo, it won support from the reddest of leftists, at the one extreme, and the bluest Tories at the other.
By the mid-1980s Tambo was received like a head of government in a number of countries. Even Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Schultz, felt compelled to meet him in 1988.
While it was not the only movement in the field, by the mid-80s, the ANC outshone all the others. At home, too, its banner unfurled at mass demonstrations, becoming the symbol of struggle.
Apart from MK, in exile the ANC consisted of civilian communities in Zambia, Tanzania, the UK, Canada and the US. Operation Vulindlela in the late 1980s established an internal leadership corps to coordinate the work of hundreds of underground units and thousands of supporters.
Four landslide electoral victories attest to the levels of confidence the ANC enjoys among the overwhelming majority of South Africans who feel it has governed well.
It owes its success to a strategy adequate to overthrowing white domination and a tactical flexibility to respond to fluid situations.
Though unremarked, for the first time in more than a century, during the 17 years of ANC government South Africa has experienced sustained stability with no major political upheavals! Opposition voices suggest otherwise, but the record indicates the ANC government applied rigorous structural adjustments to stabilise the economy and reduce the national debt.
South Africa is a respected player in African and world affairs thanks to ANC leadership. We should celebrate that on January 8.
» Jordan has been a member of the national executive committee of the ANC since 1985 and a former minister in both the Mandela and Mbeki governments
- City Press