ANC Today, Volume 5, No. 26 • 1—7 July 2005

Forward to the People's Contract!

(Note from the Editor: Below we publish an edited version of the Opening Address of our President, Thabo Mbeki, at the 2nd National General Council of the ANC. The ANC holds its National Conference once every five years. The last one, the 51st, was held in December 2002. Among other things, the National Conference elects the National Executive Committee. The ANC Constitution also requires that a National General Council (NGC) should be held not later than two-and-half years after each National Conference, hence the June 2005 NGC. Among others, the NGC is mandated to "determine and review the policies and programmes of the ANC".)

Just ahead of our 2nd NGC, the policy research centre, the Centre for Policy Studies, CPS, published a document entitled "Trajectories for South Africa: Reflections on the ANC's 2nd National General Council's Discussion Documents". It examines three of the discussion documents prepared for the NGC. In its introduction it says:

"Managing an economy is not an easy task, especially in the context of global imperatives, where a country that deviates from the global norm is meted with punishment by global capital. The task is more difficult in a society like ours with conflicting imperatives.

"To a large degree, some white South Africans want to cling to privileges derived from the colour of their skin. On the other hand, most blacks want all manifestations of black disempowerment to be addressed. These competing imperatives pose critical challenges for building one nation that belongs to all South Africans.

"To a large extent, South Africa's ability to effectively address these imperatives will be dependent on the ability of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), to maintain its cohesion and unity.

"If the ANC was to break up, and its alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was to disintegrate, it would compromise South Africa's transformation efforts. This will in turn have negative consequences for the African continent's development project."

This introductory paragraph in the document of the CPS illustrates the organic interconnection among the issues raised in our Discussion Documents, regarding the unity of the ANC and the democratic movement as a whole, the response to the national question, and the challenge of the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment both in our country and our continent.

Because of the centrality of the role of our movement to the achievement of the objective of the social transformation of our country, as pointed out by the CPS, by the time we conclude the National General Council in four days, we must have asked ourselves and answered a number of questions, such as:

  • what are the strategic and tactical tasks of our movement at the current stage of the National Democratic Revolution?
  • what should the structures of our movement do, beginning with our branches, to accomplish these tasks?, and,
  • what is expected and required of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary South Africans who constitute the membership of the African National Congress, the ANC Women's League and the ANC Youth League?

The answers to these questions relate directly to the banner that dominates our stage, which reads - "A people's contract to advance the vision of the Freedom Charter".

Whatever our decisions will be, they will have to respond to the two challenges posed by the theme of the National General Council, which are:

  • will these decisions serve to strengthen the people's contract?, and,
  • will they advance the vision of the Freedom Charter?

Our 51st National Conference, held at Stellenbosch University during the year of our 90th Anniversary, issued an important Declaration. In part, that Declaration responded to the questions we have posed. It said:

"We, the delegates of this 51st National Conference of the African National Congress, are the living bearers of an unbroken legacy of ninety years of South African struggle...We enter the tenth decade of the ANC's existence at the head of a profound process of social transformation for a better life for all...More than ever, the ANC must intensify the mobilisation of the whole of South African society behind a programme of fundamental change..."

Further to indicate what we had to do, our Manifesto for the 2004 General Elections said:

"We must create work and roll back poverty. These two core objectives are the major focus of our programmes for the Second Decade of Freedom. To achieve this we need stronger partnership among all South Africans, A People's Contract for a Better South Africa.

"This is the contract that we should all enter into as South Africans - each of us with one another; government and each citizen, community and sector of society - together to build a better South Africa.

"The ANC commits itself, working within communities and within government, to play its part in forging this People's Contract for a Better South Africa, inspired by its commitment to democratic consultation, mass participation and volunteerism, Moral Regeneration as well as people-centred and people-driven development."

The commitment we made to enter into a contract with the people, means that our members should be exemplary and dependable partners. In this regard, our members must respect the Oath in the ANC Constitution that is binding on all members, and which reads:

"I solemnly declare that I will abide by the aims and objectives of the African National Congress as set out in the Constitution, the Freedom Charter and other duly adopted policy positions, that I am joining the organisation voluntarily and without motives of material advantage or personal gain, that I agree to respect the Constitution and the structures and to work as a loyal member of the organisation, that I will place my energies and skills at the disposal of the organisation and carry out tasks given to me, that I will work towards making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people, and that I will defend the unity and integrity of the organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism."

These pledges represent a public and solemn undertaking that we have made to the masses of our people and the world, concerning what they should expect of any and all members of the African National Congress. All of us must live up to this undertaking so that we become dependable partners within the People's Contract.

We must emulate such outstanding patriots as the late Walter Sisulu, Maulvi Cachalia and Ray Simons and others, who knew that their involvement in our struggle as activists and leaders entailed acceptance of the fact that they had to be ready to make any sacrifices imposed on them by the oppressor regime, including losing their lives. In return, they expected no reward other than the liberation of our people.

The Declaration adopted by our Stellenbosch 51st National Conference also said that, "We enter the tenth decade of the ANC's existence at the head of a profound process of social transformation for a better life for all..."

In this regard, and as we have done in the past, we must again ask ourselves the questions:

  • what progress have we made to build a non-racial society, and what should we do next?;
  • what progress have we made to build a non-sexist society, and what should we do next?
  • what progress have we achieved with regard to responding to the aspirations of the youth, and what should we do next?
  • what progress have we made to respond to the needs of people with disabilities, acting together with them, and what should we do next?
  • what progress have we made in the struggle towards the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, and the socio-economic disparities we inherited, and what should we do next?; and,
  • what progress have we made in the effort to improve social cohesion in our country, especially given the many cleavages that have characterised our society for a long period of time?

In reality, we cannot speak of a People's Contract outside the context of our conscious and consistent engagement of the issues we have mentioned relating to the profound process of social transformation to which the 51st National Conference referred.

In our last Election Manifesto, we said, "The ANC commits itself, working within communities and within government, to play its part in forging this People's Contract for a Better South Africa..."

The People's Contract we spoke about was precisely about mobilising the masses of our people themselves to become makers of history. We are opposed to the demobilisation of the people, transforming them into an inactive mass that simply awaits "delivery" of a better life, with no involvement in the process of determining its future.

We must enter into a partnership with all sections of our population, forming a People's Contract with them, so that they do not see themselves and behave merely as protestors, but fully understand the historic opportunity they have to be part of the conscious army of builders of a people-centred society.

In the period since our last National Conference, we have highlighted two matters in particular, determined to focus on improving our effectiveness in advancing the process of fundamental social transformation in which we have to engage to build the people-centred society to which we are committed.

These are:

  • the challenge of the Second Economy; and,
  • improving the capacity and effectiveness of our developmental state.

I believe that our agenda gives the National General Council ample scope to reflect on these two critically important matters and make proposals that should help us further to expedite our advance towards the realisation of the vision of the Freedom Charter.

In this context, we must also assess the role, place and outcomes of the 2003 Growth and Development Summit, which was itself an expression of our advance towards a People's Contract for a Better South Africa.

This might give us an opportunity seriously to discuss what we mean when we speak of a social partnership, as was done at the Growth and Development Summit. The Summit said:

"The constituencies of Nedlac - government, business, labour and the community - reaffirm their commitment to social dialogue and working together to address the economic and development challenges our country faces.

The constituencies commit themselves to a common vision for promoting rising levels of growth, investment, job creation and people-centred development... This presents an opportunity for the constituencies to develop a dynamic partnership that will facilitate social dialogue and joint action."

Given our commitment to build a People's Contract, I believe that we would be well advised to consider how far we have progressed towards "expanding (the) social dialogue that is an important feature of our democratic dispensation", and "develop(ing) a dynamic partnership that will facilitate social dialogue and joint action", to use the formulations adopted by the Growth and Development Summit.

I hope that the National General Council will also find time to consider the Charters that various sectors of our economy have adopted, or are considering, which express the commitment of the business sector to respond to the vision and objectives the social partners agreed at the Growth and Development Summit.

Obviously, in addition to the 2004 General Elections, one of the important highlights of the period since our 51st National Conference was our celebration only a few days ago, of the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter.

As the General Council knows, the last clause of the Freedom Charter says, "There shall be peace and friendship. South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations. South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation, not war...The right of all peoples of Africa to independence and self-government shall be recognised, and shall be the basis of close cooperation."

In the period since our 51st National Conference, with regard to our internationalist obligations arising from these objectives, we have indeed acted both to advance the vision of the Freedom Charter and implement the decisions adopted by our Stellenbosch Conference.

In the context of all these and other developments, the National General Council will have to assess the role of the ANC in its pursuit of the two related goals of the renaissance of Africa and the building of a new world order that fully accords with the interests and aspirations of the majority of humanity, which constitutes the poor of the world.

Let me close with one last quotation from the Declaration adopted by the 51st National Conference, referring to the matter of the Unity of the ANC that is on our agenda, and whose importance was emphasised by the CPS. The Declaration said:

"This 51st National Conference rises with an ANC that is united and more determined than ever to strengthen its role as the voice of the people of South Africa, an expression of the aspirations of all, and particularly of the poor..."

This injunction must guide us as we proceed with our work during this 2nd National General Council of the African National Congress.