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How to save the troubled ANC: Ngoako Ramatlhodi

By Ngoako Ramatlhodi

Following years of slow and consistent decline of electoral support for the ANC, almost three decades since the first democratic elections in South Africa, we are certainly at a tipping point, with the prospect of the party losing the 2024 national election.

Last year’s local government election results were the latest and worst example of a downward spiral in this regard.

Twenty-seven years after the advent of democracy, we remain the most unequal society in the world, with the black majority continuing to languish at the bottom of the economic ladder.


The strategy and tactics document adopted in December 2007 answers this question in the following words: “The main content of the National Democratic Revolution is the liberation of Africans, in particular, and black [people], in general, from political and socioeconomic bondage … Therefore, fundamental to the destruction of apartheid is the eradication of apartheid production relations.This is more than just an issue of social justice. It is also about the fact that these relations had become a brake on the advancement of technology and competitiveness of the economy.

This quotation is the reinstatement of the tried and tested policy of the ANC. In an article titled The ANC’s Fatal Concessions, republished in the Times on September 1 2011, I had this to say about our Constitution:Pro-apartheid forces sought to and succeeded in retaining white domination under a black government. This they achieved by emptying the legislature and the executive of real political power…

“We thus have a Constitution that reflects the great compromise, a compromise tilted heavily in favour of forces against change … This imbalance is reflected across the length and breadth of the country in economic, social and even political terms to some extent.

“The objective of protecting white economic interests having been achieved with the adoption of the new Constitution, a grand and total strategy to entrench it for all times was rolled out. In this regard, power was systematically taken out of the legislature and the executive to curtail efforts and initiatives aimed at inducing fundamental changes. In this way, elections would be regular rituals handing empty victories over to the ruling party…

“In the past 17 years, we have witnessed sustained and relentless efforts to migrate the little power left with the executive and the legislature to the judiciary. The main drivers in this process [have been] the opposition, who feel relatively strong in those fronts, given the mainly still untransformed judiciary.”

This synopsis leads us to the next question.


In the same article I penned in 2011, I sought to answer this question along the following lines:In case we do not remember, it was the collapse of the then Soviet Union which provided the most immediate catalyst to negotiations for a new and democratic South Africa.

“In apartheid South Africa in the late 1980s, the regime could only keep a modicum of law and order through the state of emergency, as it could no longer rule in the same old way. On the other hand, the masses were no longer willing to be ruled in the same old way. An orderly retreat for the regime meant giving up elements of political power to the black majority, while migrating substantial power away from the legislature and the executive, and vesting such in the judiciary (given the untransformed nature of the said judiciary).

“Interestingly, and perhaps reflecting the balance of forces at the time, the movement was willing to make this fundamental and substantial concession. However, the concession described cannot be explained only as a reflection of, or the result of a balance of, forces at the time. In this regard, one ventures to suggest that the negative experience suffered by the black majority under the apartheid government might explain the ease with which the liberation movement embraced what one calls the emptying of the state.

“Pro-apartheid forces sought to and succeeded in retaining white domination under a black government. This they achieved by emptying the legislature and the executive of real political power. On the other hand, the liberation movement was overwhelmed by a desire to abolish any form of discrimination and, as a result, made fatal concessions.”

The above is part of the explanation of why we are at a tipping point and on the verge of losing the very political power we won through successive general elections.

The wrongness of our thinking manifested itself in many ways.

On the eve of the negotiations that gave birth to democratic South Africa, we suspended the armed struggle, we abolished the political underground, we dissolved our intelligence, we abandoned mass struggles and we forgot about international support. We became a liberation movement in name only, a body that sought to wage the struggle stripped of all organisational tools to do so.

Our energies were consumed by the rush, just like the gold rush of old, as we competed against one another in the race to be absorbed into the bosom of the system that we once fought so hard to defeat, having forgotten what we had always preached:Apartheid cannot be reformed, but must be destroyed and dismantled.

Faced with this reality, the ANC’s ability to pursue the struggle to achieve the objectives of the national democratic revolution were reduced to nought.

The 1994 strategy and tactics document of the ANC described our breakthrough as a beachhead. The beachhead analogy could best be understood by remembering the day in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck set foot for the first time on South African soil, disembarking with compatriots from three ships, the Reijer, the Dromedaris and the Goede Hoop.

So in 1994, we understood that the journey to liberate our country had only just begun. This realisation is at variance with the actions described above in preparation for negotiations. In fact, it was a false proclamation to delude ourselves. The harsh reality was that we had sown the seeds that would result in a miscarriage of the revolution.

At its 1991 Durban conference, the ANC revived the position of Speaker of the House and renamed it the national chairperson. Party president Oliver Tambo was elected to that position and became the custodian of ANC policy, organisational discipline, ideology and doctrine.

To the uninitiated, at its inception, the ANC was conceived as a parliament of the people, in opposition to the white Parliament of 1910 that gave birth to the white Union of South Africa. Hence the position of Speaker of the Parliament of the people.

The last Speaker of the ANC parliament before the party’s banning in the early 1960s was Govan Mbeki.

As conceived, the position of national chairperson would be occupied by senior comrades such as Mbeki and Tambo so that they would have enough authority to address problems manifesting in the organisation.

We changed this in (then) Mafikeng in North West when we elected Mosiuoa Lekota as chairperson instead of Nelson Mandela. In the position of national chairperson, Mandela would have been able to mediate the early skirmishes between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. We might possibly have saved the movement from the cancerous factional battles currently devouring it.


After its unbanning, the ANC went on a massive recruitment campaign, but without initiation and guidance of new members through political education, and without evaluating each initiate’s suitability to be a member or occupy leadership positions in the branches and other levels of the movement.

A liberation movement worth its salt would not have made such an error.

Interestingly, this was not forgotten when it came to deployments to government positions, which suggests that failure to create a structure similar to the deployment committee to deal with the question of new members might have been a commission, rather than an omission.

If so, this would speak to the abandonment of ideological posture, where political education is reduced to the work of a subcommittee of the national executive committee, instead of the work of the entire movement, undertaken by members who have undergone the initiation process and those still being mentored.

The introduction of a political initiation is being suggested as one of the initiatives to address the subjective weaknesses tearing our organisation apart.

This initiating body should be composed of tried and tested cadres who should recruit to its ranks members of the ANC earmarked for intensive political education and ideological reorientation. These new recruits would become full members of the political initiation structure on completion of tasks tabulated in the training programme.

Chief among these tasks would be observing the code of conduct of members in relation to the following: their interaction with the whole movement and society at large, and their behaviour once deployed to leadership positions, particularly in government.

Leadership positions remain open to all ANC members. In fact, membership of the political underground should not entitle anyone to a position of leadership in the ANC or in government. Members of the political underground should earn leadership positions in the same way as any other member of the party.

The movement, as a whole, includes the ANC, the SA Communist Party, trade union federation Cosatu, the SA National Civic Organisation and other organs of the mass democratic body.

The code of conduct of the political initiation should prohibit its members from exposing such membership to those not recruited to join. Primary compliance should be determined by the observance of this rule.


This debate is as old as our democracy and it was occasioned by the situation in which the ANC became a liberation movement in government.

The perspective that won the day in the past was that, in order to have cohesion in all matters political and administrative, the president of the ANC had to be the head of the state, the chairperson of the province had to be the premier, and so on, cascading down.

Experience of the past 27 years has exposed the weakness of this system in giving too much power to individuals who became too big for the organisation.

We have witnessed with horror and dismay the ugly consequences of the concentration of power in individuals with very little internal accountability. Over time, it has become clear that we need to give serious thought to separating the position of president of the ANC from the position of president of the country. That is the option I prefer.

The system, without internal checks and balances, such as we have, has proven to be a total failure in terms of delivering on the goals of the national democratic revolution.

The country needs a strong ANC, able to rein in its members and deployees from doing as they wish in positions of leadership.

To build such a strong ANC, we need a strong team of full-timers at the headquarters, led by the president and the secretary-general.

Their job should be to reconstruct and redirect the ANC into the liberation movement it proclaims to be – ideologically, organisationally and in line with our revolutionary doctrines, ethos and discipline – to undo the damage visited on the movement when we allowed colonialism of a special type to reform us, instead of destroying it.

We need a new way, which is a movement distinct from the reformed and corrupt ANC, as represented by many of its leaders who fell prey to the poisonous venom injected by the ugly tentacles of colonialism of a special type that remains strong and robust.

We cannot renew the ANC in its current form. We must reconstruct it to restore its ability to eradicate apartheid social relations.

The observations made in my 2011 article remain relevant today. However, new developments have come to the fore that require serious attention.

Since then, the role of a transformed and independent judiciary, the chapter 9 institutions and elements of civil society have proven to be a bulwark against primitive accumulation methods adopted by some members of the ANC. These are the members who sought to join the ruling class of a colony of a special type, over which the ANC government is presiding.

The primitive accumulation that marks this colony found expression in piranha-like feeding on state resources at the expense of the victims of colonialism of a special type.

Ngoako Ramatlhodi is a member of the ANC Veterans League

City Press



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