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The National Consultative Conference – it’s all about strategic anticipation


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

If the ANC continues to ignore the declarations from the National Consultative Conference, the people will express themselves in the 2019 general election.

Attending the National Consultative Conference (NCC) last week, I was struck by the calibre of cadres among the ANC veterans and stalwarts. The ANC as a liberation movement certainly succeeded in producing some of the greatest cadres and intellectuals this country has ever seen. The same cannot be said of the current crop of leaders in the ANC NEC and in some of our provinces.

This conference is nothing short of an attempted salvage operation where a distress call had been detected, coming from the high seas of politics. Veterans and stalwarts kicked into gear, gathering all the necessary equipment – safety clothing, tools and other necessities – that might be required once contact on the high seas was made. The operation got under way on Friday and it is believed that contact should be made with the wreckage this week. Now, when they get to the wreckage site and considering the rough seas and the difficulty of the salvage operation, it is up to those imperilled to accept assistance. They can of course say “we do not need help”, that the distress signal received was a false one and that all is in fact well on board their vessel.

In such a scenario, the salvage operation must be called off and the brave men and women who came to help must go back to the drawing board. For a new plan will have to be hatched as to how best to help a victim that refuses to admit and/or see that he is indeed in trouble.

Njabulo Ndebele as usual was on fire, delivering the keynote address at the start of the conference on Friday. He did not waste too much time on the nature and extent of the crisis but gave the conference a succinct analysis of it, suggesting that in its history the ANC has always been able to apply its “tools of analysis” and to strategically anticipate particular outcomes and agree on the appropriate measures to deal with them effectively.

He makes the example of the time the ANC got banned by the apartheid regime in 1960 and how the leadership at the time strategically anticipated such a move and hence requested OR Tambo to establish an external mission of the ANC, which of course proved correct. Another example is the fact that though the four-pillar strategy of the ANC worked perfectly well during the ‘70s and ‘80s – these being international isolation, mass mobilisation, underground activities and armed struggle – a strategic anticipation again was made for the possibility of negotiations with the enemy towards the late 1980s. This too turned out to be a correct anticipation.

Why then, Njabulo asked, can the current leaders not strategically anticipate the demise of the ANC if it continues on the current destructive trajectory. The “current trajectory” being an ANC-led government losing legitimacy in the eyes of the people, State Capture engulfing the body politic at all levels, especially the executive branch of government, corruption becoming the order of the day again at all levels of our government – and the list goes on.

In short, he was wondering what has happened to the leadership which clearly cannot apply the “tools of analysis” in order to strategically anticipate such an eventuality? That there may come a time when no political party appeals to the general voters and that an alternative choice will have to emerge for them, the people.

The imperilled who think they do not require assistance have as yet not realised that they have already some time back struck the iceberg and that the lower two levels of the ship are already flooded. But alas, the ship will go down with its captain at the helm, as it should be.

As for the rescuers, they will need to decide whether the time has come to consider offering the people an alternative ANC or not.

President Thabo Mbeki reminded us, in his tribute to OR Tambo, about the various crises faced by the ANC in both the 1940s and the 1960s, when Tambo played a decisive role in correcting the trajectory of the ANC which was losing its way at the time. This coincided with the formation of the ANC Youth League which challenged the then leadership and shocked it out of its slumber. Again in the 1960s, when the ANC was banned, the years following the banning left the ANC confused and in a dire state with no clear programme of action of how to advance the struggle against the apartheid regime. Tambo and the then leadership again had to apply their combined wisdom and seek advice from other quarters of the world in order to correct the trajectory the ANC was on. And so, at varying times in the history of the ANC, they had to meet and take stock of its own chosen programme of action.

It happened in Morogoro in 1969, then again in Kabwe in 1985 and after the breakthrough in 1990 they convened again at the now famous conference for a democratic South Africa (Codesa) in 1991. The veterans and stalwarts argue that such a time has again arrived, hence the consultative conference at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, in 2017.

I hear some of you asking, what is the point? It’s not as if the ANC will be listening or for that matter take any of their (NCC) recommendations to heart. Perhaps not.

The point, I think, however, is the same as most of the protest actions we have observed over the last few months by the citizenry of Mzansi. The NCC is no different in making a clear public point about the dissatisfaction the veterans and stalwarts are having in their current leadership within the ANC. One difference though is that a good number of the delegates to the NCC will most likely also be delegates to the December elective conference and the declaration of the NCC certainly will find expression in branches of the ANC as they prepare to go to the elective conference. The ANC can take it whichever way they want, but one thing is certain: the veterans and stalwarts want to be on the right side of history.

There is wreckage, and a salvage operation is required, whether they see it or not, and in the absence of accepting any help from all quarters, they (the ANC) will have to accept the consequences.

Now, let me warn some of you, those who do not agree with the NCC will brandish it as a mouthpiece of white monopoly capital. They will say it is a gathering of the wounded (those comrades that have been marginalised and have not been accommodated in the ANC nor the government). Some will go as far as to suggest that this was a gathering of Mbeki(ites), referring to those who supported President Mbeki during his reign as the head of state and who did not agree with his unceremonious departure from high office.

Nothing can be further from the truth. I observed at the NCC cadres young and old who were at pains to first admit that their glorious movement has lost its way, but second, wanting to ensure self-correction takes place before it’s too late.

For if this ANC continues without taking seriously the declaration of the NCC, the people will express themselves accordingly in the 2019 general election. Already we have seen the power of the vote when the ANC lost three of the major metros in the local government election in 2016.

The crisis in the ANC has caused a crisis in the country, no one can deny this, and this is what the veterans are saying. They have endeavoured to define the problem and the depth thereof and have as a result asked, what must be done?

It was Vladimir Lenin who asked a similar question – what is to be done – and it was he who also said, there comes a time when one must take two steps back in order to take one step forward. I suppose he meant that taking stock of challenges and correcting those is a necessary step in order to move forward no matter how slowly.

The ANC had best take heed of these concerns and take on board the recommendations from the conference – for not doing so would be a choice made at their own peril. DM


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