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Upholding the Constitution of SA means putting National Democratic Revolution out to pasture


Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now.

The ANC appears to be sufficiently nervous to abandon the National Democratic Revolution and form an alliance of centrists with the DA. The DA would be ill-advised to cooperate with the ANC if the latter does not abandon the NDR.

Coalitions in politics, worldwide, can sometimes throw together the strangest of bedfellows. As a general rule, successful coalitions are built by political parties who are natural bedfellows. They tend to approach the issues of the day and the policy decisions required in a similar way, leading to stable governance and enhanced accountability.

A level of maturity in decision-making and a shared vision of the commonweal are needed for coalitions to survive. Neither is evident in our current politics.

In South Africa, an alliance consisting of the ANC, the SA Communist Party and trade union umbrella body Cosatu has dominated national politics for nearly 30 years.

The SACP chooses not to contest elections in its own name, preferring a cuckoo’s nest arrangement with the ANC, and Cosatu is not even registered as a political party. A proportion of ANC members of Parliament are drawn from the ranks of Cosatu office bearers and members. The alliance is dominated by the ANC.

The SACP and Cosatu toe the line drawn at Luthuli House because their members participate in drawing up the strategy and tactics, the policies and new laws favoured by the ANC. They may both be regarded as appendages to the ANC at election time as only the ANC fields candidates to face the voters.

The secretary general of the ANC has come to be regarded as the unofficial prime minister of South Africa. Because the president is both head of state and head of the national executive, we have no formal prime minister in the new SA. The tripartite alliance regards Luthuli House as the centre of power in SA. Those who serve in Parliament and on the national executive do so as “deployees” of Luthuli House and of the ANC itself.

Every five years a conference of the ANC is called to elect or re-elect its office bearers. Its highest decision-making body between elections is its National Executive Committee (NEC). Two presidents have been recalled by resolution of the NEC — Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and Jacob Zuma 10 years later in 2018. Both bowed meekly to party discipline, reflecting the pre-eminence of the NEC in the way in which the alliance is run. 

This contradicts the supremacy of the Constitution as enshrined in its first chapter.

When he gave evidence at the Zondo Commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa was at pains to explain the cascading nature of decision-making at Luthuli House, which he described as “democratic centralism” in the best of Marxist traditions. The notion does not feature in the national Constitution, which posits a multi-party democratic order under the rule of law in which governance that is open, accountable and responsive is supposed to prevail.

The commitment of the alliance, and also of its illegitimate step-child, the Economic Freedom Fighters, to the values and principles of the Constitution is questionable. All other political parties recognise the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

But it is the tenets of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) which get the loyal cadres of the alliance and the former ANC Youth League members of the EFF out of bed in the morning. In one sentence, the NDR is aimed at securing hegemonic control of the levers of power in society in SA. This aim is deeply and darkly at odds with the constitutional project envisaged by the Constitution.

Inherent human dignity, non-racialism and the promotion of the achievement of equality have all not done well in SA over the last 30 years. SA is the most unequal country in the world and is sometimes described as a failing or failed state.

As David Ansara, CEO of the Free Market Foundation, recently observed in a speech to the 1926 Club:

“Through ‘dexterity in tact and firmness in principle’ the NDR seeks by incremental stages to move South Africa away from capitalism towards socialism. To achieve this end… capital must be ‘disciplined’ and ‘directed’ by the ruling party.

The NDR has played out in several key policy domains, including:

  • Expropriation with compensation — insecure property rights is the death knell to any economy, let alone a highly fragmented society like South Africa;
  • Employment equity — which amounts to racial engineering by the state and effectively empowers the minister of labour to determine the composition of a company’s payroll;
  • National Health Insurance — public healthcare has fallen apart, and government believes the solution is to effectively nationalise private healthcare. I am pleased to note that Busi Mavuso of Business Leadership South Africa has come out strongly against this policy; and
  • Prescribed assets — government has staged a strategic retreat on this, but it will be back.”

As more and more voters tumble to the questionable nature of the endeavours and outcomes of the ANC-led alliance — as its corrupt nature and crooked aims become increasingly apparent — it is now predicted that the dominant status of the ANC in SA politics is on the wane and that it is conceivable, if not probable, that the share of the vote that the alliance is able to amass in the general elections in 2024 will be less than the magic 50% plus one seat in the National Assembly; seats needed to elect the next president of SA.

As the EFF is the only other significant political party that subscribes to the tenets of the NDR, it is the most natural coalition partner of the ANC-led alliance. It currently has only 44 members in the 400-seat National Assembly. 

All of the other opposition political parties represented in Parliament have embraced constitutionalism in preference to revolutionary dogma of the kind that has failed in the USSR and anywhere else where it has been tried.

A quick look at the “Google by night” satellite picture of the Korean peninsula, with the communists of the north in almost complete darkness and South Korea lit up like a Christmas tree, demonstrates the differences between the ideologies of a country that was wracked by civil war between 1950 and 1953 before being divided into the ideologically dissimilar north and south.

As it now seems likely that in the 2024 elections, no single party will be able to command the necessary 50% plus one, there is a jockeying for position — whether by pre-election pact or post-election coalition — in the ranks of the recognisable political parties that are at the top of the pile of over 1,500 registered political parties in SA.

There are currently only five political parties in SA that command 10 or more seats in the 400-seat National Assembly. They are the ANC 230, the DA 84, the EFF 44, the IFP 14 and the VF+ 10.

Due to the extreme nature of the Marxist-Leninism of the EFF and its questionable tactics in politics, a coalition between it and the ANC will bring problems of its own making. 

When the opposition warns that a vote for the ANC is a vote for the EFF, given their shared commitment to the NDR, it is likely to drive away voters from any coalition that the ANC and EFF may form after neither party prevails in the general election.

The EFF sees itself as a kingmaker and will exact a high price in terms of leadership positions from whomever it makes king. In all the talk of coalitions, the EFF maintains a low profile at present.

All of the other opposition parties, and some newcomers, too, principally ActionSA, are ideologically aligned and well placed to form a post-election coalition capable of leading the country away from the precipice to which it has been taken by the poor leadership and outdated ideology of the ANC.

It remains to be seen whether the voters of SA will be able to see the wood for the trees. The ANC appears to be sufficiently nervous to abandon the NDR and form an alliance of centrists with the DA. The DA would be ill-advised to cooperate with the ANC if the latter does not abandon the NDR.

The thought of the ANC abandoning its attachment to the outmoded ideals of the NDR is not a new one. 

As long ago as 2010, Prof Kader Asmal suggested that the NDR be abandoned. He was an author of the Constitution and a first draft of the Bill of Rights was pored over by Justice Albie Sachs in the kitchen of Asmal’s home in Dublin before liberation dawned.

Not all members of the ANC are attached to the NDR. 

Mathews Phosa, a former premier and treasurer-general of the ANC, is avowedly a capitalist, which is an indication that the ANC is a “broad church” irrespective of the notions of the NDR. 

Prof Roger Southall regards the NDR as “the theatre of the ANC”. Perhaps it is time for the curtain to come down in that theatre.

If all of the politicians who succeed in the next elections take their oath of office more seriously than has been the case in the past, SA has a brighter future to look forward to after 2024. The oath reads:

“I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all other laws of the Republic…”

Upholding the Constitution involves dropping the NDR. 

The more voters who recognise that, the better the prospects of the country and the more likely it will be that the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, as enshrined in Chapter One of the Constitution, will guide all in South Africa away from the precipice upon which it currently finds itself. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andy Miles says:

    Very insightful article. The key question this and other commentaries and exposes on the ANC policy and innerworkings is – is the ANC itself unconstitutional? I recently reread “Know your rights, claim your rights”. At face value it would seem the ANC does not comply to the requirements of the Constitution, but there is no practical way to “prove” this such that the organisation is forced to change. One can only speculate that if such a mechanism existed, then the part of the ANC that wants to follow the Constitution would split from the part that does not. Given the “pro Constitution ANC” and “anti Constitution ANC” must probably be close to equal in power- otherwise we would not have the mess we currently endure with Luthuli House running the country – then this split would see say 50% of the vote splitting 25/25%. Interestingly, this would make the “pro” and “anti” corruption ANC about same size as the DA. Perhaps this would result in a working democracy, not the sham we currently have masquerading as a democracy? Based on the hypothesis that the ANC is indeed unconstitutional the key issue seems to become proving it! If as much focus was given to implementing the Constitution, as is to the nonsense resulting from the ANC failing to implement it, SA would be in a much better place.

  • Peter Utting says:

    To what extent has the ruling party “healed the divisions of the past?” Or has it created unnecessary new divisions? Such questions need to be answered clearly and urgently.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    It would be interesting to know how many ANC MPs and office bearers are members of the SACP. The communist party may in fact be the covert rulers of the country. The fact that most South Africans don’t know much about communist values and beliefs leaves the country open to subversion. The ANC has virtually absented itself in Favour of huddling in party meetings. What are they plotting for us next?

  • Andre Du Toit says:

    The Communists have captured the ANC and have been running it for decades now. They realized early on that as a party the the SACP does not have much support in SA and would be floundering in the bottom of the trough. Their parasitic relationship with the ANC provides them with far greater leverage than they would have on their own. The SACP is also the driving force behind the NDR and the centralization of power in the hands of a selected (not chosen) few. They realized that a revolution of the Lenin/Marx/ Trotsky type would not have worked, hence using the democratic negotiation process in the lead up to 1994 placed them in control of the levers of power. Since then they have been hard at work to hollow out the constitution by things such as EWC, NHI, BEE and even AARTO to dis-empower the voting public. Every change that is being pushed through parliament is another step in taking SA closer to a version of 1916 Communism.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    While Paul should be commended for putting the possibility of a more centrist ANC and the DA going into an alliance (because that is the way that SA will be able to turn from the low road into a high road of more stability and high economic growth) and also recognises that the ANC may more be able to change than is generally recognized, he seems to make some assumptions that are just plainly not true. Firstly he falls off the bus in his understanding of the NHI; in fact if my understanding of the NHI is correct, unofficially all the government health institutions are going to be privatised while the private health practisioners and hospitals are going to keep operating as they have until now. The only difference is going to be the patients that will come to the private health practicioners and hospitals and the insurance companies to which they are going to send their claims too. Secondly he has a limited understanding of how political parties in the national assembly operate, or else he would not have been so enthusiastic about how committed they are to the SA Constitution. To mention just one example: political parties’ caucuses are forcing their representatives to vote according to the party line in a completely unconstitutional way. So yes, there are lots of lip-serving to the constitutional values, but in practice this is not the case. If the ANC & DA however forms a coalition, it may well be that that will be the change SA needs in this case too.

  • Bruce Anderson says:

    One must remember that it is our electoral systems shortcomings that are at fault here, it did not forsee that would be governed by thieves. A “valid” party would self correct and ineffective ministers would be moved on and replaced by someone deemed more competent. Not so with the ANC. A vote for the party is just that, not an individual. The person cannot be elected to parliament, they are selected from party lists. What was expected is not what we get. There may be a high profile person who is “the party” but, at the end of the day, he/she has no real powers. If the ANC wants to get real, they have to split the party before any election and campaign on their RET vs economic growth platforms.
    Neither side will win … and this is what they are afraid of… so they huddle and avoid rocking the boat while the country dies alongside them.
    We need to do everything to split the ANC it will mean co-elition party politics but it will be worth it, the majority in the country want a job, an education and a decent health system. Is it that hard?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    What this excellent analysis fails to acknowledge is that ‘politicians’ in general are not ‘philosophers’ who genuinely have the interests of ‘serving’ the community … but are driven by their personal ambitions and misguided values of ‘character’ ! How else would one explain the kind of ‘stupidity/vanity’ of the kind on display in the city of Johannesburg where a ‘no-hope’ individual has ‘ascended’ to become the ‘leader’ of the biggest city in the country ? Corruption in its many guises and variety is at the root of our (and many other countries) country’s problems ! Apologies to Paul for his ‘rational’ and encouraging discourse of our ‘system’.

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