The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) has recently been a topic of debate, with some arguing that it threatens the Constitution. One such argument comes from advocate Paul Hoffman, who suggests that separating the NDR from the Constitution could prevent potential disaster.
While Hoffman’s views are widely available online, it is important to approach them cautiously. Propaganda often repeats falsehoods to create the perception of truth, and this argument may be guilty of the same tactic.
Hoffman’s argument relies heavily on an appeal to authority, citing the views of the late Kader Asmal as evidence in favour of separating the NDR from the Constitution. It is telling that Hoffman fails to provide an actual quote from Asmal to support this claim. This omission is significant and raises questions about the validity of the argument.
This is a fatal flaw in his argument because the direct quote from Asmal shows up as Hoffman’s strawman.
Asmal’s response to Hoffman’s question about the relevance of the NDR is clear. He believes that the real revolution is supporting the Constitutional order, and the outdated notions of revolution are not only irrelevant but also give young people the wrong idea. Asmal does not think NDR is offensive or harmful, as Hoffman claims, Asmal thought the NDR is outdated. In his own words he does not suggest it is inimical to the Constitution, as Hoffman purports.
To quote Asmal, “I believe that the National Democratic Revolution is an outdated, outmoded description of our work in a democracy, because what’s the revolution for? The real revolution is support for the Constitutional order; that’s the revolution. The National Democratic Revolution was the decolonisation of South Africa. The important thing here is that we have not got over the old system of how we vote along racial lines and that is crucially an additional reason why the principles of the Constitution are very important as is a sense of a transcending constitutional state that has largely displaced the NDR and enjoys greater legitimacy.”
It is important to note that Hoffman’s understanding of the NDR suggests that it aims to secure hegemonic control of the levers of power in society in South Africa, which is problematic reasoning.
The NDR aims to build a South Africa that is free from discrimination. A South Africa that is democratic and prosperous. The path to achieving this vision is empowering the historically marginalised black majority in general, specifically Africans in particular. The principles outlined here differ starkly from those upheld by the apartheid regime.
The primary objective of the NDR is to transform South African society into one that no longer embodies the hallmarks of a specific type of colonialism. This transformation is characterised by the historical oppression of select races and genders, land expropriation, and a small group of white male oligarchs monopolising our mineral-industrial-complex economy.
Adopting the Constitution does not eliminate the dominant and oppressive grip of apartheid. Unfortunately, our society remains drastically divided along racial lines, with levels of inequality that are unmatched worldwide. Moreover, it is disheartening that poverty still disproportionately affects black African women.
As Pallo Jordan argues and points out, the liberation movement aims to unite all colonised individuals, transcending the boundaries of ethnicity, race, language, and culture. Rather than forcing assimilation into a singular entity, the movement embraced diversity as a strength instead of a cause for conflict. This is evident in South Africa’s national motto, “Unity in Diversity”.
Jordan notes that the ANC’s strategy is to unite diverse ethnic, racial, linguistic, and cultural groups under a common home territorially determined as their country.
D for Democracy
The principles of a democratic society that we aim for are clearly articulated in the foundational documents of the ANC, which include the African Claims, the Women’s Charter, the Freedom Charter, and the Strategy and Tactics document. These principles are also reflected in our nation’s Constitution.
R for Revolution
Prof Asmal took issue with one specific component of the NDR – the revolution. To this end, one sees a literal reading of the word revolution. The literal reading is misplaced. In the case of South Africa, the fundamental conflict at play is the struggle between national oppression and national liberation.
As such, the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) represents a gradual process of societal transformation aimed at achieving the objectives outlined in the preamble of our Constitution and various developmental plans over the years from the RDP – NDP to date.
Creating substantial change requires a systematic approach and unwavering determination. Collaboration across all sectors and levels is necessary to make a significant impact.
Our National Democratic Revolution programme identifies crucial objectives and domains of influence that will facilitate economic expansion, development, and fair distribution while promoting global transformation.
The NDR has indeed been linked to cadre deployment, which has unfortunately been misused in the past. Despite this, striving to transform the state bureaucracy strategically is important. The original design of the bureaucracy was meant to reinforce racism and patriarchy, but we must work towards imbuing it with the values of our Constitution.
To accomplish this, enlisting individuals with a particular skill set who can help us reimagine South Africa may be necessary. History has shown us that this is a challenging task, but it is not impossible.
It is important to note that the NDR cannot be used to justify appointments of people who lack the necessary skills or integrity to prosecute the mission of reconstructing South Africa. While maladministration and corruption are legitimate concerns, dismissing the NDR is not a viable solution.
Instead, it is crucial to ensure that the programme is implemented effectively and transparently, with a keen eye on rooting out any corruption or malfeasance. Only by doing so can we achieve the transformative change that the NDR seeks to bring about.
Hoffman draws attention to some important policies in his citation of the Free Market Foundation’s CEO. Let’s take a closer look at them briefly.
Expropriation without compensation:
As per Section 25(8) of the Constitution, the state can implement legislative and other measures to address land, water, and related reform without any hindrance from any provision of this section. The aim is to rectify the impact of past racial discrimination, provided that any deviation from the provisions of this section is in line with section 36(1).
According to the opinion piece below by advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and advocate Michael Bishop, this section allows property expropriation without compensation. This suggests that the ANC’s land reform policy complies with the Constitution.
National Health Insurance:
Section 27(1)(a) of the Constitution enshrines the right for EVERYONE to have access to healthcare and puts an onus on the state to take legislative and other measures to ensure this right is fulfilled. Currently, the state spends the same amount of money servicing 84% of the country’s population as the private sector spends servicing the remaining 16%. This is grossly unequal and contributes to the problems in our healthcare system. The NHI seeks to provide more equal access to those who use state facilities by bridging the gap between the private and public healthcare systems. Again, this is fundamentally constitutional in its nature.
Employment Equity and Broad Based Economic Empowerment:
As per Section 39 of the Constitution, there are certain guidelines that must be followed when interpreting it. Regrettably, the South African economy still bears the marks of structural racial inequality, which directly contradicts the Constitution’s fundamental principle of equality. While all South Africans have a right to be treated equally, not all are fortunate enough to be born under the same circumstances.
Due to the country’s history, significant economic and opportunity disparities exist based on race, with many black individuals not enjoying the same opportunities as their fellow citizens and, therefore, not enjoying true equality.
In order to promote equality and fairness for all, the BBBEE (Employment Equity) policy was created to answer the question of substantive equality. However, there have been unfounded accusations that this policy discriminates against certain groups, like those of Indian or coloured descent. It is important to address these accusations promptly and clearly state that the policy’s objective is to promote equality, not impede it.
It is worth noting that Hoffman overlooks the social and economic obstacles confronting our society, a predictable outcome, nonetheless. On the other hand, the ANC has made tangible progress towards addressing these concerns through its policies and initiatives.
The NDR offers a comprehensive approach to transforming our society, with the economic liberation of the underprivileged and marginalised being a cornerstone of this vision.
Sadly, the economy remains in the hands of a select few white individuals, and the ANC looks to remedy this by implementing pragmatic state-led interventions.
Despite a recent dip in electoral support, the ANC remains the most legitimate means of bringing about social and economic change in our country. The ANC recognises the challenges ahead as we approach the next election; however, securing an absolute majority in 2024 has never been more crucial, as the goal of the NDR, a national democratic society, is on the line. DM
Chrispin Phiri writes in his personal capacity.