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50th National Conference: Closing statement by ANC President Thabo Mbeki

20 December 1997, Mafikeng


Members of the National Executive Committee and ANC delegates to Conference,

Comrades, leaders and delegates of the Women`s and Youth Leagues, the South
African Communist Party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the South
African National Civic Organisation and other organisations of the mass
Democratic movement,

Delegates from the foreign fraternal parties and organisations,

Distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic corps and ladies and gentlemen
of the media:

We are nearing the close of this important 50th National Conference of our
organisation, the African National Congress.

As we disperse from this Capital of the North-West Province and begin our
Christmas and Near Year holidays, we must carry with us the messages important
to the preservation of life and limb - "Arrive ALive!", and
"Dont`t drink and drive!".

Whatever our destination in the country, we must continue to spread these
messages by word and deed, to reduce the unacceptable wastage of human life
caused by carelessness on our roads on the part of both motorists and

I would also like to thank our foreign guests for joining us during this week
of our Conference. Your interest in the future of our organisation and people is
a source of great strength to all of us.

As you will see from the President`s and the Secretary General`s Reports, our
document on Strategy and Tactics and the resolutions we have adopted, we
continue to pay close attention to international questions.

This affirms the internalionalist traditions of our movement, and its
commitment to the practice of international solidarity in pursuit of the common
objective of building a better world of freedom, peace and development for all.

We are pleased and honoured that we have you as our allies and friends and
undertake that we will not betray the trust and confidence you have in us and
our people.

We wish you "Bon voyage!" as you return to your own homes.

I would also like to thank our own compatriots, both representatives of
organisations and personalities, who also responded to our invitation and
attended our Conference as observers.

I would also like to thank the South African and foreign representatives of
the media who have spent this week with us. I believe this to be true that no
ANC Conference before has been as widely reported as this one, thanks to the
amount of work that the media representatives have put into the effort.

At the same time, we would like to apologise for any problems you might have
experienced which constituted an obstacle to your work or made your stay in
Mafikeng uncomfortable.

We must also thank all the people who worked behind the scenes to enable us
to do our work as effectively as possible. Among these are the comrades who
worked in the Operations Room, the medical staff, members of the SAPS, the
caterers, the operators of the public address system and many others.

To all of them, we convey our heartfelt thanks.

As we arrived in Mafikeng, the air was thick with predictions of terrible
conflicts that would break out among ourselves.

According to these predictions, we would tear ourselves apart in an intense
contest for leadership positions driven by deep-seated divisions with the ANC
and our movement as a whole.

We would emerge from Conference seriously harmed as a result of an open war
that would break out around such issues as the so-called "delivery"
and our economic policy, especially GEAR.

Of course, none of this has happened.

Instead, what we had convened in Mafikeng to do has happened.

We met here to review the last three years since our last Conference.
Accordingly, we had to look at policy matters, to judge whether such policies as
we had formulated and had been implementing were correct, to assess what changes
needed to be made and what gaps to be filled.

We gathered here to reflect on whether we had, in our practical behaviour,
remained true to our objective of serving the interests of the people by
unreservedly pursuing the goal of a better life for all.

We met to assess our state of organisation - to see whether we were a fit
instrument to discharge the responsibility of leading our country as it goes
through the difficult process of social transformation.

And having made the assessment and criticised ourselves where necessary, we
would then decide on the corrective measures that would need to be taken, point
the way forward on our continuing march of liberation and elect a leadership we
would be confident would discharge the mandate that Conference would evolve.

All this has happened, and in an atmosphere marked by a strong spirit of
comradeship, common purpose and frank, honest and uninhibited discussion,
without any suggestion whatsoever that any of the delegates feared to express
their views for fear of victimisation.

The bitter civil war which some predicted with such great enthusiasm and
apparent conviction proved to be nothing more than a mountain of wishes of those
who pray perpetually that our movement should be engulfed by an ill-wind.

At the end of our Conference, we have agreed without dissent that - the
struggle continues and victory is certain!

We have agreed that the objective to transform South Africa into a
non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous democracy has not yet been achieved.

As we discussed the intricacies of many policy positions, we were moved by
the vision of the many millions in our country who are poor and destitute - the
unemployed, the homeless, the landless, those who, despite our ruly heroic
efforts over the last three years, still have no access to clean water, to
health care, to decent classrooms, to ordinary food.

As we debated the various options, we were haunted by the reality of the
scourge of rape, the battering of women and the abuse of children.

As we spoke and sang we kept in full view the major challenge of crime which,
by subtracting from the safety and security of all our citizens, contributes to
the denial of human dignity to each and everyone of us.

As we deliberated, we were fully conscious of the fact that ours remains a
society that is racially divided and marked, still, by tension and mistrust.

We kept this in mind too that the lives of millions of fellow Africans in
some parts of our continent continue to be threatened by ongoing military
conflicts, that the aspirations of the peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara and
East Timor had not yet been fulfilled and that we were among millions of people
across the globe who daily suffer from the curse of poverty.

We kept these matters in sight because we are the ANC!

We are the ANC because we are committed to the eradication of poverty and can
never say our work is done while with our own eyes we see the suffering of the
rural masses and the blight of the squatter camps that surround our towns and

We are the ANC because we are sworn enemies of the crimes that are being
committed against women and children by people who are little more than animals.

We are the ANC because we are moved by the suffering of other people anywhere
on our globe and cannot stand still and quiet when our voice might do something
to alleviate that suffering.

Accordingly, we have taken decisions on these and other matters and given the
necessary instruction that our newly elected National Executive Committee must
ensure that these decisions are carried out.

Accordingly, we have confirmed the major policy positions of our organisation
and movement, including those that relate to the economy, meeting the social
needs of the people, peace and stability, governance and international affairs.

We have also looked at ourselves, at the Alliance and the rest of the
democratic movement and taken the necessary decisions to address the weaknesses
and challenges identified by Comrade President Nelson Mandela in the Political
Report he presented to Conference.

What all these decisions mean is that:

  • we must transform the machinery of state as speedily as possible to ensure
    that this becomes an instrument that serves the interests of the people;
  • we must continue to pursue the objectives of high and sustained economic
    growth and development to achieve a visible improvement in the standard of
    living of our people, with special emphasis on the poor;
  • we must continue the struggle to devote greater and greater amounts of
    public resources to the goal of meeting the social needs of the people;
  • we must engage all our structures directly in the fight against crime,
    including the abuse of women and children, and ensure that we mobilise the
    masses of the people to take up this war as well as the war against
  • we must continue to reach out across the globe to build a movement of
    solidarity in favour of freedom, peace, development and the eradication of
    poverty and backwardness.

I would like to congratulate all the comrades who have been elected into our
National Executive Committee.

This I can say without fear of contradiction that you have elected a
formidable team that is without equal in this country in terms of its
experience, its clarity of vision, its willingness to sacrifice, its commitment
to the people`s cause and its acceptance as their leaders by millions of our

I salute the delegates for the great maturity and loyalty to the traditions
of our movement with which you approached the matter of the renewal of our

On behalf of this Executive, I pledge to you, dear comrades, that we will do
everything in our power not to disappoint you.

I would also like to pay tribute to you for the great work you have done, not
only to maintain the unity of the movement but further to deepen and entrench
that unity. To say, merely, that we emerge from Conference more united than
ever, is to understate the principled cohesion which binds all of us together.

All of us who have been here this week have been privileged to participate in
the Conference as delegates.

We came here thanks to the confidence that our comrades in our branches have
in us.

But I want to emphasise that that confidence in you is shared by millions of
other people who are not members of our organisation. It is these millions who
elected your organisation to govern our country at national, provincial and
local levels.

These millions expect you to keep in touch with them, to report on what we
are doing to change their lives for the better and to listen to their views as
to what next they want to be done.

They expect of you that you should be honest and dedicated soldiers for their
total emancipation.

They expect that you will go out among them to mobilise them so that we
emerge out of the 1999 elections with a resounding victory.

You are the ANC and your only purpose therefore is to serve the people of
South Africa.

Once more, many thanks Madiba, for who you are, for what you are, for what
you have done for us and for our people.

The happiness of your people will be your reward, the loyalty of the members
to the traditions of your movement, your pride.

We dare not and will not fail!