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50th National Conference: Report of the Secretary General

17 December 1997, Mafikeng


1: Introduction

When the African National Congress last held a gathering of this size and significance, in Bloemfontein in December 1994, it did so as an organisation which had just scored a massive electoral victory and had newly entered government with a compelling mandate for transformation.

It was an organisation which had just begun to grapple with the responsibility of governing, and the realities of a new democratic South Africa.

At that Conference the ANC confounded many of its critics, who predicted that the unity which had so long characterised the organisation would not be able to withstand the pressures of government. Far from causing a schism in the organisation, the frank discussion and self-criticism of the Bloemfontein Conference served to strengthen the organisation and its commitment to democratic transformation across the length and the breadth of South Africa.

The ANC emerged from that Conference with a far keener understanding of its historical mission. It had defined in some detail the key tasks ahead of it - to deepen democracy, deracialise South African society, eradicate sexism, unify and build the nation, and improve the quality of life for all South Africans, particularly the poor.

The ANC`s cadreship emerged from the Conference revitalised, enthused and empowered to implement the strategic tasks of the movement. The leadership too received from the Conference a powerful mandate to lead the organisation and society more broadly.

For all this, the organisation did not underestimate the extent of the challenges facing the movement. The Conference was acutely aware of the legacy of 300 years of colonialism and apartheid; and the extreme poverty and inequality which characterised South African society.

The Conference was wary also of the temptation to pursue a populist agenda which would respond to many of the country`s most immediate needs, but which would ultimately prove neither sustainable nor workable. It was conscious of the need to implement transformation and effect delivery within a comprehensive and progressive policy framework.

To this end, the Conference laid the basis for the many remarkable achievements which the ANC has notched up at all levels of government.

But it was too early for an in-depth evaluation of what we had inherited, or of the suitability of our policies. This, our 50th National Conference, must be an opportunity to frankly assess what we have inherited, what we have done to change it, what the obstacles are and how to overcome them.

The 49th National Conference in Bloemfontein was historic, not only as a celebration of the movement`s remarkable electoral victory, but as an event which would chart the direction of South Africas first three years of democracy.

It is incumbent on all of us gathered here in Mafikeng to invest this, the 50th National Conference, with similar historical significance.

We need to seize this opportunity to assess critically and honestly the implementation of the strategic vision and resolutions of the Bloemfontein Conference. It is an opportunity to analyse the prevailing conditions in the country and the world - to identify our strategic priorities, to assess the balance of forces and to examine the ANC`s organisational strength and capacity.

Above all though, this Conference affords the democratic movement the opportunity to set the strategic objectives and define a programme for transformation which will take not only this movement - but the entire country - into the next century.