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50th National Conference: Report of the Secretary General

17 December 1997, Mafikeng

3: State of Organisation

There can be little doubt that the ANC has made significant progress since the December 1994 National Conference in the democratic transformation of South Africa.

Nor can there be any doubt that the pace and extent of that transformation has been and continues to be directly related to the strength and cohesion of the ANC as an organisation.

The ANC, together with the broader democratic movement, remains the chief driving force for democratic change in this country. It follows therefore that the state of the organisation has a direct bearing on the entire transformation process.

We have witnessed over the last three years ample examples to illustrate and underscore this point. Where the structures of the ANC have been weak or in disarray, its capacity to effect transformation has been limited.

In the interests therefore of the broad strategic objectives of the ANC, it is necessary to examine in some detail and quite critically the state of the organisation over the past three years, and identify the areas where improvement is required and where development is possible.


At the 49th National Conference in December 1994, the organisation was just beginning to get a sense of the implications for our structures of the new democratic dispensation. At that Conference, the organisation not only celebrated the momentous breakthrough achieved with the democratic elections in April of that year, but also took stock of the challenges which this change posed for the structures of the movement.

New phase of struggle

While the 1994 National Conference recognised that the struggle had entered a new and fundamentally different phase, it has taken the organisation some time to determine how to operate within this new context.

Though the new democratic order has created opportunities for the organisation that were barely considered possible five years ago, it has presented challenges for which many of the established organisational practices and strategies seem inadequate.

Responsibility of governing

Key among these challenges are those which arise from the responsibility of governing. While the ANC, from its inception, has always taken responsibility for the political, economic and social future of the country, it is only since 1994 that it has had the opportunity to exercise that responsibility through government.

Achieving peace and maintaining stability

In as much as the relative peacefulness of the country`s first democratic election secured the success of the transition to constitutional democracy, the ANC was always aware that its capacity to maintain stability in the period immediately after the election would ultimately determine the extent to which a more thoroughgoing transformation of society could proceed.

The organisation, both inside government and without, was therefore called upon to limit as much as possible the scope for counter-revolutionary forces to mobilise against the new democracy. The integration and re-organisation of the security forces, in particular, was a priority area. Lingering political violence was systematically addressed, and outstanding constitutional matters were resolved.

Policy implementation

The entrance of the ANC into government meant that the policies which had long formed the basis of the democratic South African vision would now have an opportunity to be implemented.

This posed numerous challenges. Not least of these was the challenge of ensuring that the institutions and mechanisms of governance were adequately equipped to implement these policies. Given the fragmentation of the public service under apartheid, the extreme bias towards serving the interests of the white minority and the culture of corruption which pervaded the entire civil service, this has proved a significant challenge - one which continues to test the organisation.

At the same it has been necessary to ensure that the legislative and executive structures to which ANC representatives were elected had the capacity to translate policy into legislation, and legislation into delivery.

Deployment of cadreship

The deployment of the organisations cadres to parliament, provincial legislatures and local government structures drew heavily on the organisations human resources, but was considered necessary to properly capacitate these key instruments of transformation. In addition, the cadres of the movement were also being called upon to assume positions in other key centres of power including the public sector, security services and diplomatic corps.

The organisation failed to ensure a balance between deployment into government and deployment into organisational structures. This has obviously had a profound effect on the capacity of the movements leadership cadres to engage in building the organisation and participating actively in its constitutional structures. It has also had broad implications for the ANC`s capacity to co-ordinate and interact with its cadres deployed across a variety of sectors.

The ANC urgently needs to develop a deployment strategy for its cadres, as we have many cadres with much experience. A successful deployment strategy will greatly enhance the transformation process.

Maintaining cohesion

This broad deployment of cadres has made it more difficult than before to maintain the cohesion and unity of the organisation. It has fuelled the tendency to compartmentalise the activities of ANC cadres, and to differentiate unnecessarily between the various elements of the broad transformation programme.

International responsibility

The ANC`s responsibilities have not been confined to South Africa. With the dawn of a democratic South Africa, the potential for the integrated development of the southern African region has increased.

The refusal of our neighbouring countries to collaborate with the apartheid regime had led to large-scale aggression from the apartheid regime which brought about large-scale devastation in their respective countries. South Africa therefore has a moral responsibility to play a key role in the development of the region, and the development of the African continent more broadly.

South Africa also has an important role to play in the broader international arena. Together with other developing countries and progressive forces, South Africa has the responsibility to play a significant part in the achievement of a more equitable and just world order. South Africa and the ANC are called upon to support democratic forces throughout the world, especially in countries where there is no democracy.

This requires from the organisation at all levels a more holistic conception of international affairs, ongoing discussion and debate on the shape of a new world order and a definition of our responsibilities in this regard.

Resource constraints

As anticipated, the level of external funding available to the organisation has diminished as the country`s political environment has normalised. It is likely that it will diminish further after the 1999 elections. The effect of these resource constraints have been noticeable to the point where the organisation had to cut back on its full-time staff by almost a third and embark on other cost cutting measures.

The lack of resources has also been felt at the level of campaigns, with many provinces reporting this as a contributing factor to local inertia.

Apart from cost cutting measures, we have to become financially self-sufficient. Fundraising needs to become part of our programmatic work.

At the same time elements of the organisation have had to be restructured to meet new challenges and realities related to governance, changes in the functions of the ANC and the reduced numbers of leadership available for full-time ANC work. This restructuring has involved the establishment of NEC Committees and the reorganisation of headquarters departments under the offices of the Presidency, Secretary General`s Office and Treasurer General`s Office.


Within these changed conditions, the ANC has had to execute the democratic struggle with as much vigour and determination as before. The changes that are being witnessed throughout the country : the houses that are being built, the children that are being immunised, are all indications that the movement has been able to respond to some of the most important challenges it has faced.

Though analyses of the organisation tend to focus on the deficiencies, there are a number of organisational strengths which need to be acknowledged.

Moral and political objectives are still valid

The ANC continues to pursue a political and social objective whose moral and material validity cannot be faulted. No political formation outside of the ANC-led democratic movement has been able to develop a vision, never mind a programme, which could be equated with or surpass that of the ANC.

It is a vision which continues to find resonance not only among the people of South Africa, but among the peoples of the world. Whatever problems we might identify in the pursuit of that vision, the ANC remains unflinchingly committed to the strategic objective of the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.

Broad mass-based movement

The ANC continues to be a broad mass-based movement drawing both its membership and its support from across a wide spectrum of groups from different class, race and ideological backgrounds. The ANC is a truly national organisation, with substantial support to be found in all corners of the country.

Through the orientation of its programmes and through its organisational approach, the ANC has built its mass-based character achieving the support and participation of the masses not through irresponsible populism, but through a sincere demonstration of its commitment to the needs and interests of the people.

Continued mass support

The local government elections outcome, supported by subsequent surveys, have served to confirm what is evident through the ANC`s campaigns and programmes: that it continues to enjoy the support and commitment of the vast majority of South Africans.

It is certainly not uncritical support though. Rather it is support grounded in an appreciation of the objective constraints facing the transformation effort. It is support which is conditional upon the ANC`s willingness and ability to engage with these constraints in a manner which furthers the democratic revolution. The ANC values the fact that our members and supporters do not see any contradiction between their loyalty and their ability to critically evaluate what their organisation is doing.

Functioning structures

At a time when many progressive organisations, both within South Africa and internationally, are facing organisational decay or even collapse, the ANC needs to count among its strengths the fact that it has properly constituted organisational structures and that the vast majority of them they are functioning effectively.

The National Executive Committee and National Working Committee have each managed to meet regularly and give direction to the organisation. These structures are building capacity to provide an interface between different components of the ANC.

The process of demarcating the organisation into nine provinces had been completed by the last National Conference. Provincial Conferences have subsequently been held successfully in all provinces, with only the Free State requiring national intervention to ensure that it happened.

All regions have now been launched, though they are functioning unevenly. In line with decisions of the 1991 and 1994 Conferences, most ANC human and material resources are based in regions. More than 100 regional offices are in operation, employing over 100 organisers and administrators. All nine Provincial Executive Committees have been functioning, as have most regional executives.

The great majority of the ANC`s more than 1,000 fully-fledged branches continue to function, hold AGMs and recruit members. New branches are being launched regularly. Conference needs to look at how branches can be better geared to interact with, and make an impact on, local government.

Capable leadership

The ANC has always been noteworthy for the calibre and capacity of leadership that it has been able to develop at all the levels of the organisation. The strength and depth of leadership has been ably demonstrated since the ANC`s entry into government; showing great ability to adapt to new circumstances and responsibilities.

It is an organisation which encourages all members to exercise leadership, to give direction to the organisation and to take responsibility for its programmes and activities.

Tripartite Alliance

The Tripartite Alliance is one of the great strengths of the movement. Despite media speculation over several years about the imminent demise of the Alliance, it continues to be pivotal to the democratic transformation of this country.

Far from rendering the Alliance obsolete, the new democratic order has underlined quite forcibly the need for the Alliance to be strengthened and deepened. This is particularly so at regional and local level, where joint programmes for local development are sorely needed.

The functioning of the Alliance needs fine tuning. We have not adapted our co-ordination adequately to take into account the new political situation where the ANC is leading government. Alliance Summits have done much to begin the process of providing direction on this issue.


Anyone who has observed the functioning of the organisation over the past three years will have to concede that there are a number of areas in which the ANC has been deficient. Some of these areas of deficiency are the direct result of the changed conditions the organisation finds itself in. Most, however, are the result of the organisation`s inability to respond adequately to new challenges and circumstances.

Lack of cadre development

The development of the ANC cadre is one area where the organisation must respond more effectively. The deployment of large numbers of experienced and skilled cadres to government and other areas has diminished the contribution they have been able to make to the induction, political education and training of new recruits and new leaders.

At all levels of the organisation there has been a lack of focus on the importance of actively and consciously developing the human resources of the movement. As a consequence many comrades have felt ill-equipped to confront some of the challenges facing the movement or to engage in any meaningful programmes.

This is compounded by the relative newness to the organisation of a large number of ANC members most joined after 1990, while a large number joined after 1994. Although this is a welcome indication of the organisation`s capacity for regeneration, it is important to acknowledge that, unlike the preceding three decades, the vast majority of ANC members have not gone through rigorous training or extensive experience of working in ANC structures.

The Department of Political Education has started some sterling work training leadership of the organisation at all levels, as well as full-time staff. The focus has been on political skills as well as on technical, management and work-related skills for staff and leadership. The department should also be commended for publishing "Umrabulo" as a place where ANC members can debate topical issues.

Problems of discipline and accountability

Partly as a result of the lack of proper cadre development, the organisation has faced problems of poor discipline. Without the political and organisational tools generally required by ANC cadres, some comrades have flouted the democratic principles and practices of the organisation.

Discipline, in this sense, does not merely refer to abiding by the organisation`s code of conduct, it also refers more broadly to the organisational discipline of mandate, report-back and accountability. It refers to the active participation of all cadres in the development, implementation and assessment of programmes.

Lack of co-ordination and communication

This situation has not been aided at all by the lack of proper coordination among the structures of the movement. Communication between different levels of the organisation has been particularly weak. The result of this is that parts of the ANC have often been out of step with each other. Branch activists have not been able to comprehend decisions taken at national or provincial level, while national leaders have on occasions been taken by surprise by actions of provinces or branches.

This has manifested itself in a number of situations over the past three years which were often used by the media and other detractors to suggest the organisation`s leadership is detached from the activists on the ground.

While it would be incorrect to accept the simplistic explanations of these commentators, the ANC needs to acknowledge that the lack of adequate communication, together with problems of cadre development, has created unnecessary tension and hindered the implementation of the organisation`s programme.

Relations between public representatives and constitutional structures

Another area of weakness has been the relations between ANC cadres deployed as public representatives and the constitutional structures of the movement.

While there is general acceptance of the primacy of constitutional structures, different understandings have arisen around the processes of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

This problem ranges in severity from a lack of proper strategising and occasional miscommunication between structures right through to open and violent conflict between elected public representatives and the movement`s constitutional structures.

This problem has emerged most acutely at a local government level where proper accountability and consultation has in some instances been forced aside by personal differences and bitter power struggles.

The ANC`s effectiveness in furthering the democratic transformation of this country relies to a great extent on the satisfactory resolution of this problem.

A solution has to lie in:

  • ensuring that we elect capable people who we trust to take forward our mandate and who are capable of managing governance on a day-to-day basis;
  • establishing proper coordination mechanisms;
  • demarcating clear levels of responsibility and decision-making, which includes giving mandates to our representatives in the various spheres of government to enable them to make appropriate decisions.

Competition for positions

The competition within the organisation for positions in government has added a new dimension to the contestation of ANC leadership positions. Election to an ANC leadership position is viewed by some as a stepping stone to positions of power and material reward within government.

While such views might be inevitable, we need to ensure that personal ambition is sufficiently tempered by the needs of the organisation and the demands of the national democratic revolution. The organisation needs to develop mechanisms which will ensure that the contestation of leadership positions does not divide the organisation and does not detract from the key programmes of the movement.

Representation of women

The ANC has not made much progress over the last three years in ensuring a greater representation of women in the structures of the movement. While important efforts have been made to ensure a significant representation of women among the ANC`s elected representatives in government, this has not translated into the constitutional structures of the organisation itself.

As a movement we have done very little, if anything, to support the few women whom we have placed in senior positions in their additional roles as primary caregivers in their families.

Broader than mere representation, the culture of the organisation needs to be critically reviewed to establish the extent to which it provides an environment which is conducive to greater participation by women.

Geographic Spread

Representation of all our provinces in our structures throughout the organisation is still unsatisfactory. The only presence from most of our provinces on the NEC is through the ex-officio representation of their Chairperson and Secretary. This means that the same anomaly is carried through into NEC Committees, the NWC and other critical structures.

This means that our structures take decisions without the benefit of knowledge of the peculiarities of vast parts of our country. It also contributes to the lack of sensitivity to problems in provinces. Given the history of our country, this also means that certain cultural and ethnic communities feel that they are not adequately represented in our senior structures.

Programmatic approach to the Alliance

While the Alliance has been crucial to maintaining the momentum of change in South Africa, it must be noted that the ANC has not developed a coherent approach to the Alliance under the new circumstances. A major failing has been the inability of the Alliance to develop joint programmes.

At a national level we have seen some improvements through the functioning of the Alliance Secretariat and the pre-planning of Alliance Summits for the year.

Policy formulation and implementation has been the area of greatest contention within the Alliance. We need to define the role of Alliance partners in one another`s policy processes and how we handle areas where differences arise.

The functioning of the Alliance at provincial level is uneven, but most provinces have satisfactory mechanisms. This, unfortunately, is not the case at local level where conflicts have arisen.

Relations with Sanco

Our relations with Sanco also needs clarification and work. At national and provincial levels we have managed to deal with issues and problems as they arise, but serious problems have emerged at local level. A major problem is the lack of clarity about what the different roles of ANC branches and Sanco branches are.

Broad progressive movement

Active participation of all South Africans in the transformation of their lives and our society remains a critical part of the ANC`s strategy for transformation. A strong and vibrant civil society is therefore critical.

We have had sporadic interactions with some sectors. Some sectors participate actively in our national sectoral co-ordinating forums, but we need to be critical of our lack of a consistent programme to interact with and to draw on the wisdom of organised formations of our people.

We have to assume co-responsibility for the unsatisfactory role which many progressive organisations are playing in this period. For very understandable reasons our capacity for regular interaction has been very limited, but the consequent lack of information, lack of leadership have given rise to the unsatisfactory relationships which exist between ourselves and these organisations whose obvious political home is with the ANC

We must develop a programmatic way of interacting with progressive forces at national, provincial and local levels.

Progressive NGO sector

We have seen a proliferation of reactionary, very well resourced Non-Governmental Organisations of late. These NGOs have moved into the new democratic spaces with much vigour, dominating Parliamentary hearings and making copious submissions to commissions, among other things. On the other hand, we find that the progressive NGO sector is experiencing a number of difficulties.

The ANC needs to ensure that the skills and resources in progressive NGOs are not lost or undermined, but in fact harnessed for the transformation tasks which we face. This means that the ANC need to define the relationship with government much more coherently. The progressive NGO sector also needs to be challenged to redefine their role and focus in terms of the new political situation which we have fought for side by side.

Because of the dereliction of duty of the NP`s apartheid regime, a heavy burden fell on the shoulders of the NGO sector. Now we have a democratic government, which is committed to carrying out its obligations, the ANC and the NGOs need to redefine their respective roles.

There is more than enough work for all of us. The challenges is to define who does what and how we work together towards our common objective of the thoroughgoing transformation of our society and towards building a better life for all.

Fundraising and effective use of resources

The ANC has not responded particularly well to the diminishing sources of income for the movement. While some provinces have made some effort at fundraising, structures of the movement in general have failed to develop fundraising strategies and mechanisms of the sort that would be able to sustain the programme of the organisation.

At the same time, the organisation`s use of available resources has not been as effective as it could be. There are still unacceptably high levels of wastage, and insufficient mechanisms of financial control and accounting.

The organisation has not yet integrated proper budgeting into its political planning process. As a result, programmes are embarked upon only to be abandoned or rendered ineffective due to lack of resources.


It is not enough to build a strong ANC. It is necessary to build an organisation which is well suited and adequately equipped to meet the key challenges which face the organisation now and in the future.

Implementation of ANC Policy

For the transformation of South African society to be effective, the policies of the organisation need to properly implemented, particularly at the level of government. While the first three-and-a-half years of democratic government have been characterised by the passage of significant transformational laws, there is much that needs to be done to ensure they have their desired effect.

Our policies must reflect our strategies and tactics to attain the achievement of our political objectives and principles in the shortest possible time and in a sustainable manner. Unlike other political fringe elements and parties, we cannot afford the luxury of dogma. Our approach to policies and policy formulation needs to be one which is dynamic and which we must never be afraid to adjust, amend or even abandon if they prove to be obsolete or unworkable. If the tools are inappropriate, we cannot remain slaves to them.

The coordination among the ANC`s constitutional structures, its cadres in the executive and its cadres in parliament and the provincial legislatures needs to be improved. The ANC in all these areas needs to be working in concert to achieve a common goal.

There needs also to be greater clarity on what the ANC`s policy is on any given matter, and clear mechanisms need to be developed for processing and achieving decisions on unclear policy matters.

Most importantly, the structures of the movement need to develop programmes to complement and provide support to efforts being made in government.

Engage with society

While the ANC retains the support of the majority of South Africans, it would be wrong to presume that the ANC and its politics will remain popular without ongoing and active engagement by ANC cadres with society at large.

The last three years have witnessed to a certain extent the withdrawal of ANC cadres from interacting with and providing leadership to communities. This has enabled reactionary and opportunistic groupings to mobilise people in support of their narrow interests.

The ANC needs to take back the ground it has conceded through inaction.

Our President continues to lead by example. He has consistently embarked on a programme which takes him to our people, even to areas which are considered to be hostile to the ANC. We should encourage the different forms of interaction, like People`s Forums, which are taking place. Constituency work has not received the attention it deserves. We should consider training MPs and staff together so that constituency offices can also become an effective component of our interaction with our people. The Department of Political Education and Training has started work with our constituency staff.

Build cadres

As in the past, the ANC`s capacity to transform South Africa is dependent on the quality of its cadreship. The organisation needs to be constantly developing new cadres and leaders which will be able not only to lead the organisation in the years ahead, but who would be able to play a meaningful role in government and society more broadly.

We have found that the demands of the last three years have stretched the human resource capacity of the movement almost to its limit. The demand for skilled and experienced cadres will certainly not diminish in the period ahead. The ANC must put in place now the mechanisms and the programmes which are going to develop new cadres and build the leaders of tomorrow.

Achieve sustainability

The ANC needs to achieve a state of self-sustainability before long. It needs not only to sustain itself politically and financially, but organisationally and administratively. This requires a broad range of measures stretching on the one hand from ongoing recruitment and political education, to viable and sustainable fundraising efforts on the other. It requires also that the organisation pay greater attention to the establishment of an effective administrative infrastructure throughout the country, and the development among all cadres of sound organisational skills.

We need to find creative ways of sustaining the interest of members. In part, we need to look at the activities of branches as well as creative ways in which we can involve members and utilise the skills of those who may not be able to be active in the branch. In addition to recruitment, we should also look at a membership renewal campaign.

Build democratic movement

The ANC has a responsibility to link up with all sectors and groupings in society which share the democratic vision. This includes not only the members of the Tripartite Alliance, the civic movement and the traditional components of the Mass Democratic Movement, but also those groupings which have identified themselves with the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist democracy in South Africa.

The ANC needs to develop a broad approach to all these groupings, being able to differentiate between their varying interests, backgrounds and constituencies. Despite their differences, there is sufficient commonality among all these sectors to forge a broad based movement for democratic change.

Consolidate and increase electoral support

Since the birth of the new democratic dispensation, elections have become key vehicles of transformation. The ANC`s ability to pursue the national democratic revolution is largely dependent on its success in winning substantial electoral support.

The challenge for the ANC is to consolidate its current support ahead of the 1999 elections, and to increase its majorities at national, provincial and local. In particular, the ANC needs to concentrate on improving its electoral performances in KwaZulu/Natal and Western Cape, to enable the movement to speed up the process of transformation in these areas.


It is clear that without a strong and vibrant ANC, the enormous challenges which face this country will become increasingly overwhelming. A healthy organisation is not a matter of pride or nostalgia, it is a matter central to the achievement of the strategic objectives of the National Democratic Revolution.

It is certainly correct that we devote far greater time and energy to the development of our cadres through intensive political education and ongoing political debate in all our structures. But far more than that, we need to acknowledge that it is in the implementation of programmes, the prosecution of struggle, that cadres are most effectively tested and developed.

It is crucial for the organisation therefore that ANC branches develop and implement organisational programmes which involve, engage and challenge the members of the movement.