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National General Council 2005: Opening address by President Thabo Mbeki

30 June 2005



National Chairperson,

Members of the National Executive Committee,

Our Alliance partners and other representatives of the mass democratic movement,

Delegates,

Ambassadors and High Commissioners and other observers;

Professor Callie Pistorius, Principal of the University of Pretoria,

Comrades and friends:

From today onwards, for the next four days, the eyes of our people will be focused on the University of Pretoria. This will be because of the fact that the ANC is holding its 2nd National General Council at this important centre of learning.

Our country will be interested to hear the decisions the 3000 delegates at this General Council will arrive at, understanding very well the important role our movement plays in helping to decide the future of our country.

We are by far the biggest political formation in the country. By virtue of a popular and democratic mandate, freely given by the masses of our people during the 2000 and 2004 elections, we occupy the leading position in all three spheres of government.

We constitute the national government and are privileged to have members of the NNP, AZAPO and the UDM working with us at this level of government.

We also lead all the nine provincial governments, and serve in some of them with leading members of the IFP and the NNP.

Similarly, in the 2000 local government elections, the ANC won control of 68% of our municipal councils.

This reality reflects the confidence our people have in our movement. These masses are confident that the ANC has both the will and the capacity to take our country forward, as we confront the challenge of the eradication of the centuries-old legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

They are confident that they are correct to trust our movement as the principal agent of change in our country that is genuinely committed to the objective of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

Their own direct experience over the last 11 years of our freedom, relating to what has been achieved in this regard, confirms that their confidence in the ANC is not misplaced.

All this must communicate the critically important message to all the delegates and the National General Council that a heavy responsibility rests on our collective shoulder to discharge our responsibilities to our country and people.

All of us have to understand this fully, internalise it, and ensure that everything we do here at this General Council, and everything we will do afterwards, does not betray the confidence of the people in our movement, or disappoint their expectations.

I say this knowing that all the delegates have come to this National General Council inspired exactly by this commitment - the commitment to serve the people of South Africa.

Nevertheless, as we engage one another in serious discussion over the next few days about the important matters on our agenda, we must constantly remind ourselves of this commitment, bearing in mind that what we are about are the lives of real people, the millions of South Africans who have placed their trust in the ANC.

Relating directly to everything I have said so far, concerning the responsibilities of this National General Council to our people and country, I would like to convey our sincere thanks to the Centre for Policy Studies.

Three days ago, the Centre sent me an interesting document. The covering letter, signed by the Centre's Research Manager, Omano Edigheji, reads:

"Please find enclosed a copy of our new publication, "Trajectories for South Africa: Reflections on the ANC's 2nd National General Council's Discussion Documents". It examines three of the discussion documents prepared for your forthcoming NGC, namely:

(1) Development and Underdevelopment (2) The National Question (3) Unity and Diversity in the ANC

"As an independent policy research centre, the Centre for Policy Studies is interested in participating and facilitating debate on pertinent national issues as part of our efforts to contribute to consolidate our young democracy. It is in this spirit that the enclosed is published.

"We hope that you and members of the ANC will find this publication useful."

Though we received this document rather late, with no budget to cover its reproduction, I have requested that it should nevertheless be made available to the delegates for their information.

Undoubtedly, we will not agree with many things contained in this document. Nevertheless, I am certain we all respect the effort made by the Centre for Policy Studies to assist us in our discussions.

We sincerely appreciate the seriousness with which the Centre has responded to our Discussion Documents.

It is not an official document of the ANC. However, it constitutes an important expression of our movement's interaction with our people. This interaction underlines the seriousness with which we must take our obligation to continue to listen to and hear the voices of all our people, including those who are not members of our movement.

To give the delegates a sense of the challenge posed by the document of the Centre for Policy Studies, which we must engage in the context of our continuing political and ideological struggle, I will take the liberty to quote the first paragraph of its Introduction. It says:

"Managing an economy is not an easy task, especially in the context of global imperatives, where a country that deviates from the global norm is meted with punishment by global capital. The task is more difficult in a society like ours with conflicting imperatives.

"To a large degree, some white South Africans want to cling to privileges derived from the colour of their skin. On the other hand, most blacks want all manifestations of black disempowerment to be addressed.

"These competing imperatives pose critical challenges for building one nation that belongs to all South Africans.

"To a large extent, South Africa's ability to effectively address these imperatives will be dependent on the ability of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), to maintain its cohesion and unity.

"If the ANC was to break up, and its alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was to disintegrate, it would compromise South Africa's transformation efforts. This will in turn have negative consequences for the African continent's development project."

Whatever we think of its merits, this introductory paragraph in the document of the Centre for Policy Studies illustrates the organic interconnection among the issues raised in our Discussion Documents, regarding the unity of the ANC and the democratic movement as a whole, the response to the national question, and the challenge of the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment both in our country and our continent.

If only for this reason, the input of the Centre for Policy Studies illustrates why we have to treat will all seriousness the contributions to the national effort to determine our future, made by our people as a whole.

Comrade Chairperson:

In a sense, by the time we conclude the National General Council in four days, we must have asked ourselves and answered a number of questions, such as:

  • what are the strategic and tactical tasks of our movement at the current stage of the National Democratic Revolution?
  • what should the structures of our movement do, beginning with our branches, to accomplish these tasks?, and,
  • what is expected and required of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary South Africans who constitute the membership of the African National Congress, the ANC Women's League and the ANC Youth League?

The answers to these questions relate directly to the banner that dominates our stage, which reads - "A people's contract to advance the vision of the Freedom Charter". These words were chosen by our National Executive Committee to serve as the theme of the National General Council.

Whatever our decisions will be, they will have to respond to the two challenges posed by the theme of the National General Council, which are:

  • will these decisions serve to strengthen the people's contract?, and,
  • will they advance the vision of the Freedom Charter?

In our Manifesto for the 2004 General Elections we said:

"We must create work and roll back poverty. These two core objectives are the major focus of our programmes for the Second Decade of Freedom. To achieve this we need stronger partnership among all South Africans, A People's Contract for a Better South Africa.

"This is the contract that we should all enter into as South Africans - each of us with one another; government and each citizen, community and sector of society - together to build a better South Africa. "The ANC commits itself, working within communities and within government, to play its part in forging this People's Contract for a Better South Africa, inspired by its commitment to democratic consultation, mass participation and volunteerism, Moral Regeneration as well as people-centred and people-driven development."

Our Election Manifesto explained what we mean when we speak of a People's Contract for a Better South Africa, a People's Contract to advance the vision of the Freedom Charter. It explained the objectives we seek to achieve, and the motive forces we would mobilise to ensure that we realise these objectives.

Bearing in mind what I have just said about our Election Manifesto, and especially our commitment to build a people's contract, let me repeat what I said only a short while ago.

"In a sense, by the time we conclude the National General Council in four days, we must have asked ourselves and answered a number of questions, such as:

  • what are the strategic and tactical tasks of our movement at the current stage of the National Democratic Revolution?
  • what should the structures of our movement do, beginning with our branches, to accomplish these tasks?, and,
  • what is expected red of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary South Africans who constitute the membership of the African National Congress, the ANC Women's League and the ANC Youth League?"

As the National General Council will recall, our 51st National Conference, held at Stellenbosch University during the year of our 90th Anniversary, issued an important Declaration. In part, that Declaration responded to the questions we have just posed.

What the Declaration said is as correct today, two-and-half-years later, as it was when we adopted it at Stellenbosch. It said:

"We, the delegates of this 51st National Conference of the African National Congress, are the living bearers of an unbroken legacy of ninety years of South African struggle…

"We enter the tenth decade of the ANC's existence at the head of a profound process of social transformation for a better life for all…

"More than ever, the ANC must intensify the mobilisation of the whole of South African society behind a programme of fundamental change…

"This 51st National Conference rises with an ANC that is united and more determined than ever to strengthen its role as the voice of the people of South Africa, an expression of the aspirations of all, and particularly of the poor…

"The army of reconstruction and development is unstoppable. Victory is certain."

In this context, concerning the tasks of our movement and members, I would also like to quote Article 4.15 of the ANC Constitution, with which I am certain all of us are familiar. It says:

"On being accepted in the ANC, a new member shall, in a language he or she knows well, make the following solemn declaration to the body or person designated to administer such oaths:

"I solemnly declare that I will abide by the aims and objectives of the African National Congress as set out in the Constitution, the Freedom Charter and other duly adopted policy positions,

"that I am joining the organisation voluntarily and without motives of material advantage or personal gain,

"that I agree to respect the Constitution and the structures and to work as a loyal member of the organisation,

"that I will place my energies and skills at the disposal of the organisation and carry out tasks given to me,

"that I will work towards making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people,

"and that I will defend the unity and integrity of the organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism."

Comrade Chairperson:

I trust that all of us who are here as delegates and members of the ANC have indeed voluntarily bound ourselves to the principles contained in this Oath, and the objectives we stated in the Declaration of the 51st National Conference. I also trust that all of us remain committed to live up to these principles and objectives in everything we do from day to day.

Both the Declaration of the 51st National Conference and the Oath contained in the Constitution of the African National Congress are public documents. They are not, and are not meant to be secrets known only to members of our movement.

They constitute binding commitments we make and have made to ourselves and to one another as members of the ANC.

At the same time, they represent a public and solemn undertaking that we have made to the masses of our people and the world, concerning what they should expect of any and all members of the African National Congress.

The task to live up to the image of ourselves as the kind of member of the ANC described in our Oath and the Declaration of the 51st National Conference, which we have conveyed to the people, is made more challenging by the fact we have already mentioned, that, as a movement, we have offered to enter into a strategic contract with the people.

These masses are perfectly entitled to expect that this would be a People's Contract with a dependable partner. The partner they know would honour such a People's Contract is the movement they have known for generations as the loyal and dedicated representative of their interests, the African National Congress.
This is the same organisation that said at its last National Conference at Stellenbosch University, that, "We, the delegates of this 51st National Conference of the African National Congress, are the living bearers of an unbroken legacy of ninety years of South African struggle…"

In the two-and-half-years since the 51st National Conference, we have lost a good number of our outstanding stalwarts through death from natural causes. Quite correctly, earlier the National Chairperson asks us to stand in tribute to these stalwarts and other members of our organisation and movement.

Among these are comrades Walter Sisulu who passed away in May 2003, Maulvi Cachalia who left us in August of the same year, Dullah Omar and Wilton Mkwayi who passed away in March and July 2004 respectively, Beyers Naude and Ray Simons who both died in September 2004, and Raymond Mhlaba who passed away in February this year.

I mention the names of these outstanding revolutionaries, all of whom were very close to all our hearts, to draw our collective attention to the reality that the imperatives of nature are robbing us of an entire generation of tried and tested combatants for the liberation of our people.

As they depart one after the other, they leave our movement and continuing struggle in the hands of younger generations, confident that these generations will respect the example and honour the traditions they set, which have made the ANC the pre-eminent political representative of the masses of our people that it is today.

These outstanding patriots knew that their involvement in our struggle as activists and leaders entailed acceptance of the fact that they had to be ready to make any sacrifices imposed on them by the oppressor regime, including losing their lives.

In return, they expected no reward other than the liberation of our people. Even after our liberation in 1994, they never asked for any material reward for the things they did over many decades to help bring about our emancipation.

We are very fortunate that, because of the victory of the democratic revolution, none of us is called upon to make the sacrifices our veterans had to make. Nevertheless, the challenges we face today, further to promote the objectives of the national democratic revolution, demand that we develop cadres and members who are no less principled and no less committed to serve the people of South Africa than were the outstanding patriots whose names we mentioned.

As we discuss the matters on our agenda that relate to the strengthening of our organisation and improving its effectiveness, we must return to the matter we have repeatedly discussed - the critical challenge of bringing up our membership in the traditions established by the generation represented by the revolutionaries we mentioned, such as Walter Sisulu, Maulvi Cachalia and Ray Simons.

This is particularly important given the solemn commitment we made to enter into a People's Contract for a Better South Africa. In everything we do, we must ensure that our movement and membership continue to enjoy the confidence of the masses of our people as the kind of movement and patriots with whom they are ready and willing to enter into a meaning Contract for a Better South Africa.

The Declaration adopted by our Stellenbosch 51st National Conference also said that, "We enter the tenth decade of the ANC's existence at the head of a profound process of social transformation for a better life for all…"

The National General Council will have to make an assessment of the challenges that have confronted us in the last two-and-a-half years, as we strived further to promote what the last National Conference characterised as "a profound process of social transformation for a better life for all".

In this regard, and as we have done in the past, we must again ask ourselves the questions:

  • what progress have we made to build a non-racial society, and what should we do next?;
  • what progress have we made to build a non-sexist society, and what should we do next?;
  • what progress have we achieved with regard to responding to the aspirations of the youth, and what should we do next?;
  • what progress have we made to respond to the needs of people with disabilities, acting together with them, and what should we do next?;
  • what progress have we made in the struggle towards the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, and the socio-economic disparities we inherited, and what should we do next?; and,
  • what progress have we made in the effort to improve social cohesion in our country, especially given the many cleavages that have characterised our society for a long period of time?

No one among us needs any special lectures about the central importance of these issues in terms of the objectives of the national democratic revolution. Indeed various events in our country that assume prominence at one time or another constantly remind us about the centrality of these issues.

In reality, we cannot speak of a People's Contract outside the context of our conscious and consistent engagement of the issues we have mentioned relating to the profound process of social transformation to which the 51st National Conference referred.

Let me mention only two matters that illustrate what I have just said. I refer to these simply because of the public prominence they have achieved recently and thus use them as examples of instances in our national life that constantly draw our attention to the need for us never to lose sight of the transformation goals we have set ourselves.

The first of these relates to Afrikaans. It is clear that there is serious concern among certainly some sections of the Afrikaner population that the democratic order is acting in a manner that results in the marginalisation or diminution of the Afrikaans language.

We may contest this assertion. Nevertheless we have to recognise the fact that it is a matter of concern to some of our people, and must therefore be addressed.

In this context, we must also see how we translate into reality the call made in the Freedom Charter, that "All people shall have equal rights to use their own language and to develop their own folk culture and customs". Correctly, this particular provision occurs under the clause - "All national groups shall have equal rights!"

Of course, the language issue, affecting all languages in our country, and not just Afrikaans, is an important part of the national question, which we have put on the agenda of the National General Council. It therefore also relates directly to the challenge fundamental to our perspective as a movement, the challenge of the creation of a non-racial society.

The point I am making in this regard is that among others, we have to engage the language question more vigorously and systematically as an important part of the profound process of social transformation which our movement leads.

It may very well be that the Afrikaans issue is arising in the way it is, as a nascent protest movement, because of our failure to address it as we should, consistent with the vision spelt out by the Freedom Charter.

If this is the case, it would underline the importance of the need for us actively to work for the People's Contract to which we committed ourselves.

As we said in our last Election Manifesto, this would make it possible for "government and each citizen, community and sector of society" to enter into a partnership, in this instance to address the language question, consistent with what the Freedom Charter and our national Constitution prescribe.

Recently we have also witnessed demonstrations in some of our municipalities. Generally the protestors have taken to the streets to protest against what they see as slow progress in addressing their socio-economic needs, such as housing and modern sanitation.

Again, all the delegates are perfectly aware of the fact that of central importance to everything we are doing is the achievement of the objective of a better life for all. Whether rightly or wrongly, the municipal demonstrations have been inspired by the grievance among some of our poorest communities that they have been excluded from access to this better life.

In our last Election Manifesto, we said, "The ANC commits itself, working within communities and within government, to play its part in forging this People's Contract for a Better South Africa…"

The municipal demonstrations to which I have referred would suggest that we have not made as much progress in this regard as we should. We must therefore treat these demonstrations as a challenge to us, actually to give concrete expression to our undertaking to work within communities and within government, playing our part in forging the People's Contract for a Better South Africa.

As we said in our Election Manifesto, we are committed to a people-centred and people-driven process of change. Accordingly, the People's Contract we spoke about was precisely about mobilising the masses of our people themselves to become makers of history.

This makes the statement that we are opposed to the demobilisation of the people, transforming them into an inactive mass that simply awaits "delivery" of a better life, with no involvement in the process of determining its future.

We have therefore been providing an answer to the question we posed earlier - what should the structures of our movement do, beginning with our branches, to accomplish the tasks that define the current stage of the National Democratic Revolution?

One of our answers to this question is that we must enter into a partnership with all sections of our population, forming a People's Contract with them, so that they do not see themselves and behave merely as protestors, but fully understand the historic opportunity they have to be part of the conscious army of builders of a people-centred society.

Again, as the National General Council reflects on matters that relate to the strengthening of our movement and defining its role, we must answer the question - what must our movement do to ensure that the millions of our people actually see themselves and act as part of the mass army for development, tied to our movement and its structures in the People's Contract we defined in the 2004 Election Manifesto!

In this regard, again I would like to recall what we said at the end of our 51st National Conference. In our Declaration, we stated that, "More than ever, the ANC must intensify the mobilisation of the whole of South African society behind a programme of fundamental change…"

We also said: "The army of reconstruction and development is unstoppable. Victory is certain."

Centrally important as the matter of the building of the People's Contract for a Better South Africa and advancing the vision of the Freedom Charter is, we have also understood that we must do much more to promote the profound process of social transformation for a better life for all to which we are committed.

In the period since our last National Conference, we have highlighted two matters in particular, determined to focus on improving our effectiveness in advancing the process of fundamental social transformation in which we have to engage to build the people-centred society to which we are committed.

These are:

  • the challenge of the Second Economy; and,
  • improving the capacity and effectiveness of our developmental state.

I believe that our agenda gives the National General Council ample scope to reflect on these two critically important matters and make proposals that should help us further to expedite our advance towards the realisation of the vision of the Freedom Charter.

Accordingly, I trust that the delegates will indeed discharge their responsibilities in this regard, focused as always, on the pursuit of the goal of a better life for all our people.

In this context, we must also assess the role, place and outcomes of the 2003 Growth and Development Summit, which was itself an expression of our advance towards a People's Contract for a Better South Africa.

This might give us an opportunity seriously to discuss what we mean when we speak of a social partnership, as was done at the Growth and Development Summit. The Summit said:

"The constituencies of Nedlac - government, business, labour and the community - reaffirm their commitment to social dialogue and working together to address the economic and development challenges our country faces.
The constituencies commit themselves to a common vision for promoting rising levels of growth, investment, job creation and people-centred development…

"To address these national priorities, the constituencies are committed to forging a shared vision and set of objectives that will include a mutually acceptable framework for analysing the nature of these challenges and a common programme of action to address them.

"The constituencies, through Nedlac, continue to strive to manage and promote the expanding social dialogue that is an important feature of our democratic dispensation. This presents an opportunity for the constituencies to develop a dynamic partnership that will facilitate social dialogue and joint action."

Given our commitment to build a People's Contract, I believe that we would be well advised to consider how far we have progressed towards "expanding (the) social dialogue that is an important feature of our democratic dispensation", and "develop(ing) a dynamic partnership that will facilitate social dialogue and joint action", to use the formulations adopted by the Growth and Development Summit.

I hope that the National General Council will also find time to consider the Charters that various sectors of our economy have adopted, or are considering, which express the commitment of the business sector to respond to the vision and objectives the social partners agreed at the Growth and Development Summit.

Obviously, in addition to the 2004 General Elections, one of the important highlights of the period since our 51st National Conference was our celebration only a few days ago, of the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter.

As the General Council knows, the last clause of the Freedom Charter says, "There shall be peace and friendship. South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations. South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation, not war…The right of all peoples of Africa to independence and self-government shall be recognised, and shall be the basis of close cooperation."

In 2002, the year of the 90th Anniversary of the formation of the ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, we were privileged to host the founding conference of the African Union. This gave us the opportunity both to thank the peoples of our continent for everything they had done to help us achieve our liberation and to reaffirm the message contained in the Freedom Charter, to build cooperation with the sister peoples of Africa.

The National General Council is familiar with the work in which our country has been involved since the 51st National Conference, to contribute to the renaissance of Africa. Within the one week immediately preceding the convening of the General Council, we participated in important processes relating to peace, democracy and development in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Great Lakes Region, and Côte d'Ivoire.

We were honoured to host and interact with the President of the EU Commission, H.E. Jose Manuel Barroso.

During the course of the National General Council or immediately after, we will meet senior representatives of the Zimbabwe Movement for Democratic Change.

At the conclusion of the General Council, we will have to travel immediately to the AU Summit in Libya, the G8 Summit in Scotland, which will discuss support for the NEPAD programmes, and Khartoum, Sudan, to participate in the installation of the new Sudanese government born of the peace agreement that ended the protracted war between the northern and southern parts of Sudan.

10 days ago we were in Abuja, Nigeria, to consider the very first reports of the African Peer Review Mechanism, which covered Ghana and Rwanda.

I mention all of these developments to communicate the firm message that in the period since our 51st National Conference, we have indeed acted both to advance the vision of the Freedom Charter and implement the decisions adopted by our Stellenbosch Conference.

During this period, consistent with our search for the settlement of disputes by negotiation, not war, as the Freedom Charter says, we did what we could to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the conflicts in Iraq and Haiti.

We have the honour to host President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti and his family, since they were driven out of their greatly troubled country last year. I would like to take advantage of this occasion to thank President Aristide and the people of Haiti for affording us the privilege to attend the Bicentenary celebrations of the liberation of Haiti last year, to salute the historic 1804 victory of African slaves, which established the first Black Republic in the world.
Nevertheless the task remains to bring peace and democracy to Haiti. We will do everything we can to achieve this objective. Similarly, we will continue to work both with Palestine and Israel to contribute whatever we can to a just and permanent peace in the Middle East, which must include the establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine and a secure state of Israel.

Once again we salute the late Yasser Arafat, privileged that we had a chance to say farewell to him at the solemn gathering in his memory in Cairo, Egypt.

We will also continue to engage all those concerned to contribute to a balanced and mutually acceptable solution of the dispute relating to Iran's use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In the context of all these and other developments, the National General Council will have to assess the role of the ANC in its pursuit of the two related goals of the renaissance of Africa and the building of a new world order that fully accords with the interests and aspirations of the majority of humanity, which constitutes the poor of the world.

Let me close with one last quotation from the Declaration adopted by the 51st National Conference, referring to a matter that is on our agenda. It said:
"This 51st National Conference rises with an ANC that is united and more determined than ever to strengthen its role as the voice of the people of South Africa, an expression of the aspirations of all, and particularly of the poor…"

That is an injunction that must guide us as we proceed with our work during this 2nd National General Council of the African National Congress.

Amandla ngawethu!