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Revolutionary morality: The ANC and business

30 March 2007


Introduction

The challenge of deepening the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and its transformation agenda in the context of a capitalist economy has been recognised and debated within the ANC and Alliance for more than a decade now. The impact of aberrations such as careerism, personal enrichment and corruption on the revolutionary morality of the ANC has also been observed and debated. The call for a New Cadre by the 2000 National General Council held in Port Elizabeth was the first comprehensive political response to the challenge posed by the erosion of the moral values of ANC members by these new conditions. Reflecting on this matter in the May 2006 issue of Umrabulo, the NEC Political Education Committee argued that the ANC "should forge a cadreship through programmes that relate to actual challenges that these members face in their daily lives".

The National Executive Committee (NEC) has, through various statements, endorsed and encouraged the development of a new cadre. The NEC, however, believes that the process of cadre development, critical and urgent as it is, is not a sufficient response to the danger of erosion of the revolutionary morality of the ANC. A policy of cadre development should be underpinned by clear and enforceable Codes of Conduct that will guide ANC members and determine the sanctions that the movement can impose when members violate the provisions of such codes. Such Codes of Conduct should be based on the Constitution of the ANC, the character of the ANC as defined by the Mafikeng Conference and the oath of membership contained in the Constitution.

The remit of the Task Team

Public discussion on the involvement of ANC members and officials in black economic empowerment deals led to a discussion in the National Working Committee (NWC) towards the end of 2004 on the participation in business of ANC members. The NWC mandated the Officials to "prepare a basis for discussion" to be tabled at the NEC.

The NWC discussion was tabled at the NEC meeting of 26-27 November 2004. In mandating the Officials to prepare a document for discussion, the NWC highlighted the following points to be taken into account:

  • guidance to ANC full time functionaries on conflicts of interest and "cooling off periods";
  • review of BEE policies, taking into account recent and past experiences;
  • the ideological implications and consequences of the development of a black capitalist class;
  • the implications of a section of the leadership of the ANC being in business;
  • the impact of conflict between ANC members over business deals and its impact on the movement;
  • the question of how comrades prepare for their future and not become dependent on the ANC (eg. when one is no longer a public representative or a full-time ANC functionary).

The NEC meeting of 27-28 May 2005 discussed the matter extensively and decided to set up a task team. The task of the team was:

"To provide political and moral guidelines to the ANC as a whole, particularly the leadership, on the issue of involvement in business".

This, then, is the remit of the Task Team. It has had these parameters in mind in discussing and developing this document.

The following assertions emerged in the discussions between November 2004 and the May 2005 meeting of the NEC:

  • Cadres should be made to realise that being a public servant is noble and honourable and that careers in business or membership of legislatures are not the only ways of making a living.
  • The ANC needs career pathing.
  • Some of the career choices made by cadres (eg. to leave parliament) denies the ANC and the nation skilled people.
  • The ANC does not act timeously or firmly in cases of corruption even when comrades have admitted guilt. A consequence of this is the embarrassment of people being arrested while in office.
  • The opposition will always call for action even before guilt has been established. We must educate our people about due process.
  • The problems the ANC faces are not merely a consequence of lack of discipline. They are symptomatic of a breakdown in our political culture.
  • The ANC is a voluntary organisation which members join driven by their value systems.
  • We must ensure that ANC leaders who do not hold public office are subject to the same rules as those who do.
  • Gifts are the frontline soldiers of corruption.
  • We must rely on political consciousness and not a set of rules, legislation or law enforcement to ensure ethical behaviour in our ranks.

In this context, a number of questions were posed:

  • What does a 'cooling off' period mean and what are its consequences for individuals who could find themselves constrained from participating in certain professions?
  • How do we handle the debate on BEE?
  • Is it possible to be rich and a servant of the people at the same time?
  • What actually constitutes corruption? Is there a hierarchy of acts of corruption?
  • To the extent that we limit the participation of ANC elected public officials, functionaries and other categories, how should these individuals secure their future?
  • What should we be doing with the plight of comrades who are destitute? This is relevant in a context in which the majority of ANC members of the executive, parliamentarians, councillors, public servants and business people are in the top 10% of income earners in the country.
  • There are people who are buying influence in the ANC. What should our donation policy be? Should it be centralised?
  • Should the ANC itself be in business in its own right and name? If so, what behaviour should it exhibit?
  • How should the ANC deal with donations from the public and business?
  • The ANC has an early warning system in the eyes and ears of our people: how do we listen more and become responsive?

These issues reflect the concerns of NEC members.

In this discussion document we put emphasis on the political, moral and ethical guidelines rather than codes and regulations. We believe that what is needed is clarity and consensus on the principles.

Previous and current approaches

We had anticipated these problems. The 50th National Conference dealt extensively with the objectives and character of the ANC. The Conference amended particular sections of the ANC Constitution to reflect the new reality brought about by the 1994 democratic breakthrough and the ANC's mission to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.

The section on 'Character of the ANC' in the Draft Strategy and Tactics produced in July 1997, raised questions about the ethical principles that should underpin our conduct as a political party in power:

"The fact of being in government has also thrown up challenges which were either not pronounced in, or foreign to, the previous epoch. For instance, the approach to deployment in the current phase cannot ignore mapping out career-paths for, and with, ANC cadres; to enable them to play the most effective role, and to advance in a systematic way, in the varied terrain of transformation. Such cadre policy has nothing to do with careerism of the opportunistic variety, which a governing party should always guard against."

Having identified the challenges facing the movement since our assumption of power in 1994 the ANC considered the movement's ideological and tactical stance in relation to these challenges. The paper goes on to say:

"The nature of democracy that the ANC pursues, deriving from its experience in struggle, from its humane and progressive outlook, and from the on-going contribution of the various class forces to change, leans towards the poor. It recognises the central and leading role of the working class in the project of social transformation."

This section in the document puts the ANC firmly on the side of the poor. It sees the poor as the main motive force in the National Democratic Revolution and, therefore, the main intended beneficiaries of national liberation. The objectives of the ANC and the character of the movement define its programme of transformation, giving it content and substance. Any discussion on ethics must take the content of the ANC's transformation agenda as a guiding light.

"The continuing national liberation character of the ANC relates to what has already been noted - the defining reality of our society is the continuing legacy of colonialism and white minority rule. This legacy still impacts upon every aspect of our society. It impacts upon the ways in which black people in general, and Africans in particular, are differently affected by everything, ranging from unemployment, to literacy, to life expectancy levels. The ANC focuses its energy upon mobilising around the aspirations and transformation objectives of this historically oppressed majority."

It also reflected on the multi-class nature of the ANC. The ANC is not a socialist organisation. It describes itself as a "broad multi-class, mass organisation...accepting into its ranks all who accept and abide by its policies and objectives".

"The ANC is therefore a broad multi-class, mass organisation, uniting the motive forces on the basis of a programme for transformation. It must strive to remain a broad democratic movement by accepting into its ranks all those who accept and abide by its policies and objectives. This character of the ANC derives from its strategic tasks in the current phase.

"The 'movement' character of the ANC also relates to our long established traditions of building a 'broad church', a 'hegemonic' organisation that does not seek to define itself in exclusivist, or narrow ideological terms. The ANC has been, and necessarily remains, home to a variety of progressive ideological currents - nationalist, Africanist, socialist - and of a variety of different classes and strata, all united behind a common commitment to national democratic transformation. The multi-class, multi-strata character of the ANC does not, however, mean that the ANC neglects the significance of class. The ANC is a multi-class/multi-strata movement with a bias or leaning towards the black working class and the rural and urban poor."

These extracts from the paper on the 'Character of the ANC' help us in preparing the canvass upon which we can discuss the question of ethics. The main elements of this context are the objectives of the ANC, the progressive and pro-poor content of its transformation programme, and the broad, mass based nature of its implementation of this programme.

Our approach to the question of the role of business is informed, first and foremost, by the character of the transformation project we are undertaking. Indeed, in the context of its call for the people to share in the country's wealth, and for the land to be shared among those who work it, the Freedom Charter also asserts: "All people shall have equal right to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions." This, it can be argued, applies as much to all of society as it would to members and leaders of the ANC. The issue therefore is not whether members and leaders of the ANC have this right or not: the question is how it is exercised, and with what implications for the movement and for society as a whole.

The Strategy and Tactics document adopted at the 50th National Conference in Mafikeng explains the relationship between social transformation and market forces:

"The symbiotic link between capitalism and national oppression in our country, and the stupendous concentration of wealth in the hands of a few monopolies therefore render trite the vainglorious declaration that national oppression and its social consequences can be resolved by formal democracy underpinned by market forces to which all should kneel in the prayer: 'everyone for himself and the Devil takes the hindmost!' While formal democracy may present opportunities for some blacks and women to advance, without a systematic national effort, led by the democratic government, to unravel the skewed distribution of wealth and income, the social reality of apartheid will remain."

It further identifies the role of the business class in general and black business in particular:

"Precisely because [the black propertied classes'] progress is contingent upon the achievement of democracy, these forces continue to share an interest in the success of social transformation. Their interests coincide with those of the other sectors previously denied political rights...

"[I]n the overall, the rising black bourgeoisie and middle strata are objectively important motive forces of transformation whose interests coincide with at least the immediate interests of the majority. They are, in this sense and in this phase, part of the motive forces of fundamental change.

"Yet, like with all other classes, their contribution to transformation, as distinct from the gains they derive from it, is contingent upon their mobilisation to pursue the interests of reconstruction and development, on such issues as the strategic employment of investment capital, labour relations, workplace democracy, style of management and so on.

"Indeed, it is critical for the ANC and the government to help guide these and other owners of capital to promote social transformation mindful of the fact that such transformation will serve at least their long-term interests and those of society as a whole."

Among others, three critical observations arise from these principles of the Freedom Charter and the Strategy and Tactics document.

Firstly, it is the assertion of the right to engage in business within the context of social change envisaged by the NDR, and the recognition that black business people objectively stand to gain from the process of change and, objectively, form part of the motive forces of change.

Secondly, it is the recognition of the economic sphere as a critical centre of power. Its transformation, including through de-racialisation of ownership and control of wealth, is an important element of the process of social transformation. It is therefore critical that ANC members should be found in this terrain, seeking to change it in the interest of the people as a whole. Members and leaders of the ANC in business are therefore expected, in their conduct within the private sector, to heed the basic principles contained in Strategy and Tactics and other policy documents.

Thirdly, and this is an observation deriving from experiences in other national liberation struggles, a vibrant private sector can also help strengthen democracy. This is in the sense that this sector provides the possibility for leaders generally to earn an income without having to rely solely on employment within the state and positions within government. As such, the existence of such a sector helps reduce the possibility for individuals to view positions in government with the kind of desperation that has resulted in political thuggery and undermined some emergent post-liberation states.

These themes were further developed in the 2000 NGC, where the concept of the new cadre, in the light of these new developments and challenges, was extensively debated.

In pursuit of a culture of openness and to fight corruption, we have, since 1994, created a number of checks and balances to avoid some of the pitfalls we had identified. The steps we have taken to ensure accountability and transparency include the establishment of a number of public institutions and systems. These include the Public Protector, Auditor-General, Inspector-General of Intelligence, the Directorate of Special Operations, protection of whistle-blowers, corruption tip-off lines, the Promotion of Access to Information Act, and so on.

In 1998 government adopted the Executive Members Ethics Act. In July 2000, in terms of this act, it issued a set of regulations to govern the conduct of members of the Executive. This Act and accompanying regulations covered Cabinet Ministers (including the President and Deputy President), premiers and members of Provincial Executive Committees. The main purpose of these regulations is to avoid a conflict of interest. One of the key principles of an ethics system is to ensure objectivity in all of government's decisions and in all actions of publicly-elected office bearers.

The regulations issued in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act provide a similar set of ethics for local councillors, specifically excluding them from private interest in the awarding of municipal contracts.

All members of parliament and local councils are also bound by an ANC code of conduct regulating the behaviour of our public representatives in the national assembly, provincial legislatures and local councils. The code of conduct and the oath taken by elected representatives is based on both the long tradition of ethics in the ANC and on international best practice to ensure objectivity in all decisions and policies.

Government has made huge strides in implementing regulations covering all three spheres of elected office bearers. The ANC has taken a number of steps to ensure objective actions on the part of our lawmakers. We must constantly ensure vigilance in the implementation of these codes and regulations. The very essence of the democracy we seek to build is dependent on the trust of the public in our decision-making processes. We cannot be complacent in this regard.

Review of existing measures

Our intentions have been good, but have they been adequate? It is clear from the sound bites of NEC members in various discussions that we have not succeeded in taming the beast of unethical behaviour in our ranks. There is some unhappiness in the public, among our members, in the NEC, the NWC and the Officials.

Why is there such unhappiness? What has gone wrong? It would appear that the public institutions we set up and the political discussions and resolutions we have adopted since the Mafikeng Conference have not been adequate to deal with this problem. The greatest challenge seems to be that we have no rules and regulations on how ANC members can take advantage of the economic opportunities that our policies are opening up without bringing the movement into disrepute as a result of unethical behaviour. If this trend continues then the real casualty will become the character of the ANC, jeopardising its historical mission, identified in the Mafikeng and subsequent conferences.

As new members join the ANC, the situation is exacerbated by a genuine lack of understanding of the core values of the movement. Of course, the ANC does not exist in a vacuum. We exist in a society in which the culture of short-cuts or "beating the system" is endemic. Too often entrepreneurship is confused with adventurism of the pillaging sort. For these elements the ANC becomes attractive because of the potential legitimacy and business opportunity it can bring.

An approach to defining ethics for our movement

The topic of ethics in politics is one that has occupied philosophers for thousands of years. Some of the most famous writings of Plato and Aristotle deal with ethics and politics. Plato argued that ethics is advanced by knowledge. He wrote, "all men seek good but go wrong through ignorance, not through evil will". He interpreted knowledge as much more than education. Knowledge is a key tool for making objective, rational decisions. He dealt with information and transparency, as key tools in defining ethics in politics. Aristotle adopts a slightly different perspective:

"The end of all action, individual or collective, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. There is no difference of kind between the good of one and the good of many or all. It is natural to regard the state as a community that exists for the sake of a good life for all. It is in the state that that common seeking after the good, which is the profoundest truth about men and nature, becomes explicit and knows itself."

Aristotle's perspective should sound familiar to most ANC Cadres and leaders.

Max Weber, the eminent German sociologist and political economist, in a lecture delivered in 1918 entitled 'Politics as a Vocation', wrote extensively on the issue of clarity or objectivity as an antidote to conflicts of interests in politics. He argued that:

"Part of being able to see clearly is avoiding being caught by distractions, desires, emotions and ambitions. It is learning to find the stillness in the midst of the noise and activity all around us, and in that stillness, listening to our own intuition, our own cultivated judgment, our own inner ethical sense. It also requires sufficient independence and integrity to avoid being overly beholden to supporters and patrons."

Weber's second issue is the lack of responsibility. As noted at the Mafikeng conference, the 1994 elections place a renewed responsibility on the shoulders of the ANC. A system of ethics must, at its core, be based on the need for politicians to take responsibility for their actions and events both individually and collectively. Without responsibility, there can be no accountability. The system of accountability that the ANC has put in place, both in statute and in practice, is based on the need for those in power to take responsibility.

What is to be done?

The ANC has done more than most political parties when it comes to combating unethical behaviour through ideological debates and direction, regulations, legislation and public watchdog bodies. The framework we have created should continue to be the bedrock of ANC policy and regulations on this matter.

However, there are gaps in our current infrastructure of regulations and norms. There are four categories of individuals for which we have no specific regulations:

  • ANC Officials not holding elective public office;
  • NEC and PEC members not holding elective public office;
  • ordinary members;
  • government officials leaving the public sector, especially those responsible for regulating particular sectors.

The real question is what sanctions we could impose as a movement if regulations or even guidelines that we bring into effect are violated by our members. Such sanctions will need to be punitive, be applied timeously and firmly, and thus become a deterrent to deviant behaviour.

What should the ANC's guiding principles be?

Codes, sanctions, disciplinary action and other measures deal with individuals or groups in a reactive manner. The challenge is how to instill the values of the ANC in our cadres such that they become a way of life in the way that the 2000 NGC intended.

There is only one way. Continuous political education underlined by clear guidelines and effective potential sanctions. The guidelines for ethical behaviour must not seek to criminalise cadres. Instead we must seek to embed these guidelines in our political culture so that they become second nature. The trouble with political culture is that it takes a long time to develop and requires great leadership to popularise.

The key principles that must underlie our efforts to build a new political culture and to be at the centre of any code and sanctions that we develop, should:

  1. affirm the right of all ANC members to earn a living in a profession or occupation of their choice, including in business;
  2. accept that the consequence of exercising that right will, in some cases, result in the accumulation of wealth;
  3. understand and accept that those who hold political office in the ANC and government have an equal right as all other citizens to participate in any economic activity, provided that they do so within the context of ANC values, ethical codes, ANC Constitution and the law of the land.
  4. ensure all ANC members, in accordance with their seniority, are subject to moral standards that are consistent with the political objectives of the movement. Such ethical standards should include directives to:
    • obey all the laws of the land;
    • pay tax;
    • not exploit the ignorance or gullibility of people, through, for example, pyramid schemes;
    • obey all labour laws;
    • be humane employers in terms of conditions of employment;
    • be sensitive to the objective of poverty alleviation and seek to help break the cycle of poverty;
    • re-invest in communities and other charitable causes;
    • invest in people to build their capacities and skills;
    • find, develop and nurture talent and enable people to grow;
    • generally be model business people that can do the movement proud.
  5. recognise the ANC's right to fundraise from its members and the general public without those who donate money seeking or being allowed to exercise undue influence in the ANC or in society;
  6. understand and accept that those who work in the public service and other organs of state have a right and an obligation to prepare for their future outside of the state so that they do not become destitute when they leave office;
  7. accept that if it becomes necessary in particular cases that individuals are subjected to cooling off periods etc, they should receive adequate compensation for the loss of opportunity. Working for the state should not disadvantage those who choose to serve the people in this manner;
  8. affirm the character of the ANC as a multi-class movement and seek to avoid the domination of an ascendant class that can potentially tilt the movement away from the concerns of the poor. This must be done such that the black middle class still feels it has home in the ANC;
  9. affirm that all ANC members should, in their professional lives, conduct themselves in a manner and style that reflects the ethical positions of the movement and promotes its aims and objectives;
  10. ensure the movement and its leaders accept their role and responsibility to act in a pastoral and guiding sense to members who are involved in business and other professions.

Guidelines need to be developed

Since the purpose of this paper is to guide a discussion on all these matters the practical task of developing specific guidelines remains to be done by experts once the NEC has taken a position on the principles.

Guidelines need to be developed for the following:

  1. Ethical guidelines for participation in business for the following categories:
    • ANC National office bearers (these must be similar to those of members of the executive with necessary adjustments),
    • NEC / PEC members,
    • regional and branch executive members.
    • ordinary members.
  2. The ANC as an investor in business.
  3. Fundraising activities of the ANC at all levels.

Proposal to the NEC

The discussion above clearly shows that the ANC does not lack policies, codes and injunctions that guide members on what constitutes appropriate behaviour for members and leaders of a revolutionary movement such as ours. The most prominent instruments the ANC are:

  1. the ANC Constitution,
  2. the oath of membership,
  3. various codes of ethics covering the Executive and other elected officials,
  4. the Constitution of South Africa,
  5. various resolutions that deal with aspects of the revolutionary morality of the movement.

The challenge has been enforcement. We have relied on various mechanisms for enforcing our ethical rules. For instance, the executive has got its own methods and sanctions that are located in Cabinet and the public service. Parliament has its own processes. All these enforcement instruments are not in the hands of the ANC, even though the movement may have significant influence in them. That means that there is no ANC mechanism for dealing with breaches. Often the ANC becomes a spectator in processes that involve its members and is unable to act timeously and in a manner that reflects its own political morality.

Things drift, problems are exacerbated rather than contained. The name of the organisation is dragged through the mud. Cadres learn ways of dragging issues and make use of the country's legal processes to delay, if not frustrate, the movement's own processes.

We rely exclusively on the Disciplinary Committee of the movement. The DC is not able to be proactive, timeous and decisive. Cadres have made creative use of the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" and other constructs of the legal system, such as due process.

The consequence is that whatever codes we develop will not make a difference if we do not create a new and effective way to enforce them timeously and decisively.

It is proposed, therefore, that the NEC debates and finally propose to the National Conference a structure similar to the Central Control and Auditing Commission of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF).

The Central Control and Auditing Commission (CCAC) has been described to us in the following terms:

  1. The CPRF has created a monitoring system to control the fulfillment by Party structures of the Party's Programme and Statute.
  2. The Central Control and Auditing Commission (CCAC) is elected by the Party Congress and is accountable only to the Congress.
  3. There are 33 CCAC members. Its working Presidium consists of 11 CCAC members. The total membership of the CPRF is 184,000.
  4. Members of the CCAC cannot simultaneously be members of the CPRF Central Committee.
  5. The CCAC budget is a part of an overall Party budget and it is adopted at joint plenary meetings of the CC and CCAC.
  6. Such a relationship with the CC demands that the CCAC members should be ready to work as a team with the CC members.
  7. All decisions taken by the CCAC within the framework of its Statute (approved by the Party Congress) are obligatory to all Party structures that are the subject of such decisions.
  8. The range of issues handled by the CCAC is strictly outlined by the CPRF Statute and by the Provisions of the CCAC adopted by the Party Congress.
  9. The activities of regional and local Control and Auditing Commissions are guided by the Provisions adopted by CCAC Plenary Meeting.

The main functions of the CCAC are to:

  1. monitor the fulfillment of Party Programmes and Statute by all Party structures;
  2. monitor financial activities of the Party as to its budget and collection of membership fees;
  3. monitor fulfillment of Party Congress decisions;
  4. consider the applications of Party members who disagree with decisions of local Party branches, especially in the cases of expulsion.

The CCAC has the right to declare invalid (as not corresponding to the Party Statute and Programme) decisions of any Party structure excluding the Central Committee. This is done to create a system of checks and balances and at the same time to avoid the emergence of a second power centre in the Party.

In the event, however, that the CCAC believes that the CC violates the Party Statute the CCAC has the right to appeal directly to the Party members and demand the convocation of the Congress.

The Party structures have the right to appeal against the CCAC Presidium decisions at the Plenary meetings of the CCAC or at the joint meetings of the CPRF CC and CCAC Presidiums. The most important issues can be discussed at the Joint Plenary meetings of CC and CCAC. The most contradictory issues are to be decided by the Party Congress.

In the CPRF history there were various developments in relations between the CC and CCAC.

In 2004 there was an attempt to take over the Party by a group of corrupt CC members (politically sponsored by the government and financed by the oligarchs) who controlled the Party Organising Department. The CCAC principled position allowed the regional and local party structures to adopt decisions that corresponded to the Party Programme and Statute (despite pressure from the Organising Department).

It meant that the CCAC took the initiative and compensated for the inefficiency of a CC paralysed by the sell-outs. The regional and local CACs also played a very important role in mobilising the healthy forces in the Party (in fact the overwhelming number of Party members) to resist the attempted Party takeover. In many cases the local and regional CACs were the leading and uniting body to fight the sell-outs who wanted to manipulate the Party's 10th Congress (in June 2004) by having their supporters elected as Congress delegates.

It was the CCAC that raised the issue of emerging fractions within the Party and appealed to the Party members warning them of the danger of take over by the corrupt elements.

At present the CCAC reviews the payment of membership fees, discussing at each meeting of the CCAC Presidium the performance of the five regional branches.In consultation with the CC, the CCAC reviews the performance of each CC Secretary in charge of a particular field of Party activities as to how they fulfil the decisions of Party Congresses.

It is not the proposal of the Task Team that the NEC adopts the CCAC concept holus bolus. It is presented as a concept that can be tailored to our conditions and refined in a variety of ways.

Conclusion

The Task Team presents this proposal with the hope that in the deliberations that will ensue in the NEC, the proposal that we table will result in a structure that will take the movement forward. It is clear that if we adopt this proposal or elements thereof we may have to adapt it to our conditions and thereby indigenise it.