“Economically, compared to fifteen years ago, the balance of forces has shifted against the forces of change. The debt burden and the legacy of state capture wear down the fiscus leaving little room for manoeuvre. Measures to stabilise the fiscal situation, such as VAT increases, have an immediate negative social impact; and agencies like Eskom are strangling the economy. Tragically, we have in recent years regressed with regard to quality of some basic services such as health, educational infrastructure, water, electricity and roads; and the poverty headcount worsened between 2011 and 2015. As if this was not enough, a tiny Coronavirus has turned the world on its head, decimating economies and laying to waste people’s livelihoods.””
By Joel Netshitenzhe (Originally delivered at ANC Eastern Cape’s 50th Anniversary of Morogoro Conference Umrabulo Dialogue)
Last year we marked the golden jubilee of the 1969 ANC National Consultative Conference held in Morogoro. Alongside other Tanzanian centres including Mazimbu (SOMAFCO) and Kongwa (MK Luthuli Detachment camp), Morogoro enjoys legendary status in struggle folklore.
This is because of its substantive outcomes, especially the first ANC Strategy & Tactics document. Those who dig slightly deeper would also be familiar with other outcomes from the conference, including a smaller NEC and the Revolutionary Council, the formal confirmation of OR Tambo as Acting President, as well as the opening of membership to so-called ‘non-Africans’.
Dig a little deeper and you will unearth tales of tension and confrontation at the Conference, including the incident when OR offered to step down in the face of what he perceived to be unfair criticism; and the calm leadership of JB Marks and others who helped manage the tensions.
The Conference itself was a consequence of heightened discontent among the rank and file, especially after the mixed outcomes of the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns – mixed because while the campaigns in the then Rhodesia demonstrated military acumen and bravery, they had done little to advance the liberation struggle.
But, aside from snippets of tantalising detail, what is it that makes the Morogoro Conference stand out?
Let’s start off by drawing an important lesson: and this is that, in the ANC, intense debates and challenging unguided drift are not in themselves bad. They can in fact act as a spur to the intensification of struggle; they allow for a dialectical synthesis without which movement to a higher level of revolutionary action is not possible. What is required is the ability to manage such differences and forge unity of principle and unity in action.
By the time of Morogoro, the ANC was at a low ebb; and Morogoro became a launch-pad for self-correction and renewal. That turnaround was underpinned by an agreed strategic approach and appropriate organisational structures to give it practical expression.
For purposes of emphasis, I’ll identify three key themes that lend the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document its revered status.
The first key theme is about methodology in assessing the balance of forces in a given conjuncture.
- The very introduction to the document argues that the struggle then was taking place within an international context of transition to the Socialist system… in a new kind of world… in which the horizons liberated from foreign oppression extend beyond mere formal political control and encompass… economic emancipation.
- It then argues that the art of revolutionary leadership consists … of setting a pace which accords with objective conditions and the real possibilities at hand.
The second key theme I wish to highlight is about the strategic objective and the social system beyond formal political liberation. To quote from the document itself:
We do not underestimate the complexities which will face a people`s government during the transformation period nor the enormity of the problems of meeting economic needs of the mass of the oppressed people. But one thing is certain – in our land this cannot be effectively tackled unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals, be they white or black…
The last key theme I wish to underline is on the national question. In this regard, Morogoro argued that:
The main content of the present stage of the South African revolution is the national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group – the African people. This strategic aim must govern every aspect of the conduct of our struggle…. Properly channelled and properly led, these qualities do not stand in conflict with the principles of internationalism. Indeed, they become the basis for more lasting and more meaningful cooperation; a cooperation which is self-imposed, equal and one which is neither based on dependence nor gives the appearance of being so.
This is the progressive nationalism that Morogoro underlined, not just in relation to non-racialism; but also to the profound social content of the struggle:
… our nationalism …must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass.
One can go on and on citing such interesting assertions from the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document, many of which we now use as standard fare in current ANC policy documents. But the intention of today’s discussion is not so much to conduct a sociological analysis or admire the Morogoro Conference as if it were a painting on a mantelpiece.
Rather, we should seek to extract lessons from that experience for the conduct of struggle today.
To preface this, one point needs to be underlined: in a number of respects, Morogoro was not the last word, pre-1994, on everything about the strategy and tactics of the ANC. For instance, you may have noticed that the approach to armed struggle in 1969 approximated classical guerrilla warfare with possibilities of rural liberated zones. However, this matter – particularly the balance between mass and armed struggle – was intensely debated into the 1970s and beyond.
When the Green Book was drafted in 1979, after the June 16th uprisings, there had been a shift towards what was referred to as a ‘protracted people’s war in which partial and general uprisings play an important role’. President Oliver Tambo in the mid-1980s synthesised this into the four pillars of struggle: mass action, armed struggle, underground organisation and international mobilisation. These pillars, he argued, fed upon one another. And ‘the people in political motion’ constituted the semi-liberated zones within which guerrilla units would thrive. In other words, as the situation changed and as new experiences were gained, the ANC was able to refine its tactical approaches.
This underlines the principle of continuity and change in the evolution of the ANC.
With regard to the strategic objective of the national democratic revolution, there had been, before Morogoro, the 1943 African Claims and the 1955 Freedom Charter; both of which continue to act as our lodestars.
Now, in both the 1969 Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document and the 1979 Green Book, there were hints about movement towards a non-exploitative society. Morogoro argued that the doubly-oppressed and doubly-exploited working class constitutes a distinct and reinforcing layer of our liberation and Socialism and does not stand in conflict with the national interest. Similarly, the Green Book called for the liquidation of national oppression and economic exploitation in an uninterrupted advance.
If in 1969, the global balance of forces was nudging the ANC towards a stronger assertion of the social content of the liberation struggle, by the late 1970s that balance had further shifted, with liberated Mozambique and Angola adopting a socialist-oriented path of development. Similar debates about these issues were taking place on Robben Island and some of them had not been resolved even by the time the political prisoners were released.
How then do these formulations compare with the constitutional principles for a democratic South Africa, initiated by President Oliver Tambo in the late 1980s and the assertion of liberal democratic principles?
I would characterise this journey as continuity of continuity and change of change. What does this mean?
An examination of both the African Claims and Freedom Charter will affirm the historical commitment of the ANC to what can be characterised as liberal political freedoms, including: freedom of association and assembly, regular free and fair elections, freedom of the media, freedom of speech, equality before the law, inviolability of the home and so on. Implied in this was also the recognition of the principle of separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
As such, the political rights enshrined in the 1996 constitution – with checks and balances and restraints on the three arms of government – are not an aberration or a compromise from the negotiations process. These were entirely consistent with the ideals of the national democratic revolution that the ANC had stood for historically.
In other words, we should differentiate between the compromises made in the interim constitution about the transition, and the ultimate ideals reflected in the final constitution. The 1994 settlement provided a beachhead from which the national liberation movement would advance to the ultimate ideal.
That final ideal is as much about liberal democracy as it is about social justice. Our constitution is celebrated across the world because of its recognition of other generations of human rights: social, economic, environmental, gender and others. This is entirely consistent with the injunctions of both the African Claims and the Freedom Charter.
That is what we mean by continuity of continuity.
What about strategic elaboration of socio-economic policy? The Freedom Charter asserts, among others, that the people should share in the country’s wealth and that the land should be shared among those who work it. It calls for the transfer of ‘the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry… to the ownership of the people as a whole’. But it also calls for ‘equal rights to trade…, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions’ as well as private ownership of land ‘re-divided amongst those who work it’.
This is where the battle of interpretations arises, a reflection of what I refer to as ‘change of change’. From Nelson Mandela in the 1950s to Morogoro, the economic clauses of the Freedom Charter were interpreted to mean nationalisation and state ownership. What is not clarified, though, is what would happen when small companies grew or when those owning the subdivided land succeeded and others failed. This is precisely the question that Prof Jack Simons challenged us to reflect on when, excitedly, as young trainees in the camps, we were arguing that the Freedom Charter is a socialist document.
It is in the context of change of change, partly because of a global balance of forces that had negatively shifted given the unravelling of living socialism, and partly because of evolving logic, that the approach to state ownership was adjusted over the years. It culminated in the 1992 Ready to Govern document which introduced the principle of ‘balance of evidence’ for a mixed economy with a new and constructive relationship between the people, the state, the trade union movement, the private sector and the market. Economic-policy measures may include ‘increasing the public sector’, ‘joint ventures with the private sector’, or even ‘reducing the public sector in certain areas’.
At the 2007 Polokwane Conference and in subsequent Strategy and Tactics documents, this has been refined to mean the best attributes of social democracy and a developmental state.
Let us now reflect on methodological approach in assessing the balance of forces and its relevance to our efforts today. Morogoro argues that policy and organisational structures must grow out of the real situation if they are not to become meaningless clichés.
Guided by that injunction, can we say that the balance of forces has qualitatively changed since 1994; and how far have we gone in building a National Democratic Society!
As we all know, in the early years of the democratic dispensation, there were many forces which were bent on frustrating and even reversing the democratisation process.
We outmanoeuvred them and started introducing far-reaching programmes of transformation.
After the compromises of the early years, and the introduction of GEAR as a self-imposed structural adjustment programme, the liberation movement was able to strengthen its grip on the state machinery and to speed up the transformation project. It introduced microeconomic reform programmes. Affirmative action assisted in breaking the apartheid racial and gender glass ceiling. The proportion of Black people in middle and upper strata massively increased. Government increased real expenditure on basic social services, making marked progress in the 2000s.
The critical point here is that, in this decade of the 2000s, the democratic state could have used its legitimacy and the massive electoral endorsement (almost 70% in 2004) to implement faster change, including the restructuring of the economy – beyond Black Economic Empowerment – to extricate it from the path dependency of the minerals-energy complex.
The objective balance of forces allowed for faster change. However, the ANC was gripped by negative subjective factors. Transformation efforts fell afoul of factional dynamics. At the2005 NGC in Pretoria, the ANC recoiled from radical organisational re-engineering. In other words, a modest reading of the balance of forces, as well as frailties within the ANC, let opportunities slip through our fingers.
The objective conditions have changed, and many of the subjective weaknesses continue to manifest today.
Economically, compared to fifteen years ago, the balance of forces has shifted against the forces of change. The debt burden and the legacy of state capture wear down the fiscus leaving little room for manoeuvre. Measures to stabilise the fiscal situation, such as VAT increases, have an immediate negative social impact; and agencies like Eskom are strangling the economy. Tragically, we have in recent years regressed with regard to quality of some basic services such as health, educational infrastructure, water, electricity and roads; and the poverty headcount worsened between 2011 and 2015.
As if this was not enough, a tiny Coronavirus has turned the world on its head, decimating economies and laying to waste people’s livelihoods. Combined with persistent slow growth, there is a danger of a socio-economic meltdown and of the democratic state losing legitimacy.
Do we have sufficient capacity and will for a step-change? Did NASREC in 2017 create a basis for the kind of renewal that Morogoro initiated then; and what is it that we can learn from the outcome of the 2019 elections?
Correctly, we emerged from 54th National Conference calling for unity and renewal. Again correctly, we saw the results of the 2019 elections – which represented a bit of a recovery after many years of decline – as a clarion call against corruption and for faster transformation.
However, we are still beset by internal squabbles, money politics and corruption.
As argued in the current NGC discussion document on the balance of forces, what complicates matters are the lumpen elements across society – in the economic, political, civil society and state bureaucratic agencies – who are inspired by self-enrichment and driven by greed. They will even steal food parcels and money for state funerals. And the more cunning among them will profess radicalism – often combined with narrow nationalism – to legitimise their criminal enterprise.
The ANC faces an existential question, now as we prepare for the NGC: can we achieve renewal of the organisation and of society and at the same time forge unity within the ANC! Is unity shorn of principle?
How indeed do we deal with members who are in conflict with the law who then claim that they are being targeted because they represent some faction called RET within our ranks? How do we manage the refrain around ‘radical economic transformation’ that, in reality, seems to be a convenient revolutionary slogan?
This is what Morogoro meant when it said: The revolutionary sounding phrase does not always reflect revolutionary policy, and revolutionary sounding policy is not always the springboard for revolutionary advance. Indeed, what appears to be “militant” and “revolutionary” can often be counter-revolutionary.
To deal with these challenges, practically, the ANC may need, in my view, to consider a form of an ‘organisational state of emergency’, with the following measures, among others:
- As we introduce the new digital membership system, we may want to ask every ANC member to re-apply for membership.
- Our vetting mechanism should include a police clearance certificate for every member.
- We must strengthen the Integrity Committee and set up the Electoral Commission whose tasks include pre-conference ‘integrity checks’ for all those availing themselves for leadership positions.
- Through a mechanism that enjoys universal confidence, we should conduct lifestyle audits, starting with national and provincial leaders, and later regional and branch leaders.
- We must ensure swift and decisive action against wrongdoing.
Some of these measures may sound extreme. But, all of them are in line with the spirit of the 2017 Conference resolutions. There is a tendency among some of us to ignore the totality of the resolutions from NASREC: on social transformation, organisational renewal, state capacity and the fight against corruption and state capture… as if we went there only to talk about nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank and expropriation of land without compensation.
The corona virus is reminding us again about the political economy debate on the power balance between the state, the market and the citizen. We need to lead the nation in a social compact that uses the current crisis as a burning platform to implement major catalytic interventions to speed up growth and development.
Government will need to prudently manage fiscal debt. But, in dealing with the debt-to-GDP ratio, we should, as a matter of principle, focus on adding steroids to the denominator (GDP) rather than overzealously targeting the numerator.
We should use the debt primarily for investment in both social and economic infrastructure which has huge multiplier effects.
We should promote economic sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure supplies and low-end manufacturing which are appropriate for unskilled and semi-skilled unemployed workers.
We should use the registration of micro-enterprises, which we have now introduced, to ramp up support for a segment that represents individual and community initiative.
We should use the African continental free trade agreement to build partnerships especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
This will require financing mechanisms that incorporate development finance institutions, the Reserve Bank, public-private partnerships and private capital; and some of these resources should be used to stabilise Eskom’s balance sheet, which is a heavy millstone around our necks.
Critically, we should join progressive humanity in fashioning a more equitable world order from the ruins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this way, we shall become true agents of change both in South Africa and further afield, worthy inheritors of the lifeforce of Morogoro.