BY T.J. FIGUEROA
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -"The principal result of our revolution, the displacement of the apartheid political order by a democratic system, has become an established fact of South African society." With these words, outgoing president of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela opened the ANC's 50th national conference on December 16 in Mafikeng.
However, Mandela warned, "because we have just begun, the process of fundamental social transformation has not yet impacted seriously on the apartheid paradigm which affects all aspects of our lives."
Mandela's political report - five hours in duration, accompanied by several breaks - was presented on behalf of the outgoing leadership to the 3,046 voting delegates in attendance, along with hundreds of observers and fraternal delegates from South Africa and abroad. It was broadcast live on national television. The report presented both an evaluation of the current conjuncture and a balance sheet of the ANC's experience as the ruling party in South Africa, three and a half years after it won a majority of votes in the country's first nonracial elections. Those elections registered the gains of the revolutionary democratic mass movement of the South African toilers in the battle to overturn apartheid.
Forces of counterrevolution
Summarizing the democratic measures put in place by the ANC government, including the adoption of a new constitution last year, Mandela said this did not mean that "antidemocratic forces of counterrevolution no longer exist in our society. Indeed, one of the reasons why we have not seen these forces raise their ugly head more forcefully, has been the fact that our program of reconstruction and development is at its early stages... Accordingly, during the last three years, the opponents of fundamental change have sought to separate the goal of national reconciliation from the critical objective of social transformation. In many instances, they have sought to set these one against the other, with a view to the elevation of the first of these aims to a position of hegemony, with national reconciliation defined as being characterized by such measures as would compensate the white minority for the loss of its monopoly of political power by guaranteeing its privileged positions in the socioeconomic sphere." The outgoing ANC president, who remains president of the country until the 1999 elections, cited in particular efforts to obstruct affirmative action and resistance within the public service to its transformation into a nonracial institution.
Mandela said that a counterrevolutionary network, based in part on the old public administration, is seeking to weaken the ANC, use crime to render the country ungovernable, undermine the economy, and erode confidence at home and abroad in the capacity to carry out a program of reconstruction and development. "Their task," he said, "is to spread messages about an impending economic collapse, escalating corruption in the public service, rampant and uncontrollable crime, a massive loss of skills through white emigration, and mass demoralization among the people either because they are white and therefore threatened by the ANC and its policies which favor black people, or because they are black and consequently forgotten because the ANC is too busy protecting white privilege."
Role of ANC's opponents
Mandela stated that the "white parties" -chiefly the National Party, Democratic Party, and the Freedom Front - "have essentially decided against the pursuit of a national agenda. Rather, they have chosen to propagate a reactionary, dangerous and opportunist position which argues that: a normal and stable democracy has been achieved; the apartheid system is a thing of the past; their legitimate responsibility is to oppose us as the majority party.. so that they may gain power after the next elections." Mandela added that these parties continue to raise the specter of a "swart gevaar," Afrikaans for "black danger."
"Among the Coloureds and Indians, the view that the nonracial democracy constitutes a threat would be the most prevalent among the working class and the lower middle class, who would be the first to feel the pressure of African competition in the context of a deracialized labor market. It is among these sectors of the population that we find the greatest fear of the impact of our policy of affirmative action," Mandela said. He called for increased political work in these sections of the population, along with expanded efforts "among the whites in general and the Afrikaner population in particular."
For the first time, a representative of the Inkatha Freedom Party attended an ANC conference. Mandela welcomed him, saying that "our two organizations are involved in a joint effort to consolidate peace in the country and to encourage a culture of tolerance and nonviolent political competition... Furthermore, we share the same constituency, especially the rural poor." Political violence has sharply declined nationwide, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal province, where Inkatha holds a majority in the provincial legislature. The report attacked the role of the media, which despite some cosmetic changes remains overwhelmingly in the hands of white capitalists. "The media uses the democratic order, brought about by the enormous sacrifices of our own people, as an instrument to protect the legacy of racism, graphically described by its own patterns of ownership, editorial control, value system and advertiser influence," Mandela stated.
Much of the press denounced the speech as "anti-white"; many journalists gave the impression of being stunned after the ANC leader's report.
"Mandela is naive if he thinks whites will voluntarily take a drop in their living standards to uplift the poor - the economic divisions left by apartheid can be tackled in a meaningful way only if the state creates an appropriate economic environment," ran the lead editorial in the December 17 Business Day, which labeled the report "white-baiting." The liberal Mail Guardian, in its December 19 editorial, called the speech "bizarre," and claimed it employed "the language of paranoia, reliant on innuendo, which can only lead to social division."
Economy and pace of change
The ANC government has taken initial steps to provide adequate water, electricity, housing, free medical care, education, and other basic needs to the millions of blacks in urban townships and rural areas denied these under apartheid. Such programs, all in their infancy, are hindered, Mandela said, by both the need for fiscal discipline and the existence of the old state machinery. "One of the central tasks of the democratic revolution is the abolition of the apartheid state and its replacement by a democratic state. A complicating factor is that we must accomplish this task at the same time as we continue to use the existing state machinery to implement our programs." Mandela said that private capital must understand that perpetuation of apartheid patterns of economic ownership "constitutes a recipe for an enormous social and political explosion." Citing quotes by Swedish government minister Pierre Schorri and capitalists George Soros and David Rockefeller, all of which expressed concern over the threat of class confrontations arising from "globalization," Mandela urged acceptance of the proposal that "capital might be owned privately, yet there must be an institutionalized system of social accountability for the owners of capital." These remarks echoed those contained in one of the chief pre-conference discussion documents, the Strategy and Tactics document. It states, in part: "We seek to create a social order in which the many positive elements of the market dovetail with the obligations of citizens one to the other... In this sense, such a society is neither a clone of an idealistic capitalist order which is hostage to rampant so-called market forces, nor an egalitarian utopia of mechanical social parity."
Turning to the organization question, Mandela addressed "a number of negative features within the ANC and the broad democratic movement [that] have emerged during the last three years." He cited "the emergence of careerism within our ranks. Many among our members see their membership in the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification." He also denounced corruption and elitism within the organization. These remarks were met with loud applause and cheers by conference delegates.
"The fundamental social transformation of our country cannot happen without the people who understand and are committed to bringing this transformation about. In other words, to discharge the revolutionary tasks ahead of us, we need battalions of revolutionaries who are as ready to serve the people as have been the generations of cadres that preceded them."
Mandela also initiated conference discussion on differences that have emerged in the organization's alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions and South African Communist Party. He elaborated on the proliferating phenomenon of so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many of which, he warned, masquerade as "progressive" organizations, but have no mass base and draw funds from the South African or foreign governments. Mandela said an important weakness in the ANC's international work, which needs rectification, is the fact that it has "failed to sustain the level of contact and interaction with other political formations which we had developed in the past." He said the conference should consider a long-standing invitation to join the Socialist International, in which the ANC has observer status, in this regard.
In his closing speech to delegates on December 20, Mandela defended the ANC's ties with Cuba. "We defeated the enemy with the assistance of many countries, including Cuba and Libya," he said.
The ANC leader pointed toward the importance of vigorously contesting the 1999 national elections. He summed up by stating, "Our experience of the last three years tells us that the demobilization of the formations of the broad democratic movement as well as the people themselves, spells defeat for our revolutionary offensive.... It will become even clearer in the period ahead of us as we further deepen the process of fundamental social transformation, as we must."
Delegates elected a new National Executive Committee, along with six new national office-bearers. Elected unopposed were Thabo Mbeki, ANC president; Jacob Zuma, deputy president; Kgalema Motlanthe, secretary-general; and Mendi Msimang, treasurer-general. In contested posts, Patrick Lekota was elected chairman, and Thenjiwe Mthintso deputy secretary- general. Nelson Mandela, who had earlier announced his intent to retire from formal leadership in the ANC, declined a nomination made from the floor to the NEC. Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, president of the ANC Women's League, failed in her projected bid for the ANC deputy presidency. She could not muster enough votes from the floor for nomination - only 127 of the 3,046 delegates supported her - and she subsequently declined. She was elected to the NEC. Madikizela-Mandela drew renewed attention during a recent hearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that examined her role in abuses committed in Soweto during the late 1980s. Dozens of witnesses charged Madikizela-Mandela with involvement in killings and beatings; she denied all of these allegations. Newspapers, television, and radio news gave blanket coverage to the hearings, presenting the actions she accused of as on par with the crimes of the apartheid regime. Truth Commission hearings held during the same time period dealing with the 1993 murder of ANC and Communist Party leader Chris Hani were barely covered.
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