An elitist ANC leadership finds a pro-poor agenda a grave discomfort

THE ANC launched its annual chopper campaign in Durban yesterday, as the flag was flown over the coastal areas around the city. Sibonelo Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)

Will the ANC 2019 January 8th Statement and election manifesto bring clarity, or simply confirm this dialectical tension?

On the eve of the ANC’s annual January Statement in a year of the national ballot, to be delivered on January 12th, it becomes imperative to look at and clear up some shibboleths, anomalies and misconceptions that keep our public discourse hostage. To this extent we have decided to write a series of articles to assist discussions on what is emerging as an ANC leadership of a people’s campaign for radical economic transformation and land redress that presents waves of discomfort within the identity of the ANC as historically an elitist organization if its ontology is considered the yardstick.

The parts that make up the musing are respectively: Part 1: The ANC attests a history of elitism, Part 2: Jacob Zuma the ‘uneducated’ identifies with the people’s campaign and becomes the by-default face of RET, Part 3: Why we supported an elitist Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma campaign. Part 4: Urban Foundation groomed Ramaphosa the test of a People’s Campaign mandate versus an ANC elitist agenda

Part 1: The ANC attests a history of elitism

It is exactly a year since the 54th National Conference where the leadership that emerged was mandated to carry out a set of pro-Radical Economic Transformation (RET) Resolutions. That for many outside the ANC, and even some in the ANC, was never palatable for the far-reaching and fundamental revolutionary change that it envisaged. In order to appreciate this notion of discomfort from within the ANC on its own adopted Resolutions, we warrant first to appreciate who the ANC is from inception. A cursory look at its history will prove that the ANC from the start was an organisation led by elites. It was not a mass mobilisation movement, led by the groundswell support of the poor, landless and the uneducated. It was not a worker’s formation either.

Few historians will dispute that the ANC in its genesis evidences a leadership that unequivocally assimilated as African elites, who no longer wanted to be sidelined and subjugated by white colonial masters, but who were not averse to making deals with the colonial powers in order to achieve their objectives. Thus, some of the most important activities of the early leadership of the ANC was to dispatch delegations to petition the British monarch and parliament for fairer treatment and recognition.

Its later association, with the Worker’s Cause at several historical intersections, left it dishevelled, out of kilt and struggling to maintain its elitist identity. This was evident in the elitist ANC leadership’s initial discomfort with communism. It can be argued that the eventual rapprochement between the traditional elitist, and initially pro-capitalist ANC leadership, was based on the fact that the Soviet Union and other East-Bloc communist countries were more prepared to recognize the ANC leadership and treat them on an equal footing than the elitist and racist insults, and disdainful disregard, that they had to endure from the British, and other European colonial powers.

The material support that the communists were also prepared to provide the ANC, which was cash-strapped and had hardly any resources, also played a huge role in forging a closer relationship.

Arguably this material support channelled through the South African Communist Party was initially the main foundation for the growing relationship, rather than ideological affinity. Initially the elitist, and traditional leadership of the ANC felt a far closer cultural and ideological affinity with the Western European colonial powers, which in no small measure also influenced western orientated colonial missionary education. But the arrogant disdain with which they were none-the-less treated the Western Europeans, and the need for material resources to keep the ANC afloat, drove them to the communists East-Bloc.

It was more a case of being driven into the arms of the communists by the arrogance and racism of the Western European colonial powers than feeling a natural affinity with the more equalitarian worldview of communism, and of a working class led society.

The modern identity of the ANC attests ambivalent because it is a movement that purports to represent the masses, but for almost all of its history it was and continues to be, led by a black traditional, intellectual and business leadership elite. That identity was upheld for the better part of its 107 years. Even in the darkest days of apartheid, also during the years of banishment and exile, the ANC represented that paradigm.

Interestingly enough this was not changed by the pro-African radicalism of the ANC Youth League when it was formed under the leadership of the Anton Lembede, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu among others. In fact, these pro-Africanist young radical leaders were initially even more anti-communist than their older counterparts in the Mother body and NEC of the ANC. They launched harsh verbal, and even physical, attacks on the communists. Nelson Mandela acknowledged that he once attacked Dr. Yusuf Dadoo of the SACP with a chair in an attempt to literally to beat him off the stage, during a communist party meeting in the Krugersdorp City Hall.

Evidently, although more radical in the acknowledgement of their Pan-African identity the young lions of the ANC Youth League were no less elitist in their overall political approach. They also saw themselves as an elitist vanguard, empowered by their mainly western missionary education, with the right to lead.

It was only when Umkhonto we Sizwe was finally formed on the 16th of December 1961, and it was only through the South African Communist Party and their links with the Soviet Union, and other East-Bloc communist countries that guns and other weapons and military training could become available, that Mandela’s attitude to the South African communists and communism in general softened.

However, it can be argued that it was more a utilitarian association of need rather than a deep ideological commitment. This was confirmed by OR Tambo who often narrated that the ANC’s association with communism and the especially the Soviet Union was necessitated by the fact that the West was not prepared to support the anti-apartheid struggle of the ANC in general, and specifically not the armed struggle. The only source of support for years came from the USSR, and other East-Bloc communist countries, later further supplemented by support from Cuba.

For the first time in its history, in the 1980’s the ANC became forced to associate itself with the internal groundswell of the masses that were mobilised not as ANC per se. This was personified by the student revolt of 1976 and beyond, and the emergence of a strong civics-based country-wide resistance movement against apartheid. Initially the ANC did not lead this period, but eventually, it agreed to lead because it was assisted by the internal activities of people that were not formal ANC members, but who often identified with those more progressive pro-people liberation pronouncements of the ANC, such as contained in the Freedom Charter.

Many of the leadership collective elite in the ANC was, however, never comfortable with leaders like Winnie Mandela, Harry Gwala, Allan Boesak and even Chris Hani, whom they considered populists.

Let us not forget for an elongated period populism, inside the ANC had a negative connotation, and was considered the antithesis of intellectualism and pragmatism. While in exile ANC leadership battled to fully identify with internal leaders who were very popular, and plausibly a threat in their own rights for the prevailing leadership of the ANC.

In order to appreciate the elitist character of the ANC’s leadership throughout time, we must look back and ask where were ANC leaders were trained for their primary and basic education? It is on record that an early group of ANC leadership were educated at white mission schools like Lovedale, Adams College and Institutions like Fort Hare etc. Meaning the prism of their education was that of the coloniser and the missionary–colonizer. Thus, the education of the ANC’s leadership in its prism and epistemology was essentially borrowed from that umwelt, and it can never escape that reality for its undeniable influence on the panoply of their thought and struggle convictions. We may, therefore, accept that the elitism of the ANC is a borrowed one from the colonisers who intrinsically shaped the ANC leadership since 1912, up to at least 2007.

The ANC appears suspended between the mandate to lead a people’s campaign and its fundamental identity of elitist which wrestles for its future existence.

Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 will follow in the weeks ahead.

Clyde N.S. Ramalaine a life-long activist for social justice is an ordained Theologian with SA and USA credentials. He is currently reading towards a D. Litt. et Phil, in Political Science.  

Carl Niehaus is an ANC veteran with 40 years of uninterrupted ANC membership, and a former member of the NEC of the ANC. He also served as the SA Ambassador to The Netherlands. He is currently a member of the NEC of MKMVA, and the National Spokesperson of MKMVA. Carl contributed to this article in his personal capacity.