The challenge the Covid-19 pandemic poses to current and future cadres of the ANC

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ANC's Secretary General Ace Magashule. Photo by: EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

Comrades often bewail the fact that we are short of committed cadres, and leaders, in the ANC. The critical question is how we can be short of cadres when the ANC has over a million signed up members? 

What this indicates is that there is a difference between a member of the ANC and a cadre of our Liberation Movement. Also that there is a difference between quantity and quality, among our supporters and members.

The ANC as a political party, which in our democratic system must contest elections, where numbers count, must certainly strive to increase our membership numbers as much as possible. In order to win elections, the ANC must strive to increase both our membership, as well as numbers of supporters, who will vote for us as a registered political party.

It is true that the overwhelming number of those who vote for us are not signed up members. However, we must strive to recruit as many as possible of those supporters into actually becoming members, who have signed up, paid their membership fees, and carry an ANC membership card. Having taken those steps, as a result of a conscious decision, solidifies adherence to the ANC beyond that of being supporters. 

Members will always be the core of our voter base, and as such are more likely to remain committed and loyal, not only during good times but also during times when the going gets tough.

It is in recognition of this that the ANC has recently improved our recruitment processes and online membership system. It is our ardent hope that the new system will make it easier for our supporters to join the ANC as full members, who will become active in our branches and with whom we can engage effectively, and ensure their active participation in ANC structures and programs.  

The process of transforming a comrade, who signed up as a member of the ANC, into an effective cadre of our Liberation Movement must be conscious and deliberate. A cadre does not fall from the proverbial tree. A comrade must be moulded into a cadre over time, through experience within the organisational structures of the ANC, and in engagement with the consistent struggles of our people to advance themselves, and to create a better life for all. 

A cadre has to be ideologically conscious and committed. There is no escaping that a pre-requisite for cadre-ship is a strong ideological foundation. Without an ideological foundation that gives content and direction to one’s commitment to the struggle of our people for full liberation, individualism and self-enhancement are likely to take over. 

The death of ideology leads to the withering away of historical understanding and collective political strategy, and ultimately to the individualisation of politics into personal self-promotion. 

This cannot be allowed, because it is an aberration of what the ANC was established for. Thus, political education in the moulding of a cadre is essential. It is this understanding that informed the Resolution on cadre development of the 53rd National Conference of the ANC, and which was re-affirmed at our 54th National Conference. 

An essential part of the implementation of these Resolutions was the establishment of the OR Tambo School of Leadership, that was established in 2018. It is critical that as comrades – after having joined the ANC – progress through the ranks of our organisation and start to assume leadership positions, they must attend political classes and that must imbue an ideological understanding of their role in society, both nationally and internationally. There are no short cuts. This is the only way in which we will be able to address the shortage of cadres in our ranks. 

A true cadre must be able to draw on an ideological foundation that will help him/her to be a loyal party member, who can think globally, but act locally. As the great Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh said: “Be true to the Party and loyal to the people, fulfil any tasks, overcome any difficulty and defeat an enemy”.  

In order to develop a cadre, who is capable of doing this, political education that develops a deep historical and ideo-logical understanding of how our guiding document the Freedom Charter, and its overarching message that the people shall share in the wealth of our country, is absolutely essential. 

It is only through such an ideological understanding that it is possible to appreciate how the deep socioeconomic inequalities in our society came about, as a consequence of colonialism and its contemporary neo-colonial exponents. This must underpin our understanding of the local and international challenges that we have to overcome. Only through such an ideological foundation can a cadre be grounded in the struggle of our people, and will he/she act with selfless commitment to advance the full liberation of our people. 

The current challenge that the Covid-19 pandemic poses to our society, highlights the need for such true cadres in our Liberation Movement. The Covid-19 pandemic is an international health crisis, that impacts on our country in unique and specific ways because of our particular history of colonialism of a special type. It is only with an understanding of that history, and how it brought about our local conditions of massive inequality and terrible spatial development that confronts the majority of our people, that cadres of the ANC can be the leaders in our society. Only with that understanding can they appreciate the huge challenges that most of our people are faced with in order to comply with the demands of an effective lockdown. 

The current health, and overall socio-economic crisis that we are confronted with, is a true test of cadre-ship. As Ho Chi Min said – this is the time to be true to the party, and loyal to the people. 

As such our ANC cadres cannot waver in insisting that the lockdown conditions that President Ramaphosa announced must be strictly adhered to. We must do so with the international understanding of how real the dangers are that we are faced with, and how devastating the consequences will be if we fail to effectively adhere to the lockdown. 

Therefore every ANC cadre must insist on discipline among our people, and a spirit of compliance. Any deliberate defiance must be exposed, denounced and resisted. However, simultaneously, this discipline must be accompanied by an understanding of the historically difficult circumstances that had been imposed on most of our people – and which makes the burden of complying to the lockdown regulations difficult and challenging. This is what must inform an ANC cadre-ship posture of discipline, with compassion.  

The National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC demonstrated such disciplined, but compassionate, cadre-ship when it acknowledged in its press statement of the 20th of April, that the Covid-19 pandemic, “exacerbates and, in turn, is exacerbated by the triple fault lines of poverty, inequality and unemployment, and their race, gender, and spatial dimensions”. 

Every true ANC cadre now has the personal, and collective, challenge to act in unison within the communities where we live to encourage our neighbours and community members to comply with the lockdown regulations. Our duty is to explain the critical reasons why it is necessary, and through the example of how we conduct ourselves to convince our people to follow suit.

In doing so every ANC cadre must be in the forefront to fight hunger, assist indigent families and households with food, assistance to the homeless, access to water and sanitation and relief for the unemployed through expanding the UIF system. Our cadres must be the leaders in the social mobilisation of all sectors and our communities to support government efforts to change behaviour, to protect and support each other, and this must be done in the spirit of Ubuntu and solidarity. 

Any ill-discipline acts of defiance and attempts to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic for personal gain is the antithesis of what ANC cadre-ship is, and must be exposed and dealt with harshly. 

As Secretary-General of the ANC I thank the many true cadres of our beloved Liberation Movement who are so selflessly, and exemplary, dedicating themselves to the protection and survival of our communities in the face the extremely serious challenges that the pandemic poses. Through their ideological maturity and understanding, translated into revolutionary practice and solidarity with our people, they live out what it means for the ANC to be the leader of society.

I have no doubt that we as a society will prevail, and that we will emerge more united and stronger from the crucible of this immense international and local crisis. 

There are many lessons to be learnt from this deep and dark valley that our nation is walking through. The most important is certainly that it can never be business as usual again, and that we will have to do things fundamentally differently in order to address the massive disparities, and ravages of poverty, in our society. More than anything else this is what exposes us as a nation, and makes us more vulnerable to crises, such as the current pandemic. 

Essential in achieving this will be the expansion of well-moulded cadres in our Liberation Movement. Now more than ever we must live up to the challenge of developing such a cadre-ship through political education, that will develop a political consciousness of the history and liberation ideology of the ANC, and must translate into revolutionary practice that will empower and liberate our people.

Ace Magashule, is the Secretary-General of the ANC