October is usually the month in which we more commonly celebrate the life of the former president of the ANC, Comrade Oliver Tambo. However, this past October served as a special month in the calendar of the ANC and our nation’s democracy for another reason. This year, the birthday of Comrade OR as he was affectionately known, was somewhat overshadowed by the centenary birthday celebrations of Comrade Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu.
A titan of our struggle for freedom, Comrade Albertina Sisulu dedicated her life to ensuring the emancipation of our people, especially women and children. As a nurse, a political activist, a banned person, a prisoner, a comrade and a mother, Mme Sisulu epitomised the dedication displayed by so many ‘ordinary’ women who strive for and bring about the ideals of human dignity, justice and democracy.
From an early age, as a nurse trainee, the passion to fight injustice, as experienced through discrimination and segregation, was stirred within her. This passion eventually led her to running and maintaining the Sisulu household while her husband volunteered full-time for the ANC and yet at the same time she made a room available for alternative education within their home. For the following forty years, Comrade Sisulu’s life became fully emerged in the issues of women’s rights and the freedom of our people first leading in the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) and then eventually taking up a leading role in the United Democratic Front in the eighties.
While the right to vote was primary for freedom fighters such as Mme Sisulu that generation of leaders knew all too well that democracy and the freedom of our people engendered much more than simply making a cross on a ballot paper every two years. Through the political education in which they were schooled and which has hitherto been the political culture of the ANC, the founding leaders of our democracy ensured that the people themselves were active participants in democracy; participating, competing and ensuring freedom and equality.
The generation of Comrade Sisulu understood and appreciated the role of street committees, branches, meetings and activities of organisations. As a result, a profound influence of the principles of conscientise, mobilise and educate was instilled upon this generation and the immediate generations that followed. The involvement of our people lies at the very heart of our existence as a mass-based organisation.
The ANC, as the eldest democratic organisation in Africa and which Comrade Sisulu was a proud member of, has had a long tradition in democracy. Throughout its history, the ANC has insisted that it remains responsive to the needs of all South Africans whilst ensuring that greater freedom and equality is ensured when our constitutional democracy is practiced. It is for these reasons, in particular, that the ANC finds it a moral imperative to address the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality for these certainly do negatively affect the quality of our democracy.
Currently the ANC is engaging in a broad consultation process whereby branches in communities as well as organisations at grassroots level to community organisations, business leaders as well as labour are consulted in drafting the manifesto for the ANC which will be launched at the January 8th celebrations next year. It is no small task but its importance is critical.
Since the days of the Freedom Charter, where every corner of the country was visited to elicit the vision and ideals that ordinary South Africans have for their country, today the ANC through its community based branches consults the people on what should be in this manifesto.
Unlike other parties, the ANC will not draft its manifesto in a boardroom, depend on polls or just consult experts on what should be in it. It will also not cherry-pick populist issues to champion and omit a broad range of other issues relating to these. The end product of the manifesto, as it will be launched, will be a document that has a holistic approach to the challenges faced by our people and most would have had the opportunity to engage in this process.
Manifestos serve as social pacts between the governing and the governed. It is because of what is written in the manifesto that the people endow upon their representatives the authority to govern and to improve lives. It is through the choice of their preferred manifesto that the people breathe life into the words of the Freedom Charter: the People Shall Govern!
Guided by the resolutions of its 54th National Conference held in Nasrec at the end of 2017, resolutions that would have been resolved by the branches of the ANC, the ANC, through its manifesto, will seek ‘to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person’.
We have heard the call of our people to radical economic transformation thereby restructuring the economy of our country and ensure that the majority of our country’s citizens are included in the national economy. We will listen to what our people have to say in respect of land and agrarian reform, the skills revolution, amongst other national priorities.
We must champion and ensure that the plight of women and young people, these who form the majority of our population, are heard and that their issues are firmly placed high on the national agenda. We will only be able to realise empowered families, communities and an emboldened country, if the needs of women and young people are adequately addressed.
Through this manifesto process the ANC hopes that it will get all our people participating not only in next year’s elections but certainly in the formulation of government policy, even before the sixth ANC led administration will be elected overwhelmingly into office again. Even more so, we hope that by ensuring this participatory process, we will indeed be responsive to the needs of our people and not be bogged down by what the chattering classes want us to concentrate on.
It is through the quality of our democracy and the active engagement with our people, across the divisions in our country, that we will honour the legacy of Mme Albertina Sisulu. By consulting the poorest of the poor and by engaging a vast demographic of people, the ANC, true to its democratic traditions, will continue to pursue policies which are pro-poor but more importantly what the people want.
The People Shall Govern. The People shall build this democracy, safeguard it and ensure that it continues. It is for this reason that the slogan, synonymous with the ANC, has always been our rallying cry: “Amandla! Ngawethu!”
Nomvula Mokonyane is the Minister of Communications and NEC ANC Member and Matuba Meokgo is the Secretary General of the ANCWL.