'ANC must go back to the masses'

In the second instalment of his interview with Kgalema Motlanthe, Ebrahim Harvey speaks to the ANC deputy president about healing division in the party, unity among the alliance partners and the Polokwane ‘revolution’

How will the ANC deal with its growing class divisions? At Polokwane, the bulk of delegates arrived in buses and taxis while ministers and bigwigs drove up in big and flashy cars.

The ANC is by its very nature a multi-class organisation. The only reason why it has been pro-poor is because it mainly consists of poor people. But we also have super-rich members and hard-nosed capitalists. But the bias of the ANC is in favour of the poor. We hope this remains.

There is a new radicalism in the ranks of the ANC. Now that it’s been unleashed, are you not afraid that it may overwhelm the organisation?

The radicalisation is a reflection of the reality of the country at the moment and should be most welcome.

Let’s look towards the 2009 election. Will the divisions in the ANC hurt the ruling party?

The ANC must go back to the masses and restore its credibility among them and their faith in it. The people must feel the ANC is their instrument.

Are you concerned about the attacks on the judiciary over the past few weeks?

When people speak of the judiciary they include the directorate of special operations [DSO]. So attacks against the excesses of the DSO are seen as attacks against the judiciary. Our criminal justice system is young and we need to allow it to mature. We need to ensure that these institutions enjoy respect from all South Africans.

I had a meeting with the chief justice and Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke [whose comments reported in the Sunday Times catalysed the problems] and he said he was talking about the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, but he admits that it was unfortunate for him to use the example of the ANC conference. He could simply have added a few other parties or just said that no political parties would influence this or that.

The ANC fully supports the independence of these institutions.

Can we expect a big increase in government spending this year, as there seems to be a more pro-poor and radical stance within the ANC?

Well, the social grants take a big chunk of the budget. What you are likely to see in the future is an attack on poverty, which also deals with rural development and food security. It’s better to get the poor out of poverty than for them to always rely on state grants, which is not sustainable over the long term. Job creation is therefore a top priority, but decent jobs and not irregular and unstable jobs.

Two of the areas the ANC has decided to focus on in poverty alleviation are education and health. In education, we want to reopen teacher training colleges to produce a new calibre of teacher. We also need more skills training because at the moment there is a mismatch; we are not sufficiently providing the skills required by the economy. Health and education are now so important that they are standalone committees, unlike in the past when it was part of the social transformation sub-committee. There will therefore absolutely be substantial fiscal increases to deal with these priorities.

Do you think the long-standing tensions among alliance partners may ease significantly and be replaced by more focus on the crisis within the ANC itself?

No. When any of the components is ill—because we are like Siamese triplets—none of the other components can claim good organisational health. So the effort to strengthen and consolidate the cohesion of the ANC will be accompanied by similar efforts with the SACP and Cosatu. However, because the ANC leads the alliance, it ought to be in a much healthier state of organisation to be able to provide strong leadership. 

Do you think Trevor Manuel will continue as finance minister in a new ANC government after the 2009 elections?

Yes, I think so. Trevor is one of the most upright members of the NEC and also in terms of ANC policies. I say so without prevarication.

If so, will this be with the blessing of Cosatu and the SACP, who have heavily criticised the policies he has pursued over the years?

This time, you will have components of the alliance meeting as activists of the same movement and collectively discussing and arriving at positions which then get effected through government.

But there is also some serious work that is required to bridge the policy divide that has existed between Cosatu-SACP and the ANC. Manuel is just the minister. You see, Trevor moves around with bankers and others, so he will bring insights from there. We also have in the alliance people who bring lived experience of policies and others from a labour perspective and so on. So none of them should hold back their views or positions, and hopefully out of that we get a synthesis that will take us forward. 

We have long moved away from Gear. We are over the hurdle of inherited debt now. When Trevor was here, before he left for Davos, he said we must now avoid using the word, “non-negotiable” because it causes trouble.

The problem also was that Gear was not properly explained—in terms of the real problems we were confronted with in 1994—and therefore the rationale for adopting such a macroeconomic policy. If it was explained, it should have been better. When Gear was introduced I was in Cosatu myself. The role of the ANC is to explain things in simple terms. You must be able to take a complex matter in a way that it can be understood by a 12-year-old. This is necessary so that we can mobilise the greatest social forces. The debt was so big that we needed R32-billion just to service the interest on it. So where would we find the money for other things? The option was to borrow from the World Bank, which we did not want to do. In our tripartite secretariat meetings this has been explained and accepted. 


In 2007 you appeared seriously concerned with relations between the ANC in Luthuli House and the ANC in government, particularly the Cabinet. How is the problem going to be resolved before the election?

I think Polokwane actually resolved that problem. The essence of the problem was that you had a dominant Cabinet, but it is the ANC that contests and wins elections and then deploys some of its members to government structures. Those structures began to function as a cabal against the ANC. You had evidence of it last year. In the run-up to conference when the women’s league nominated Zuma for president, the entire government machinery was activated against a democratic ANC decision.

Let’s take Sam Shilowa, as an example. He is a premier, appointed by the ANC, but he had this illusion that as governing individuals they were a powerful cabal that could manipulate the direction of the ANC. Conference has now resolved that problem. He knows now that he no longer has such authority.

It is extremely unlikely that many of the economic and social policies of the government will be changed to please the alliance partners—Zuma has told investors so. Is this a recipe for disaster?

There is no situation of members here, leaders there and investors there. Leadership is leadership of this membership and if it acts democratically. Particularly when you are taking conservative decisions, you have to engage and make sure there is enough time for such engagement, so that when you then take a decision that is conservative the entire membership understands why. Because if you don’t do that, there will be a revolt against you. Revolution means social forces being mobilised, and once they are mobilised they revolt not because they don’t like this or that leader but on the basis of a dislike of certain policies and how their lives are affected.

Polokwane contradicted your often-stated position that the right policies are in place and that all we needed was proper implementation. Do you still believe that?

Well, we should never speak of policy in absolute but in relative terms. 


The SACP and Cosatu believe that important strategic space has been opened up with the Zuma victory in Polokwane, to explore more confidently different and better policy options. Do you agree?

Polokwane would not have happened if a monopoly of ideas by a few was not evident.

Surely Cosatu and the SACP are not going to allow economic and social policies they reject to continue?

We need to be willing to listen to one another and engage, that’s what I believe. Nothing must be cast in absolute terms.

Do you think we are, from this year, likely to see more assertive ANC MPs, especially in relation to the Cabinet, than in the past?

Self-confidence levels are a bit higher now. Before MPs could not assert themselves because top leaders could easily pull rank. That’s why we decided that key positions in Parliament must be occupied by its members, so that it will no longer be possible for a Cabinet minister to simply wear an NEC cap and say, well, we’ll discuss this matter in the NEC, and so control things. Without strong checks and balances in the system, it won’t work properly.

Now that Polokwane is over, what would you say were the biggest problems that led to the “revolution” there and the ousting of the ANC old guard? What are the key lessons for the ANC?

The ANC is both a national liberation movement and a ruling party: it’s about the management of that relationship. A liberation movement must always be with the people, take its cue from them and represent them. Governing parties universally tend to govern with a top-down approach, and in the ANC the challenge has always been to strike a correct balance between these two spheres.

At the last NEC, Trevor said “Why do we as ministers need to arrive in big and flashy cars?” We need to be conscious of how to resist the trappings of power, because you can get easily consumed by those trappings.

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