The year 2017 has been declared the year of Oliver Reginald Tambo. This is the year in which ANC members are called upon to build and deepen the unity of the organization. In October this year we will celebrate hundred years of O.R’s birth in 1917. This intellectual and leader of our revolution remains an epitome of how a leader should conduct oneself in the execution of the struggle for the total liberation of the people. We must emulate him and many who placed people first and were accountable for their actions to the broader membership of the ANC and to the rest of society. O.R Tambo’s leadership traits should be a defining feature of the kind and caliber of leaders that must lead the ANC going forward.

In 1983 addressing the fourth congress of Frelimo under the theme, ‘The Unity of our peoples’, President O. R Tambo had this to say:

“We in the ANC and the revolutionary alliance which we head, have never considered freedom to be the substitution of black for white faces in the corridors of power, while leaving unchanged the exploitative economic infrastructure from which racism receives its sustenance. We have always understood that the uprooting of the oppressive system must necessarily entail the seizure of the key centres of economic power – as stipulated in our Freedom Charter – and their transference to the common ownership of the people.

The radical restructuring of the economy will also require dismantling the white minority’s monopoly over the best agricultural land, and its redistribution among those who work it. We envisage a totally new State system in which the army, the police force and the judiciary serve the interests of the people as a whole and not those of an exploitative minority. Finally, we conceive of our country as a single, united, democratic and nonracial State, belonging to all who live in it, in which all shall enjoy equal rights, and in which sovereignty will come from the people as a whole, and not from a collection of bantustans and racial and tribal groups organised to perpetuate minority power”.

O.R Tambo worked for the unity of the people. He did so because he understood that in order to attain the liberation of South Africa we needed a united, strong and functional ANC. It is interesting that, those many years back, he argued for the radical restructuring of the economy. This point is made because at times when we make attempts to go back to what the ANC stands for and what many of our founding leaders have said, there are those within and outside the movement who say our forebears wouldn’t have anticipated the challenges of living in free and democratic South Africa. These views must be dispelled because, ours was an organisation led by great intellectuals, who at all times have applied themselves on critical questions relating to the kind of society we seek to build, including on how to go about building it.

If, as the current generation of ANC activists, we are to honor O.R Tambo and our forebears, we must inculcate and espouse the principles of humility, accountability, integrity and ethical conduct, which have made it possible for our movement to earn its position as the leader of the South African society and the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

Uniting South Africans

Throughout its existence one of the strengths of the ANC has been its ability to unite Africans and all those that continue to support the struggle against the exclusion of the natives by white minority rule.

The attainment of unity was never going to happen overnight because of many factors. It is for this reason that even today, it must be acknowledged that the struggle to realise the goal of a National Democratic Society requires that at all times the capacity to understand the enemy – the detractors of the National Democratic Revolution – be sharpened.

Electoral decline 1994 to date

This remains critical because since the ANC took state power in 1994, it has had to deal with many destructions that have resulted, among others, in the concerning decline of electoral support across the country especially in the metropolitan areas. Could this decline in electoral support be as a result of how the ANC is conducting and waging the struggle? Many have said the ANC is now led by unethical leaders; that it has lost its moral authority over society. They say we are arrogant, we don’t listen to the smallest of voices, we think we have answers and more dangerously we do not respect the constitution of the republic including that of the ANC.

Principled and accountable leadership

They say the ANC lacks integrity; that is has become part of what can be referred to as “The Establishment” – made up of a political and economic elite detached from the masses who historically have been its base. It is also said that those in leadership positions in the ANC and in the state are using the levers of power not to advance socio-economic transformation but to pursue narrow personal interests that are mainly financial in nature.

We need to turn the corner before we loose the hard earned leadership of the South African society. Once again, what we need is an accountable and principled leadership that speaks truth to power and staying the course. Staying the course means focusing on the tasks of the NDR, hence at all material times when decisions are taken the central question is and should be, what impact will this have on the people, will it change their material position for the better, will such a decision contribute towards the attainment of a non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous society.

The ANC as a movement with rich history needs to find comprehensive responses to these and many other challenges it faces – be they real or perceived. This is particularly important in light of the reality that the ANC’s grip on state power is waning especially in the aftermath of the August 3 local government elections. Denialism and the continued burying of heads in the sand will not assist!

Responding comprehensively to the challenges it faces is also important because the ANC needs the state and its apparatus as one of the critical and strategic levers to drive radical social and economic transformation, taking forward the agenda of radically restructuring the economy as espoused by O.R Tambo. How then does the ANC turn the corner? What is to be done to continue building a National Democratic Society?

The 2007 Strategy and Tactics document of the ANC is instructive in this regard. It argues that a National Democratic Society does not emerge “ripe and ready for harvesting at the point of transfer of power.” It needs to be built consciously by the forces of fundamental change.

Faced with the current challenges, as well as the very real prospect of losing its vanguard role in society – a role it has earned over many years of consistently fighting on the side of the oppressed and marginalised – the ANC needs to mend its ways. This has to happen urgently!

Organizational Renewal

 In this regard, the resolutions on organisational renewal taken at the 2012 Mangaung National Conference of the ANC are particularly relevant, also because it was not for the first time such a discussion or view was put forward. The 2012 Conference resolved, among others, that the renewal of the ANC should: “Principally be about building the ANC’s resilience, enhancing its transformative capacity and its ability to adapt to changing situations so that it can continue to serve and lead the people.”

Part of this renewal requires that the ANC invests in the development of cadres that are ready and willing to “walk the talk”, that are principled and have integrity. These are cadres who at all times place the people first; cadres that preoccupy themselves with seeking answers on why the plethora of ANC programmes and policies for socioeconomic transformation have not yielded the desired results of changing for the better the conditions of the majority of South Africans.

Development of dependable cadres

Equally the ANC needs cadres that will work towards finding lasting solutions to the social ills in society; solutions on how can poverty, unemployment and inequality be addressed decisively in a systematic and sustainable manner.

The key question though, is where does the ANC produce such cadres that are so desperately needed? Where is the ANC’s reservoir from where it draws its most dependable cadres who are ready and able to discharge the responsibility of consciously building a national democratic society; cadres who can help the ANC regain its vanguard role in society and its standing as a trusted ally of all those seeking a better life for all? Put differently from where does the ANC draw its forces of fundamental change?

The former President of the ANCYL Anton Lembede speaking on the kind of youth required to build a formidable youth movement and a youth ready to contribute towards the vision of the National Democratic Revolution had the following to say about the commitment required from young people;

“We are not called to peace, comfort and enjoyment, but to hard work, struggle and sweat. We need young men and women of high moral stamina and integrity; of courage and vision. In short, we need warriors. This means that we have to develop a new type of youth of stoical discipline, trained to endure suffering and difficulties. It is only this type of youth that will achieve the national liberation of the African people.”

I argue that failure to developing a well thought and comprehensive response to the clarion call made by Lembede and his generation, will result in the ANC not being able to answer the question: where will the next crop of cadres to take it and the broader society beyond this epoch come from? This is one critical task because institutionalising cadreship development will be the most profound reflection of the ANC’s seriousness about securing its future and relevance as well as guaranteeing the success of the National Democratic Revolution.


As the ANC grapples with these important questions, it needs to do so taking into account that 2017 is the year of the National Elective Conference. Historically the tendency has been that when faced with Elective Conferences, the ANC has tended to be preoccupied with itself; spending more time on who must be elected as opposed to a thorough and deeper analysis on what characterises this epoch of struggle and what responses are needed both at a leadership and programmatic level.

This year instead of rushing to electing leaders, the ANC must first and foremost pay serious attention on how to respond, in a comprehensive and sustained manner, to the challenges of society taking into account current global and local political and economic developments. Discussions on who must be elected can then follow. These discussions must include ensuring that society as a whole makes a direct contribution in the process of electing ANC leaders. This will go a long way in cementing the ANC’s role as a leader of society; a true Parliament of the People.

Mduduzi Mbada, ANC Mzala Branch Chairperson, Ward 54, Johannesburg

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