‘MIDDLE STRATA MUST ENGAGE POLICY DOCUMENTS’

This is the Address that ANC Gauteng Chairperson Comrade Paul Mashatile delivered at the Policy Discussion Workshop with the middle strata at the Wits Great Hall, 03 June 2017

I wish, on behalf of the PEC, to express our heartfelt gratitude for the enthusiasm of professionals, academics and businesspeople to engage and enrich the ANC policy discussion documents. This is encouraging indeed! Being the Parliament of the People and leader of society, ANC policies impact on all of us irrespective of our standing in society. To then have intellectuals and other professionals participating in the policy formulation of our movement can only lead to policy propositions that will be taken to the National Policy Conference being endowed with rich content and proper substance that will contribute towards finding appropriate responses to the challenges that the ANC and our country face currently.

Comrades, we are gathered here not to interrogate the policy discussion documents for the sake of it. However, our conversation today aims at enriching the proposals as contained in the documents with the view to ensure that the ANC regains its stature as the leader of society; not through coercion and insults but through the power of persuasion and superiority of its ideas.

Historically, the ANC has generated ideas that pointed a way to a better future. From its inception and even prior to that, intellectuals like Sol Plaatjie, Pixley ka Seme and John Dube floated ideas about not only the need for the unity of the indigenous people in their fight against colonialism and dispossession but also how tomorrow without colonialism and apartheid should look like. Hence, the ANC has always prided itself of being able to influence society. This tradition that was carried from generation to generation kept it alive and ensured that we achieve our freedom.

It is this same tradition of robust and frank engagement – festival of ideas – that have ensured that the best policies are adopted to guide the transition and progress is made in achieving a better life for all our people. We are not about to discard or rubbish that tradition even in the face of attempts from some quarters to be “short on strategy and long on insults”. Given the challenges that our movement is facing, the need for robust but decent debate is more pronounced, Hence, workshops like the one we are attending this morning are of critical importance if we are to succeed in reclaiming the ANC’s former glory.

We must therefore seize the opportunities presented by these conversations to discuss about challenges that we face as the ANC and our country and explore possible solutions. The time for lamentations has long passed as we urgently need answers. It is our belief that emerging from this gathering, a common view will crystallise around what we believe will be policies that can rebuild the ANC whilst taking our country forward.

Comrades, we gather here during the “Year of Oliver Tambo! Let us Deepen Unity” and his exemplary leadership ought to guide our discussions during this policy workshop to ensure that the policy proposals we make benefit the people of South Africa. President Tambo reminds us that “the fight for freedom must go on until it is won; until our country is free, we cannot rest.” All of us including the middle-strata have an important role to play in ensuring that the people of South Africa are completely emancipated.

We must bear in mind that the people of South Africa have entrusted the ANC with ensuring that it carries out the responsibility of transforming our country and as the parliament of the people, it should represent all sectors of society and its ideas and policies must, of necessity, resonate with the people. Although the ANC is still the leading party, it is concerning that it lost a number of Metros and this reality must not be one that we shy away from but one that we need to address such that we collectively diagnose the source of the problem and find solutions. As you are aware, Metros have a huge concentration of professionals, academics and business and to suffer defeat in these metros is an indictment on all of us as members of the ANC. It signals a failure by ANC members to attend to the needs of the people and a failure to control and direct the transformative narrative.

It is therefore critical that the ANC should at all times be responsive to the cries of the people which are usually clear and unambiguous. The people require efficient service delivery, employment, the eradication of poverty and corruption. The middle-class has a responsibility to contribute materially and in the form of ideas to ensure that the needs of the people are met. The middle class of the ANC, like OR Tambo, has to play an exemplary role of putting issues of the people at the forefront.

Lately, members of the ANC who mostly form part of the middle strata, have been accused of conspicuous consumption and vulgar display of opulence. This kind of reputation is distasteful and unbecoming of people who have been entrusted to lead society. The character of an ANC member should at all times be that of humility and respect for the poor. As we approach the policy conference the middle-class of the ANC should be at the forefront of discussions and should influence the conference to focus on rapid implementation of policies. Furthermore, transformation and policy positions should not only exist in documents and in abstraction but must find expression in the concrete. This is to say, we must deliver to our people and not lie to them.

Comrades, the NEC of the ANC has opened the leadership discussion. This means that we ought to begin thinking critically about the kind of leaders that should lead our organization. It is known to everyone that the ANC has been deeply divided recently and the fractures are mostly around the leadership question. We therefore have the responsibility to ensure that the leaders that we elect will have the necessary capacity and patience to build the organization, unify it and strengthen it. We need to look “through the eye of the needle” to ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes when we elect leadership.

In less than ten years we have had two political parties that have been formed from the ANC and we cannot allow this to continue happening as this is an indication that the ANC is losing the confidence of its constituency. We have to use the ‘Through the Eye of the Needle’ document to guide and inform our choice of the kind of leadership that is required for the ANC. The ANC now more than ever requires leadership that is fearless and brave, leadership that will not be afraid to speak the truth even when it is not convenient. The ANC needs leadership that is selfless. Leadership that will prioritize the people instead of self-enrichment! The ANC needs leadership that will ensure that it regains the confidence of the masses as a leader of society that will ensure complete emancipation of the people of South Africa. The ANC requires leadership that is chosen by its members through an open, democratic process and not one that is sponsored or voted for because it supports or defends certain individuals within the movement. It is also of utmost importance that the discourse on leadership should go beyond categories like, tribal belonging, regionalism and gender such that the conversation becomes sincere and broader.

Professionals, academics and business people ought to play an active role in the life of the movement and shape the kind of ANC we envisage, the ANC of Oliver Tambo. Their participation should not be limited to just policy and discussion but it has to participate in such a way that it directly changes the lives of South Africans for the better. The middle class is best positioned to do this because it is the one that shapes, if not control, public discourse and narratives. They should therefore use their position strategically. Professionals ought to participate in branches such that they do not lose touch with reality on the ground. This kind of participation will assist them deepen their understanding of the role they should play in society and shape policies that aim at addressing the needs of the people.

Compatriots, now more than ever we need a broad patriotic front that will confront the current challenges. This Patriotic Front should comprise of mass-based formations including the ANC. Given that South Africans still face a myriad of challenges and they have entrusted us with the responsibility of addressing them, we should galvanise the broadest possible alliance of progressive forces to contribute to ongoing efforts to push back the frontiers of poverty, joblessness and inequality.

Let us emulate the exemplary leadership of President Tambo and be steadfast even during times of difficulty to ensure that we do not disappoint the masses of our people who are looking at us to emancipate them from all the shackles that still bind them. I hope that we will engage each other critically, honestly and without malice during this important workshop. The ANC is ours and we love it! Because we love it, we will fight to ensure that it does not deviate from the legacies of Tambo, Seme, Mandela and others who dedicated their lives to serve the people of South Africa.

Amandla!

Maatla!

Matimba!

All Power!