Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

My criticism of Thabo Mbeki’s OR Tambo lecture

By Zukiswa Mqolomba

Former President Thabo Mbeki’s OR Tambo lecture is indeed most welcome as it is a timely call to action to save the African National Congress (ANC) from a burgeoning trend of greed, avarice and an insatiable appetite to amass personal wealth, while millions of South Africans continue to live in wide-spread poverty and national misery.

Comprador bourgeoisie tendencies within the ranks of the ANC have served as a cancer to the ANC as demonstrated by the parasitic non-patriotic nature of its cadres engagement with the state, particularly its provincial arms and local municipalities. The cadre deployment policy has also not done justice to the ANC, as it has existed in the context of an inherited and well-entrenched value system that places individual acquisition of wealth at the very centre of the value system of cadreship.

As correctly stated, the ANC is now under serious threat of a bourgeoning disease of greed, crass materialism, and conspicuous consumption that continues unabated, broadening the social distance between leaders and their followers, alienating both ANC members and communities and encouraging the formation of divisive groups, both within and outside its ranks.

The former President of South Africa and the ANC therefore correctly captures the challenges of the ANC when he states that:

The negative situation I have sought to describe, according to which the ANC, particularly as a governing party, allows itself to behave according to a rapacious value system of conscious abuse of state power for corrupt self-enrichment and permits itself to be influenced by a leadership informed by that value system, necessarily produces certain systemic consequences

He goes on:

I have sought to suggest that the negative situation currently affecting and characterising the ANC will, unless it is addressed correctly and immediately, sooner rather than later result in the destruction of the ANC

This is a warning that the ANC cannot afford not to take seriously.

I agree with the lecture’s central thesis. I do, however, think that the thesis has been construed outside of its domestic and global context. My only criticism of the lecture is that Mbeki does not address the issue of state capture sufficiently. How is the ANC under threat by a system of white monopoly capital, both domestic and global, that has seduced it to these deplorable levels?

The fact is that the ANC’s blatant corruption, through electoral access to state resources, does not exist outside of context. Corruption in the ANC is a two-way process that exists and is dependent on the existence of white monopoly capital, amongst others. Corruption in the ANC, therefore, must be located within the context of the global matrix of power and the market-dominated political economy, under which South Africa exists as a post-colonial state.

Truth is, the power play between the ANC-led government and the market was evident during the difficult period of negotiations. The compromise made at this critical conjuncture, which to a certain extent was in deferment to the global neo-liberal orthodoxy (made worse by the collapse of the Soviet Union) feeds into the structure of the economy in post-apartheid era, which continues till today. While the ANC desired a constitution that would ensure that the majority African population can form a government, white monopoly capital, represented by the National Party, was only concerned about the safety and continuity of the massive investment that they had made and continue to have in the country. In essence, it is white monopoly capital, the corporate sector, in effect, that has persuaded or forced the ANC to move away from its traditional priorities. It is through this elite compromise, that the ANC leaders made with the corporate sector, which has led to the effective abandonment of the traditional priorities on which the ANC rose to power. For instance, despite the blatant failure of neo-liberal policies – understood as the manifestation of global economic forces as well as rationality of rule, the hegemonic control of the global capitalist system looms large over the post-apartheid South African state.

Most importantly, corruption in the ANC feeds into the increasing connectivity of the domestic capital into the global capital, which undermines the realisation of state goals in post-apartheid South Africa. The alliances through which domestic capital has defined as the terms of reconnection with the global economy lie at the centre of ANC corruption. The latitude that the ANC-led government has given to the corporate sector to define the terms of reconnection with the global economy has worsened corruption. This is a testimony to the hegemonic control of white monopoly capital, global capital, over the ANC and the ANC-led state. In order to change corruption in the ANC, therefore, market-state relations need to be reconfigured.

The ANC’s strategy and tactics (from 2007) states categorically that “there is an existent value system within our society, owing to our past and the current social relations of capitalism, that encourages greed, crass materialism, and conspicuous consumption. Among the offsprings of this value system is included corruption in state institutions and society as well as corporate greed reflected in outrageous executive packages, short-termism in the conduct of business and private sector corruption”.

Corruption in the ANC cannot exist without corruption in the corporate sector.

The party clearly understands the root of the problem of corruption resides largely in thought, preoccupation and motive. Alas, corruption is an act and crime of greed and crass materialism, coupled with a disregard for moral ethos. An act that sanctions greed, crass materialism and conspicuous consumption, and defends an unashamed self-centred preoccupation to getting rich, therefore, can only be a damned recipe for internal paralysis.
Having levelled this criticism against the lecture of the former President, a pressing issue still laments the moment. The question remains: will the cadership within the ranks of the ANC rise up to save the ANC as led by the example of cde OR Thambo?

We certainly hope so. The future of South Africa is intimately linked with the health and rise of the ANC as the leader of Government.

In this regards, the Mbeki correctly asserts that

It would therefore seem that those who remain genuine members of the ANC, honestly committed to its historic value system centred on selfless service to the people, should take the necessary steps to change the self-destructive course on which the Movement has embarked, which, among others, has lost the ANC much support as demonstrated in the successive national, provincial and local government elections since 2009 to date

As the first step these members of the ANC must genuinely accept that the Movement is immersed in a deep crisis and then proceed to characterise the source and nature of the problem, as Oliver Tambo did, which twice saved the ANC from destruction, understanding that without a correct diagnosis, there can be no effective and successful cure.

The ANC, therefore, should not watch blindfolded as comprador capitalism, counter-revolution and reaction breeds from within its ranks. The ANC should agitate for cadres of “high quality with a high level of revolutionary consciousness, organisational discipline, and moral and political integrity”.

Stated correctly by the former President: “I believe that these should seek to implement what Nelson Mandela suggested in 1997 when he said ‘we have to take all necessary measures to purge ourselves of such members and organise ourselves in a way that will make it difficult for corrupt elements to gain entry into our movement.’
… I would also suggest that these members should conduct an open and honest assessment of the damage that has been done as the ANC allowed itself to fall under the influence of the rapacious value system and leadership I have mentioned, and decide on measures that must be taken to address this damage.”

The ANC must wage a strong offensive among its ranks against inconspicuous, unashamed consumption and materialism. It must guard its soul jealously, alas we traverse the dangerous path of most revolutionary movements, and suffer the same fate as Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Zaire, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

We must remember that “the ability to differentiate between a wrong and a right by cadres in good standing is a clear indication that the ANC represents humanity’s best qualities”.

It is time for change.

Zukiswa Mqolomba is doing her PhD in Political Studies at the University of the Witswatersand. This article reflects her personal opinions and she writes as a concerned citizen.

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