The Presidential Years

But at this first national conference since the election it was also inevitable that much of the conference should bear on the challenges of a liberation movement that had just become a party of government. Would it remain the mass-based organisation it had become and retain the capacity to mobilise its constituency in the way that was decisive before and during negotiations? What would happen to the organisation painstakingly established in the few years of legality? How would the ANC in government relate to the organisation’s structures? How would the entry of leadership and activists into the executive, the public service and the private sector affect the ANC’s character? Would unity be troubled by factionalism as political power conferred material value? Some of the questions were only systematically broached after the conference, but a note of alarm was struck by in a passage in the Political Report that then Deputy President Walter Sisulu had insisted on.

Never before has the ANC had to address such crucial questions about itself. Seldom before, have we experienced such dislocation as in the few months after the elections. In this regard, we should be self-critical about the manner in which we conducted ourselves in this period. Ours was not a planned entry into government. Except for the highest echelons, we did not have a plan for the deployment of cadres. We were disorganised, and behaved in a manner that could have endangered the revolution.

It will therefore be crucial that delegates apply their minds seriously to all the organisational questions, conscious of the fact that the decisions we take will impact on the future of the organisation for decades to come.739

Apart from the security services and foreign affairs, there was little planning for transformation of the public service, at national, provincial or local level. Even for legislatures and later local councils, the democratic selection of candidates masked individual agency, with most cadres availing themselves to contribute to change, but also willfully, driven by personal ambition. As officials and experienced activists went into government and legislatures, the ANC was left with just two full-time senior officials: the Deputy President, Walter Sisulu who stepped down at the December conference and the deputy secretary general, Cheryl Carolus. Suddenly the ANC’s rich collective capacity to reflect and strategise had been diminished to what could be done intermittently in formal meetings.

Mandela was dealt one setback by the conference, regarding an initiative he took, in his own calculation, to insulate the organisation from the kind of outcome founded on sheer popularity. As indicated in an earlier chapter, when forming the first Cabinet he had ignored a policy conference decision that the Cabinet should be elected by a national conference, lest members were elected simply on the basis of popularity or membership of a faction. This same wariness informed his proposal that the 1994 national conference should elect the National Executive Committee from a short list drawn up by the officials. This procedure, he had learnt on a visit to India, was followed by the Indian National Congress, and so was referred to as ‘the Indian option’. It was roundly rejected by the conference with a demand that the ANC’s leadership should be elected on a consistently democratic basis, in line with its constitution.

Mandela’s closing address sounded an alert to another danger. Having expressed confidence in the incoming National Executive Committee, as men and women of integrity and outstanding ability and commitment, he added,

We must never forget the saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It has happened in many countries that a liberation movement comes into power and the freedom fighters of yesterday become members of the government. Sometimes without any idea of mischief, precisely because they are committed and hardworking, they concentrate so much on their portfolios that they forget about the people who put them in power, and become a class, a separate entity unto themselves, who are not accountable to their membership, and who rely on law, that now I am a Cabinet Minister, the political organisation that put me in power can do nothing.

One of the ways of preventing that temptation is for members of the Cabinet to go regularly to their areas. Talk to the people. Go to the squatters or informal settlements, enter those rooms and see how people live, talk to them and also explain to them, on a regular basis, what the government is doing to give them feedback as to what the government is doing to address their needs.

Such a disaster, I am confident, will not happen to these men and women. But it is not our good wishes that are going to avoid that disaster. It is an inbuilt system in your style of work that will prevent such disasters. I am confident that I lead a Cabinet that will endeavour to scrupulously avoid such pitfalls.740

The state of the organisation, unity, discipline, and contact with the people remained priorities, because they affected, and were affected by, the new conditions in which the ANC had the responsibility to unite the nation in implementing the electoral mandate. Related to all this was the capacity of the ANC to exercise leadership over its cadres in government and independently to develop strategic approaches that would inform their actions, rather than the other way round.

The first NEC meeting after the conference adopted proposals for extensive restructuring of the organisation, made the more urgent by the approach of local elections. It took two years and intense debate before the NWC adopted detailed plans for strengthening headquarters and the secretary-general’s office whose head, Cyril Ramaphosa - re-elected at the Mangaung conference - was leading the negotiations of the final constitution in the Constitutional Assembly. Cheryl Carolus, his deputy, was in effect acting as secretary-general.

As the drafting of the constitution neared completion, Mandela announced in April 1996 at a press conference, that Ramaphosa would leave Parliament when the new constitution was completed to ‘take up a senior position in the private sector’. He was to become executive deputy chairman of New African Investments Limited (Nail). Mandela had persuaded him ‘not to leave the ANC in the lurch’ and to stay on as secretary general for the meanwhile.

I have allowed him to go because of the critical role he's likely to play in ensuring that this wide gap between white and black business is closed. ... His presence in the private sector will further cement the critical partnership between the ANC and Government on the one hand, and business, the trade union movement and the rest of civil society on the other.

He said it was a government priority to ensure that the racial chasm in South Africa’s business world was closed.

Big business is by definition white. Blacks – and here I mean Africans, Coloureds and Indians – are confined to small and medium-sized business. We want the economy to be improved and it cannot be improved if the wide gap still exists.741

The decision to have full-time NEC members at headquarters was finally implemented only after the next national conference in 1997.

Mandela’s attention to organisation embraced finance. At the 1994 conference he chided a speaker who had urged that the financial report should not be presented to the conference, so dire was the situation. On several occasions he raised the matter of fund-raising in meetings – an activity in which he himself had proven very successful – decrying dependence on the president and treasurer general as fundraisers; and noting that the organisation could no longer depend on solidarity funding from other countries which had ensured that the ANC had the resources it needed for resistance, negotiations and the first election. He recounted the lesson that Gandhi had given the Natal Indian Congress when they went to India seeking funds: if they had a following they must raise funds from their members.

Consistent with the importance he attached to political communication, he regularly commented at internal ANC meetings on the need for the organisation to have the capability of putting the ANC perspective in an environment that was not fully appreciative of the organisation’s objectives and actions – and frequently expressing dissatisfaction at what he felt to be the ineffectiveness of the ANC’s media task group.

But while stressing the value of communication, organisational work was even more important – in elections, he said, communication was twenty per cent of what was needed; the other, eighty per accent, was the organisational reach of the movement and continuing interactions with the people. Some of his most extensive inputs at NEC meetings during his years as president involved detailed analysis of the state of organisation on the ground in the context of election campaigns.

If organisation mattered then so did conduct in structures and meetings. Attendance; punctuality; and manner of participation all drew his comment, often sharply so. This went back a long way. In the 1950s he and Walter Sisulu used to compete to be first to sign their names and the time of their arrival in the attendance register at meetings. Impatience with those who disrespected time was a constant.

Many a meeting would begin with remarks like: ‘We are starting late again and you all like to speak on issues to hear the sound of your own voice. … What is reflected in the lateness of NEC members in attending meetings, and their failure to carry out their duties in the areas where they are deployed is a lack of discipline.’742

His notes for another meeting include: ‘Punctuality - 8 a.m. is not the time to arrive, but the time to start the meeting;’ and, ‘Failure of minority to observe time limit yesterday … made work of Comrade Chairman rather difficult. Some comrades literally monopolise the debate, popping up repeatedly. Others who tend to be baggage. Merely sit down and listen‘.743

At some NEC meetings when the time for starting had passed, he would say the doors should be closed and that those present should not tell those who were late what he was going to say.744

Although he did not always follow his own prescript, he said it was important to maintain a calm tone in discussion, avoiding comments that antagonized or silenced others. While some remember him as listening to everyone else’s contribution before speaking himself, others recall frequent interventions in debates to steer opinions in a particular direction. ‘People who knew Madiba when he was younger’ Aziz Pahad says, ‘say, “No, no that was his style, he doesn’t wait for everybody’s views, he puts his view but others can then put their view.”’745 And when a matter was of fundamental importance to him, he would try to lobby individual NEC members before the meetings, to persuade them to come to his point of view.

His comments on matters relating to discipline and collective responsibility for decisions were especially forceful when leaders criticised government or the organisation’s policies in public, or when information leaked from NEC or Cabinet proceedings. Early in 1995, soon after the national conference, there were public differences among members, whispers around corruption and airing of internal matters in the media. He put his worry about the impact in notes he made at the time, in preparation for comment at an NEC meeting, dubbing it a crisis.

6. Crisis of success – crisis arising from arrogance. Disintegration becomes that much easier when people become arrogant and feel all powerful.

7. When such arrogance is linked with populism and factional tendencies then that is a provocation which cannot be overlooked. Only the disciplinary committee should act if the allegations are proved

But as far as my position in relation to ANC cabinet members [is concerned]. Their portfolios are not hereditary. I have appointed them. I can drop them once convinced that they are abusing their position.746

Characteristically, after these harsh comments, Mandela’s remarks generally ended with, a note of encouragement.

The ANC had also to establish linkages between the organisation and government as an effective interface that would keep the organisation informed of developments in government, so that it could give guidance at critical moments and evolve strategy to match the new conditions.

To this end, Mandela introduced the practice whereby members of the ANC leadership in Cabinet spent Mondays at ANC headquarters interacting with the ANC Officials and the National Working Committee, or undertaking organisational tasks in the field. Although pressures of government business made observance of ‘ANC Monday’ uneven at times, it provided a mechanism for interchange, allowing the NWC and officials to regularly receive reports and discuss issues. But the interaction between party and government at the level of the leadership had its ups and downs and there were moments when the party felt excluded.