1997 marks the 85th anniversary of the ANC. We are now also just over half way through the first term of the ANC`s national electoral mandate. It is important that we use this January 8th anniversary, as we have in the past, to assess where we are and to chart our way forward.

Despite the many difficulties, despite what are, on occasions, our our shortcomings, we are in the midst of a vast national democratic revolution. What we dreamed about in the first half of this century, what we mapped out in general terms at Kliptown in 1955, what we planned and theorised about in the difficult years of the 60s, 70s and 80s, that is what we are now in the midst of. We have achieved the beginnings of real democracy, and there is no going back.

With a thousand daily challenges and complexities, it is easy to lose sight of this. It is easy to forget where we are coming from. It is even possible, in the rush of events, to forget our objectives. But it is critical that, as the ANC and ANC-led movement we take stock, and that we reaffirm our moral vision and our strategic objectives.

Our 85th Anniversary - A Year for Consolidating the National Democratic Revolution

Fundamental change is not an easy undertaking. To change a social system in its entirety will entail disruption. But this is not disruption for its own sake; less still is it about hot-headed demagogy. Our revolution is about changing the foundations on which previous relations were built. It is, in essence, about making millions of our people, all along excluded by apartheid, a full part of national life. It is about giving them opportunities to change their own lives for the better, no longer as objects of administration, as "boys" or "girls" surviving on crumbs from the master`s table. And this is how we should measure progress in the work we do.

A democratic revolution

April 1994 marked a decisive bridge-head into democracy. In the last two-and-a-half years we have steadily consolidated that democratic breakthrough in depth and breadth. We have implemented electoral democracy at all three tiers. We have piloted into existence one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The national assembly is beginning, more and more, to function as a robust tribune of the people, and an important inter-face between government and civil society.

A national revolution

The tasks of non-racial reconciliation and nation-building have long been central to the mission of the ANC and its alliance. In the past two-and-a-half years we have made sweeping gains on this front. We have prevented a descent into a bloody civil war that some forces were planning up to the very threshold of the April 1994 elections; we have acted firmly to reduce to a minimum the levels of political violence in KwaZulu/Natal. A new nation has started to take root in all spheres of life, including sports, the economy, and in the fight against crime.

We have never understood reconciliation to mean forgetting the past, or neglecting the plight of the millions of victims of apartheid. We have stated our positions very powerfully in this respect at the TRC, and in general, that no one is above the law.

This message, we are sure, has been one important factor in the recent snowballing of amnesty applications and confessions from former SADF and SAP apartheid security personnel.

We have also always understood that the national dimension of our struggle is not just about building a new sense of nationhood - as crucial as this is. It is also about building the material and social conditions for a single nation.

The huge inequalities between townships and suburbs; between black and white; between workers and the poor on the one hand and the rich on the other; between women and men; between rural and urban areas - all of these inequalities, magnified a thousandfold by apartheid, hamper the possibilities of building a common sense of nationhood.

This is why the RDP`s vision of urban and rural infrastructural development is so central to the historic nation-building mission of the ANC. The 20 mega-projects, presently underway and each costing more than half-a-billion Rand, from Richards Bay to Saldanha Bay, are part of this. The Maputo Development Corridor, one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world, is another example. These are not just economic projects, they are an integral part of building our nation, and building our region.

Perhaps even more significantly, away from the limelight of the national media, communities throughout South Africa are beehives of activity. Streets are being tarred, refuse collection improved, schools are being renovated, clinics are being built and upgraded. Even on the housing front, where progress has been slow, housing construction is now starting to come on stream. We are not always moving as fast as we would like. We have reverses and make mistakes. But everywhere there is now tangible evidence of a new South Africa in the making.

Let us not be defensive

Our achievements, as the ANC, are very significant. We often fail to claim our own victories, or even to notice what we are achieving.

At the same time, however, it is the mark of a serious political movement that it must, where necessary, be self-critical.

We have, of course, made unintentional mistakes. On occasions we have been too defensive. I have recently made this point in regard to how we handled Sarafina 2 and the issue of funding for the ANC. The question is not so much whether one makes mistakes or not, but rather whether, as an organisation, we are prepared to admit mistakes, and above all to learn from and quickly rectify weaknesses in our work.

Building our organisations

In this respect we must admit that the organisational state of affairs in the ANC and its allied formations often leaves much to be desired. No doubt, the large-scale redeployment of thousands of cadres over these last two-and-a-half years has had much to do with the weakening of organisational capacity.

But we all know that a great deal of energy has often been consumed on intra-organisational leadership rivalries, personality squabbles and factionalising. The Free State situation is the most obvious, but not the only example of this phenomenon. Of course, healthy competition between individuals to be elected to different posts is a natural part of any democratic organisation. But when personal competition starts to absorb all one`s energies, when political programmes are forgotten, and when solid grass-roots work is neglected, then matters become very serious.

The ANC has long traditions of placing the organisation above individuals. We have proud traditions of collective leadership, and of mutual respect for each other. We have survived and we have defeated apartheid because we have always tried to build the collective, to empower each other. We have worked hard to help each of our cadres to develop his or her strengths, building a collective understanding and a collective solution to each other`s limitations. We must reaffirm these traditions. The tens of thousands of cadres we have developed in decades of struggle are our most precious asset as a movement. We cannot squander this resource in individualism, mindless careerism, and petty rivalries.

Our 85th Anniversary - A Year of Reaffirming the ANC Cadre

For all of these reasons, in this year we must, collectively, re-dedicate ourselves to building an ANC cadreship. At every level ANC activists must be built as leaders, in places of residence, in schools, places of worship, in the work-place, on the sports-field, in government and legislatures. This is a collective effort. In all spheres of life, ANC cadres must be at the centre of setting an example of discipline, of commitment to transformation, of teaching and of listening. In all they do, the message that they send out to society should be: the people come first.

We have, as an ANC and ANC-led alliance, been on a steep learning curve these last two-and-a-half years. One important task of our movement is that it should act as a forum for collective learning, in which we share experiences, learn from each other, assess what has been happening, and empower each other. This, of course, also means that there must be space for debate within our ANC and between the ANC and its allies. Unity is not built by bureaucratic declaration. Unity is a dynamic reality that must emerge from the real empowerment of our hundreds of thousands of cadres.

In reaffirming our cadreship, we will have, self-consciously to overcome tendencies in some places to bureaucratic or merely technocratic ways of working.

Many recently elected ANC local councillors, for instance, are being told that they "no longer represent the ANC, but the whole community". Many comrades in the administrations are told that they "must not bring politics" into these structures. There is, obviously, a partial truth in all of this.

Local councillors must serve their communities at large, but they need to do so, of course, as loyal cadres of our liberation movement, serving these communities within the context of our moral vision and overall goals. There is nothing contradictory about that. Likewise, it would be entirely inappropriate to transform government administrations into narrow partisan structures. But this does not, and cannot mean that ANC cadres serving in the administration should become a-political, should lose sight of the broad transformation objectives of which they must be a crucial part.

In this year, 1997, we call on ANC members, wherever they are, to re-dedicate themselves to the collective effort of consolidating the national democratic revolution.

We call on workers to dedicate themselves to rebuilding our economy, deepening productivity, enhancing their own skills. We call on them to build trade unions and particularly a powerful COSATU. We call on workers to engage actively with the many new institutions and forums that have now been made possible with the Labour Relations Act. In particular, organised workers must help to build vibrant work-place forums that can be used to transform and democratise the work-place.

As an ANC we have long recognised the central and strategic location of employed, unionised workers. This reality also brings particular responsibilities. In a country in which around one-third of our work force is unemployed, workers have a particular responsibilty to ensure that the transformation struggles in which they engage address the concerns, not just of the employed, but of the great majority of our people.

We call on progressives in management structures. We know that thousands of our own cadres have been recently promoted into senior and middle-level management positions, both in the public and private sectors. We call on you to assume full responsibility for your new powers, using the new possibilities that you have to redirect our society and its institutions towards meeting the broad social needs of our people. You are not ANC cadres only "after hours".

We call on the rural poor, the unemployed, and those who are under-employed, surviving as best they can in the so-called "informal sector". Most of you are black, still the victims of apartheid, many of you are young. Your hopes, your energies, remain critical to the overall transformation of our society. Together we must fight against those who present your situation as a "lost cause", who describe the young among you as a "lost generation". Together we must reject the demobilising rhetoric about "unrealistic expectations". Your expectations are legitimate. To realise these expectations requires discipline, organisation and a common effort. As the ANC, in and out of government, together we shall lead that effort.

We call on the youth to re-dedicate themselves to the ongoing struggle for transformation in our country. Your energies, your moral vision, your dedication is more than ever required. We call on you to use this period of your lives to prepare yourselves for the long transformational effort that lies ahead. We call on you to take studies seriously, to gain experience, to broaden your capacities. But we also call on you to engage actively now, in the present, with the struggle for all-round transformation. These two tasks are not incompatible. We call on you to help strengthen the ANC Youth League, and progressive student organisations.

We call on women to assume your full role within our movement. We know that, still today, there are many impediments to that. We call on you to organise and speak out against ongoing gender discrimination in and outside of our movement. We all, men and women, have a duty to overcome sexism and patriarchy, but, as with so many other areas of obstruction, it is the drive to self-emancipation that will be the motive force in this struggle. We call on you to set an example to millions of unorganised women. We call on you to help build an ANC that is more gender representative and we call on you to help rebuild the ANC Women`s League.

Indeed we should admit as the ANC that, because of internal squabbles within the League, we have, in the recent period, failed the women`s movement and the cause of building a non-sexist society. We must resolve this year to settle these problems and ensure that the League emerges from Conference to occupy its rightful place at the head of a progressive women`s movement.

We call on those active in religious institutions, on those involved in cultural work, on those active in the media. A revolution is not just about material transformation. It is also critically about a moral vision, about values, about re-imagining reality. We defeated the old apartheid system because of our moral convictions. The new struggle for transformation requires new visions, new narratives, new songs, new images. We call on our cadres active in these areas to understand the challenges and possibilities that our reality poses. We call on you to respond to these challenges without fear.

We call on the thousands of ANC cadres now serving in elected positions, in national and provincial legislatures, in local councils. A heavy responsibility rests on you, you are the tribunes of the people. You need to be active in your structures, but you also have to be active in your constituencies. Your presence amongst the people who have elected you must be visible. You have a duty to speak up, fearlessly, for those you represent. But you also have a duty to listen carefully to what communities are telling you.

We call on the full-time staff in our ANC structures. We salute you for the often strenuous efforts that you have devoted over the past years. We know it has not always been easy for you to remain on in your full-time ANC posts, when there are more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. We know that we often demand long hours, weekend efforts, sudden redeployments. Without your devotion and commitment we will not be able to go forward in the coming years. Maintaining and building the party machinery of the ANC is central to everything.

The cadreship of the ANC-led movement is not confined to the ANC itself. The ANC is proud to be the leading formation of the tripartite alliance and of a broader mass democratic movement. We address ourselves on this 85th Anniversary also to the activists in the SACP and COSATU and in the broad mass democratic movement and progressive NGOs. We believe that you are strengthened by your allegiance to the ANC, but we, in turn, are strengthened by our common unity. You have a major role to play in consolidating our national democratic revolution and in helping to re-affirm the ANC cadreship. We need from our allies unity in action, but a real unity based on our different formations acting independently and robustly defending their principles, their constituencies and their perspectives.

Healthy debate within the alliance is critical for the development of our democracy and social transformation. Indeed, out of such debate will emerge a cross-pollination of ideas which will enrich South African politics. This is particularly important because, outside the alliance and the mass democratic formations and their supporters, few others fully appreciate the real depth of change that South Africa is going through.

Above all, as we move in 1997 to the ANC`s crucial December National Conference, let us resolve to put politics above personalities, programmes above individualism. Let us resolve to do hard work on the ground instead of embroiling ourselves in paralysing factionalism.

A clear programme of action for 1997

At last year`s November National Executive Committee meeting of the ANC we resolved on a broad programme of action for 1997. In particular, we have decided that we must reclaim the people-driven developmental approach so central to our understanding of the RDP. In this respect, Masakhane must be greatly broadened in its scope. Payment for services and the payment of rents is indeed very important. But Masakhane is not simply a payments campaign. It is about the all-round active participation of our people in the reconstruction and development of our country.

To this end we are planning Masakhane weekends in the coming months, in which, at the community level, throughout the country we shall mobilise people to become involved in developmental work - school renovations, community clean-ups, anti-crime drives, and so forth. We plan to deploy all ANC MPs and MPLs in the process. We also plan, through our local councillors, to introduce the practice of participatory budgeting at the local level. By this we mean the active participation of communities in unpacking local budgets and in setting priorities.

All of this will only be possible if we have functioning ANC, alliance and MDM branch structures on the ground. We also know from our years of struggle, that it is precisely around such concrete programmes that organisation is renewed and sustained, and that we shall, indeed, reaffirm the ANC cadre in this year, 1997.

In this way we shall ensure that the ANC emerges as the organiser of the South African people, the force that mobilises them to become active agents of the historic changes that our country needs, the leader of the struggle for a better life for all. Our own actions as ANC leaders, members and active supporters will justify the trust that the people placed in us in the years of struggle, and in the 1994 elections.