Address by Nelson Mandela at the 85th anniversary celebration of the African National Congress (ANC)

8 January 1997


Each year, on January 8, the African National Congress celebrates its anniversary. In the years of illegality, and particularly through the 1980's it became customary for the president of the ANC to announce on January 8 a line of march, a central theme for the year. In those difficult years, the January 8th theme became a beacon for hundreds of thousands of ANC activists operating across the wide range of fronts, within and outside of our country.

On this January 8, the 85th anniversary of our organisation, as we move just beyond the halfway mark of the first term of the ANC's national electoral mandate, we are returning to this practice. We are declaring 1997: A year for re-affirming the ANC cadre. President Mandela will deliver the full anniversary speech this year at a rally at Botshabelo in the Free State on Sunday, 12th January. This summary serves to highlight some of the core themes that will be developed by the President.

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

To carry this vast transformation process forward what is now required, more than ever, in this new year is that we collectively rededicate 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 workplace, on the sports field, in government and legislators. This is a collective effort.

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 re-affirming our cadreship, we will have self-consciously to overcome tendencies in some places to bureaucratic or merely technocratic ways of working. We shall also have to work strenuously against narrow careerism and individualism. In this year, 1997, we call on ANC members, wherever they are to rededicate 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.

We call on ANC activists 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". 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 amongst you as a "lost generation". Together we must reject the demobilising rhetoric about "unrealistic expectations". Your expectations are legitimate. But to fulfil these expectations requires discipline, organisation and a common effort.

We call on the youth to rededicate 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 transformation effort that lies ahead.

We call on women to assume your full role in 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 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.

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 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.

We address ourselves on this January 8 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.

The democratic breakthrough of April 1994 must now be decisively consolidated and taken forward. Central to this will be rekindling a sense of a common moral vision, a new patriotism, a collective effort to transform our country. And absolutely central to all of that is the ANC and the re-affirming of the ANC cadre.

Source: South African Government Information Website