Address by Nelson Mandela at the opening of the African National Congress (ANC)/South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) Bilateral

23 February 1997

A summit to address strategic questions

This is not the first time that the ANC and SANCO national leadership meet. However, this meeting has special importance because it comes at a significant moment in our struggle for democracy, reconstruction and development. There are broad strategic questions we need to address together.

The key question for this summit to explore is: What is the role of a progressive civic movement in South Africa in the present conditions?

Every day brings us fresh evidence of the importance of effective, community-level organisations and mobilisation. We therefore need to benefit from the lessons of our experience on the civics front over the past three years, and indeed over the past seven years.

What is the difference between a civic branch and an ANC branch, on the ground? To what negative or positive extent, do our relationships as branches with each other, with chiefs, or with elected local councils in our communities affect our mass base?

These are not academic questions. Unless we begin to thrash them out as ANC and SANCO, our discussions will continue to be subverted by tension and recrimination, by allegations about the behaviour of a SANCO branch here, or an ANC councillor over there.

ANC perspectives for the coming period

We recently held a very successful ANC NEC lekgotla in which we reviewed our performance as a political organisation and as the ruling party in government. On this basis, the lekgotla developed a programme of action.

Amongst other things we discussed the importance of the broad mass democratic movement, including SANCO, for the ongoing national democratic struggle. We committed ourselves to helping build and consolidate mass democratic forces. And we reaffirmed our view that allied formations are, and must be, independent, autonomous organisations prepared, fearlessly, to defend their own principles and constituencies.

We noted that in many ways the ANC and other mass democratic formations had been weakened organisationally in the past years, especially on the ground, among communities.

Too often, we leave community organisation and mobilisation to other forces. When we confront them it is too often as government, and too seldom as communities organised by ANC, SANCO, or other democratic organisations. Transformation requires both government and popular participation and if we do not mobilise and lead popular opinion, others will exploit the vacuum.

Tasks the ANC has set itself

The ANC has set itself a number of key tasks:

1.1 The January 8th statement proclaimed this year of "Reaffirming the ANC Cadre". This means rebuilding a sense amongst tens of thousands of activists that we are all part of a single national democratic revolutionary transformation. We share a common vision in all our different deployments, in the administration, in the security forces, and in allied formations, including SANCO.

1.2 Together with SANCO and other allies, we have agreed to re-define and broaden our approach to the Masakhane Campaign. While payment for services remains critical, it is part of a broader campaign for delivery and popular participation. During People's Weekends from 21-23 March, ANC MPs, MPLs and local councillors are being deployed to report back to communities and mobilise them around practical tasks.

1.3 We will promote participatory local budgeting. This will deepen community understanding of the possibilities and limitations of resources, and get them working closely with councillors in setting priorities.

1.4 New laws and other government initiatives are opening up new areas for effective community participation - democratic local formations should seize the opportunities, and not abandon them to other forces. For example, the new Schools Act provides for democratic governance of schools, Community Police Forums have been established across the country; "community assessors" will sit besides magistrates, not as experts but as people who can represent community perspectives and concerns in the courts.

Consolidating ANC/SANCO co-operation in united action

The ANC and SANCO should consolidate their co-operation around concrete programmes of action which include tasks like these. Such activities will also help up understand what each partner is best equipped to do.

In reaching clarity on this score we must of course take account of the enormous variations of conditions on the ground. Some communities have relatively strong civics but weak ANC organisation. In others the opposite is the case. Then there are situations where ANC and SANCO branches seem to lack a clear division of labour, often leading to competition and bad blood, and sometimes fostering conflicts that have more to do with personal ambition than politics.

How do we overcome these weaknesses? How do we demarcate different but complementary roles for ourselves.

Then there is the connection between national elected structures and local realities. Often it seems that national leaderships are out of touch with local realities, or that branch structures are unaware of, or even defy, national guidelines. Why is this happening? How do we rectify this problem, without undermining local-level democracy and initiative?

No doubt, all our formations suffer, in varying degrees, from serious resource problems. We need greater financial self-sufficiency. But the problems are not merely a shortage of resources, and there is no use in throwing resources at a problem without asking: What are we trying to do?

Anchoring our alliance strategy in our communities

There are more questions than answers in these opening remarks. The task of today's bilateral is to open up these strategic and very practical concerns. Hopefully it will begin to answer some of them.

But it is not only in a forum like this that such matters are clarified. If, in the coming months, beginning with the People's Weekend of March 21-23, we can develop common activity on the ground, then a store of common experience will be gained that will help us consolidate a relationship of unity in action.

The ANC/SANCO relationship must be forged at national level, but also and above all in our communities. That is where our strategic alliance will be broken or built, and where the strength of our democratic formations will be tested.

Strengthening and defending our alliance

Our detractors interpret every mutual irritation between ourselves as a crack in the alliance which they anyway claim has become obsolete. It is time we own this debate ourselves. As leadership and membership of allied formations we must be absolutely convinced of the need for the alliance. Our of this conviction will flow the commitment to defend and strengthen the alliance.

This bilateral summit should examine these questions and attempt to provide some answers, for in these issues lies the essence of our strength.

Source: South African Government Information Website