Raymond Suttner speaks on the evolution of the African National Congress, covering the party's formative years, its resistance to apartheid, mass participation and its rise to government.
Witherden: Raymond with the 100th year anniversary of the ANC coming up in 2012, please describe the evolution of the ANC over the decades of resistance to colonialism and apartheid.
Suttner: The ANC was born in the wake of the defeat of a number chiefdoms throughout the Kingdoms, throughout what was to become South Africa. There is no such thing as South Africa until 1910.
In the wake of that some Xhosa poets wrote about the time of the spear being over and this being the time of the pen.
Now, the ANC was formed as the South African Native National Congress as the time of the pen and the time of the suit, when initially they spent a lot of time petitioning the imperial government and later the South Africa government.
However, it's wrong to treat this as moderate. It was reading the signs of the time that you had to move away from the spear and it was the type of politics that was opening, was the politics where you wore suits.
Over a number of decades the attempts of petitioning appeared to fail and the Youth League was formed in the 1940s at the same time as the leadership of the ANC fell under Dr Xuma and Reverend Calata, both of whom tried to organise the ANC on a sound basis.
Now the Youth League is remembered because of their very radical claims and demands, but it would not have been possible to achieve what they wanted without the basis that had been laid by Calata and Xuma.
So, the importance is to understand that ideas in the ANC history can only be realised when there is organisation.
In the 1950s, the ANC Youth League programme was put into practice under the leadership of Sisulu who was elected secretary-general of the ANC and they started with the defiance campaign.
The defiance campaign is very important in South Africa history, because that was a declaration that the ANC did not owe allegiance to the State and all others who defied with them, because they had what was called a Congress Alliance, of the Indian Congress, Congress of Democrats of Whites, South African Congress of Trade Unions, Coloured Peoples Congress and separate organisations in a multiracial alliance. They broke the law. It also shows something about the type of leadership of time.
During this period they defied, but they also created the Freedom Charter. Towards the end of the decade the ANC was banned, but declared that it would continue to exist.
So the decade began with the defiance campaign and ended with a defiant claim that it would continue to exist.
MK, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the spear of the nation, was formed in 1961 and its activities, then, were short lived, because most of the leadership were rounded up.
The leadership then shifted to exile and this doesn't mean that the ANC doesn't continue to exist inside with underground groupings, reestablishing themselves, but the presence was not very significant.
ANC had a lot of difficulty establishing itself outside and forming Umkhonto we Sizwe into a military wing that could cause some sort of threat.
They were not getting very far with armed struggle, there was very great difficulty infiltrating into the country. The underground was developing but it was not a threat. Public activities were very difficult to conduct.
The 1976 rising developed. ANC had nothing to do with that directly, but there were connections between black consciousness individuals and some ANC underground people.
This may be one of the reasons why most of the 1976 generation, when they left the country, joined ANC and they helped to revive the morale of the cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe and this led to some attacks in the late 1970s on police stations and government installations.
We must see this as very inspiring to people that an army of African people who had never been trained inside had acquired the skills to attack police installations.
This helped revive popular struggle inside the country, which escalated in the 1980s with the United Democratic Front, South Africa being made ungovernable, popular power based on street committees (sometimes deteriorating into abuse when the leadership got arrested). A lot of the leadership were arrested in 1986.
Towards the end of the 1980s in spite of the arrest of the leadership, it was not possible for the apartheid regime to make South Africa governable again.
This was clear when they had local government elections in 1988 or 1989, I think it was 1989, no 1988, because I had just come out of detention and was under house arrest. They were not able to - police had been chased out of the townships, local government had collapsed etc.
So on the one hand they couldn't sustain governability, but on the other hand the ANC did not have the capacity to overthrow the regime.
This is a situation, which makes it possible for a negotiating settlement. There was a reciprocal siege as Antonio Gramsci calls it; neither party was on its knees.
Now, that paved the way for talks and elections, which elected an ANC government, but it also set in train a process whereby popular activity, mass activity as was seen in the 1980s started to be demobilised and only used as a type of battering ram when negotiations were not going in favour of the ANC demands.
Witherden: Now you mention this almost centralisation of the ANC when it became a government. What has this meant for mass participation and organisation?
Suttner: We have to evaluate centralisation and collectivisation in context.
Now, the problem is many of us kept our habits of underground into UDF. I was used to operating secretively. I used to, in my own case, many of us are used to not doing things without checking it out with someone else.
Centralisation in present is partly derived from the collectivism being a necessary project at one stage, but not being timeless in its applicability, in that centralisation always has a tendency to suppress individual conscience and individual views.
Now we never thought beyond that model, which is the top down model. We never thought of a democratised civil service.
This is the pattern which also got encouraged under the leadership of Mandela unwittingly, because he was such a giant, and Mbeki especially, that you don't express your view until you know what the chief will say.
The ANC leadership centralisation has tended within the organisation to curb debate such as we used to have in the 1980s. There was not a lot of debate after 1990.
Witherden: With regard to the ANC's long history as a revolutionary movement, do you think there is a tendency for liberation movements to blur the distinction between State and Party?
Suttner: We must read this not merely as a blurring of distinction between State and ruling organisation, but the exercise of patronage.
In so far as tenders may be rigged, and we read about this all the time, they are not rigged in favour of the ANC as such, but sections of the ANC who benefit.
I'm not saying that there was an absence of blurring under the Mbeki and the Mandela period, but it has reached a level of intensity. But we must remember that not all ANC people benefit and there is a specific grouping. In fact, one of the reasons for paralysis today it that there is fight over loot. There is very little ideology. In the whole period of democratic rule, there is very little debate.
If you take this concept of revolution, what does it mean? Are we in a revolution situation now? If we are, we are operating not with guns. The ANC planned to smash the State, they never did that. There hasn't been thought about operating on a terrain of reform.
Witherden: Next time we will talk about models of ANC leadership on Reflections for Raymond Suttner.
Click here to watch Part 2: Raymond Suttner discusses models of African National Congress leadership with regards to outstanding individual leaders and the notion of collective leadership.
Click here to watch Part 3: Raymond Suttner considers the "glorification of violence" under the current African National Congress leadership, as well as the party's decision to take up armed struggle in the 1960s.
Click here to watch Part 4: Raymond Suttner speaks on race, non-racialism, and the relevance of affirmative action and black economic-empowerment today.
Click here to watch Part 5: Raymond Suttner discusses the state of the nation going forward with reference to the Freedom Charter, the performance of the current African National Congress leadership and what needs to be done to make South Africa better.