Political Affairs to Cover African National Congress Meeting


12-13-07, 9:40 am

The African National Congress (ANC) will meet for its 52nd national congress beginning December 16th in the Limpopo province of South Africa to both chart its political course and to elect its new leadership collective.

South Africa's corporate media and the international press, which have been openly hostile to the ANC's leadership of the country, have represented the ANC congress as mainly the struggle between two personalities: South African President Thabo Mbeki and ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma. Since the end of the apartheid regime, the individual selected to head the ANC has also won election to the national presidency.

The main issues, says Political Affairs Editor Joe Sims, who is traveling to South Africa to cover the congress for this magazine, are not those of personalities but the political direction of the country, its continued sovereignty, its struggles against the harsh economic and political realities it faces, and above all its continued unity despite outside pressures.

'In many ways the country is at a crossroads,' Sims says. As important as the election of a new presient is, an even more important issue may be the emergence of a new generation of leaders. What is its political training and its outlook as the generation of those who fought and defeated apartheid prepares to retire, asks Sims.

There is a rough consensus in the ANC about the main direction of the country, says Sims. The ANC held its political conference earlier this year at which it reaffirmed the concept of the national democratic revolution as the guiding principle of its governance of the country.

Basically, the aim as defined by the ANC of the national democratic revolution, Sims states, is the effort to create a 'national democratic society in which the African majority, along with the other peoples who live in the country, but in particular the African majority, are the leading force in the state and the economy. That includes political control and economic empowerment.'

This means ending South Africa's high unemployment rate, addressing the housing crisis, eliminating massive rural poverty, solving the country's health crisis (especially HIV/AIDS) among the countries other social problems, Sims adds.

'The achievement of the national democratic society means realizing equality and creating circumstances in which the majority of the people live a comfortable life with social benefits and social welfare and all of the things that that entails,' Sims states.

Some main questions facing the country and being debated in its political leadership and among the various forces in the country include: Can this be achieved within the current economic framework of South Africa and the surrounding region? Or will more radical measures have to be adopted? What would those changes entail? What is the pace of change?

The ANC congress will address at least some of these key questions. Sims speculates that the outcome will see the Congress' delegates decide on the need to deepen the national democratic revolution and emphasize the need for some key economic reforms such as expanded jobs and social welfare programs and state intervention in the economy to address the housing and health crises.

Sims stressed that Political Affairs will not focus solely on the ANC's leadership contest, which has been elevated by the corporate and international media as the most important issue of the congress. 'I am sure it is an important issue,' Sims adds, 'but I think that even more important are the policy issues that are before the country and what kind of collective leadership that will emerge to make those changes real.'

The leadership contest is a normal part of the democratic process, Sims insists. 'The ANC members will have to decide who they want. It is their decision. I am sure they will make the best choice.'

In addition to policy questions, the success of the new leadership to build the unity of the ANC, its broader alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the various sectors of the country will be a central imperative, Sims argues. Such unity is important because South Africa faces great challenges and great promise. Continued sucess and victory is not a foregone conclusion.

Outside forces are also not disinterested observers. It looks from the outside that certain destabalization processes may be at work. 'I am sure the old forces that used to govern South Africa,' says Sims, 'the racist forces would like to reassert their role, not in the old way, but by different means.'

As complex and heady as the situation is, however, Sims expresses deep confidence in the ability of the ANC and the other Alliance members to work it out. 'Those guys and women have been at it for a long time. They're very experienced. And there are a lot of lessons we can learn from it,' he states.

One key feature of South Africa's revolution that strengthens it is the peaceful transition of power. Sims compares South Africa's process to Venezuela's, though South Africa's transformation is still in a stage where the people are struggling for equality. But 'the electoral process combined with mass people's fight back has been the main transmission belt in that process,' Sims says.

Sims concludes that interference from people (even well-meaning people) in the US by taking sides in internal debates in South Africa is a mistake. 'Our responsibility is the United States. Our primary responsibilities are to defeat the policies of the Bush administration and to build a peace movement and a solidarity movement that will end US intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, South Africa, Sudan – wherever it might be.'

'We should promote and stand for unity and allowing them to settle their own differences themselves. The worst possible thing for people in the US, given the history of US intervention around the world, is to act like we know better,' Sims adds. Sims also concludes that a healthy skepticism of the coverage in the international press about South Africa is essential.

--Reach Joel Wendland at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net. Look for articles by Joe Sims on South Africa at the PA editors' blog.