Paul Hoffman: ANC must drop the NDR or go politically bust

In “Countdown to socialism: The National Democratic Revolution in SA since 1994,” author Anthea Jeffery explores the little-known acronym “NDR,” standing for “National Democratic Revolution.” Despite being a central concept for the ANC-led alliance in South Africa, Paul Hoffman states that most citizens are unaware of its meaning due to the government’s use of sleight of hand and a passive population. The NDR, a Soviet-era notion, aims to shift South Africa towards socialism through incremental changes and hegemonic control. However, the ANC’s attempts have been marked by failure, corruption, and dwindling popularity. As the country heads into the 2024 elections, Hoffman says the ANC faces a critical choice between persisting with the NDR or embracing constitutionalism and accountability.

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The survival of the ANC in power depends on the demise of the NDR

By Paul Hoffman

Most South Africans, if asked to supply the words in the acronym “NDR” are unable to reply “National Democratic Revolution”. This ignorance can be attributed to the habit the ANC has cultivated to govern by sleight of hand and also to the “passive subject” default position of most of the population, which should by now be teeming with engaged and participative citizens who know the acronym well and are acquainted with the lack of success the ANC has had with its revolutionary agenda in the past nearly thirty years in government in SA. It seems the numbers in this category are growing substantially, if by-election results are anything to go by.

In her magnificent new book, Anthea Jeffery of the SA Institute for Race Relations, spells out all any lively engaged citizen, and indeed every sentient being in SA, needs to know about the NDR. “Countdown to socialism, the National Democratic Revolution in SA since 1994” brings her customary rigour and incisiveness to bear on what should be one of the critical issues facing the ANC-led alliance and the country at the polls in 2024.

Read more: Andrew Kenny on Anthea Jeffery’s Countdown to Socialism – Illuminating the ANC’s disastrous path

The NDR is a Soviet era notion that was developed by communist thinkers to turn former capitalistically inclined colonies into socialist nirvanas. In SA, the Soviets regarded the presence of a large number of settled colonists as evidencing what they called “colonialism of a special kind” – where those colonised share territory with their colonisers. The fact that Soviet style socialist thinking has been a massive failure wherever it has been tried seems to have passed the ANC by.

The essence of the NDR is to bring about changes “with dexterity in tact” that secure “hegemonic control of all levers of power in society” First the political control secured in 1994 and then the control of the economy in the thirty to forty years after 1994. This desire for comprehensive control requires a vast revision of the polity of SA. Despite being in the majority in what for many years could be described as a “dominant party state”, the ANC has been unable to fashion a way to secure the desired hegemony. This is not for lack of trying. As it loses popularity and dissolves into kleptocratic tenderpreneurism, with warring factions and clueless leadership, the chance of success with the revolution is fading.

Consider the analysis of the NDR which David Ansara of the Free Market Foundation recently presented to the 1926 Club:

Through ‘dexterity in tact and firmness in principle’ the NDR seeks by incremental stages to move South Africa away from capitalism towards socialism. To achieve this end, … capital must be ‘disciplined’ and ‘directed’ by the ruling party.

The NDR has played out in a number of key policy domains, including:

– EWC – insecure property rights is the death knell to any economy, let alone a highly fragmented society like South Africa.

– Employment equity – which amounts to racial engineering by the state and effectively empowers the Minister of Labour to determine the composition of a company’s payroll.

– NHI – public healthcare has fallen apart, and government believes the solution is to effectively nationalise private healthcare. I am pleased to note that Busi Mavuso of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) has come out strongly against this policy.

– Prescribed assets – government has staged a strategic retreat on this, but it will be back.

Read more: Anthea Jeffery: Countdown to Socialism in South Africa – unveiling the ANC’s soviet-inspired agenda

Ansara might well have added that political party control of the police, the armed forces, the supposedly independent Chapter Nine Institutions, the prosecution service, the mining sector, the Reserve Bank and even the judiciary and the media have all been targeted by the NDR. The private sector is regarded as the enemy of the revolution and its overthrow is what the NDR is actually about in SA.

Alec Hogg recently interviewed Anthea Jeffery on her exposition of the NDR without going into the desire for “hegemonic control” in any great detail.

The topic of the future of the NDR also comes up for discussion in Business Maverick by Natale Labia.  His take home message to the ANC involves the abandonment of the NDR:

To win the election, the ANC could define a vision of SA as not quite full-on ‘user pays’ neoliberalism, but at least one in which the shortcomings of the state are recognised and the private sector is recalibrated from bogeyman to useful protagonist.

Quite apart from the loyal cadres of the NDR losing themselves on the distractions of grand corruption, State Capture and the unbridled exercise of greed that comes with power in a dominant party state, there is a more fundamental reason for the failure of the NDR. It is that the tenets of the NDR are fundamentally at odds with the values and principles of the new democratic order in SA. When the star of Thabo Mbeki was on the wane and it seemed likely that he would be succeeded by his former deputy (fired after the conviction of Schabir Shaik on charges of corrupting Jacob Zuma), his biographer, Mark Gevisser wrote:

(Mbeki) was deeply distressed by the possibility of being succeeded by Zuma… he believed his deputy’s play for the presidency to be part of a strategy to avoid prosecution… Mbeki allegedly worried that Zuma and his backers had no respect for the rule of law, and would be unaccountable to the constitutional dispensation … There was also the worry of a resurgence of ethnic politics, and – given his support from the left – that Zuma’s leftist advisors would undo all the meticulous stitching of South Africa into the global economy that Mbeki and his economic managers had undertaken over 15 years … (T)he possibility of a Zuma presidency was a scenario far worse than a dream deferred. It would be, in effect, a dream shattered, irrevocably, as South Africa turned into yet another post-colonial kleptocracy; another ‘footprint of despair’ in the path of destruction away from the promises of uhuru.

Read more: The Socialist Utopia: Why socialism is ‘misunderstood and misrepresented’ – Ivo Vegter

That Zuma took SA down the road of State Capture and into BRICS is all history. However, when, in February 2018, he was succeeded by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, the revolutionary credentials of the latter were stressed. After all, Ramaphosa was in charge of the notorious and illegal practice of “cadre deployment” all through the height of State Capture. He has mysteriously misplaced the minutes of the cadre deployment committee meetings he chaired.

The Constitution, which Ramaphosa helped write, regards the rule of law as supreme. It is true to the doctrine of the separation of powers, prescribes freedom of expression and requires an impartial and independent judiciary. Checks and balances on the exercise of power are the order of the constitutional day. Parliament is meant to exercise oversight over the executive and hold it accountable for the proper implementation of laws which are passed by parliament as the authentic representative of the people. Under the Constitution parliament is not a rubber stamp for use by Luthuli House. All of these features fly in the face of NDR dogma and ANC practices.

The ANC faces a stark choice: persist with the failed NDR and lose at the polls, if not in 2024 then in 2029, or abandon the NDR in favour of constitutionalism of the kind that all politicians in office are supposed to uphold in terms of their oaths of office.

Not all leaders of the ANC are as attached to the NDR as those who led in the Zuma era. The quote from Gevisser’s book “The Dream Deferred” set out above suggests that the economic policy of Thabo Mbeki was neoliberal rather than socialist. It made him unpopular with the SA Communist Party. Since then and with the rise of Zuma there has been a slide toward NDR thinking and a reduction in the popularity of the ANC at the polls. The two phenomena are not unrelated. Whether the ANC is sufficiently nimble to act to reverse its lack of popularity by abandoning the NDR remains to be seen.

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*Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now.

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