Anthea Jeffery: A reply to Dr Msimang – Revealing the ANC’s socialist ambiguity

As revealed in an interview with Alec Hogg last week, according to Dr. Mavuso Msimang – Deputy President of the ANC Veteran’s League – the ANC remains enigmatic about its economic stance, oscillating between capitalism and a Scandinavian-style system. This ambiguity, however, masks a long-standing socialist agenda aimed at preserving popular support, says Dr Anthea Jeffery. From secretive strategies during the people’s war era to recent acknowledgments by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC has concealed its socialist aspirations. Ramaphosa’s endorsement of land expropriation without compensation further fuels speculation about the ANC’s true intentions, raising questions about the future direction of South Africa’s economy.

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ANC intent on concealing socialist agenda: a reply to Mavuso Msimang

By Dr Anthea Jeffery*

According to Dr Mavuso Msimang, deputy president of the ANC Veteran’s League (speaking to BizNews last week), the ANC is not committed to socialism and never has been. The SACP indeed endorses socialism, but the ANC is ‘still trying to figure out what kind of economic system it wants’. It is ‘a bit ambivalent about capitalism’, but it might want a Scandinavian system that combines ‘social welfare with capitalism’ or a ‘mixed economy that combines elements of capitalism and socialism’. 

This obfuscation is typical of the ANC’s long-standing determination to conceal its socialist agenda. The organisation does this because it knows that openly endorsing socialism would narrow its popular support.

This was evident in 1979, for example, in the ANC’s Green Book: Lessons from Vietnam. Here, the ANC resolved to embark on a no-holds barred people’s war as the first step in a two-stage revolution aimed initially at seizing power and then at using that power to bring about a gradual transition to socialism. However, as The Green Book recommended, the ANC also took care to conceal ‘any direct or indirect commitment to a socialist order’, as it knew that disclosure would reduce its support.

Read more: Anthea Jeffery: ANC’s blind pursuit of Soviet-era NDR pushing SA into death spiral

In 1983 came the United Democratic Front (UDF), which was created as the ANC’s internal wing to help advance the people’s war. Its ultimate objective was to destroy ‘the exploiting monster that is capitalism’ – and it too chose to conceal this aim to buttress its support.

In 1989, in its Path to Power programme, the SACP urged the ANC to persist with its people’s war throughout the negotiations period so as to secure its power over the new South Africa. Thereafter, it said, the ANC should embark on a national democratic revolution (NDR) aimed at capturing the state and then implementing the Freedom Charter of 1955. This latter goal was particularly important, the SACP stated, because ‘the achievement of the aims of the charter would lay…the indispensable basis for the advance to socialism’.

The SACP also urged the ANC to keep obscuring the NDR’s ultimate socialist objectives. As the party put it, ‘to place the attainment of socialism on the immediate agenda would, in fact, be to postpone the very attainment of socialist transformation’.

The ANC has long been careful to do what the SACP recommends. Hence, though it regularly recommits itself to the NDR – which the SACP openly describes as offering the ‘most direct route’ to socialism – the ANC has generally avoided expressly sanctioning the socialist end-goal. For some 30 years, however, it has been using its state power to implement a host of NDR interventions that have fostered that goal and brought it ever closer.

More recently, the ANC’s mask has begun to slip – with President Cyril Ramaphosa coming close to endorsing the SACP’s socialist agenda. 

In December 2017, for example, an article in New African magazine said that Ramaphosa has ‘always maintained that, while not being a member of the South African communist party, he was a committed socialist’.

In July 2022, speaking at the SACP’s 15th national congress, Ramaphosa praised ‘the valued…and important…bonds’ between the ANC and the SACP. The ANC, he went on, was determined to ‘defeat each and every effort to derail the NDR’, which was the ‘shared programme’ of the ANC and the SACP and ‘the reason for the existence of our alliance’. 

Ramaphosa also stressed that the ruling party would continue to ‘rely’ on the SACP as its ‘intellectual reservoir’ and the source of the ‘political perspectives and analyses that would guide the ANC going forward’. 

Later that same month, speaking at the ANC’s 6th policy conference, Ramaphosa warned that ‘the NDR currently faces a number of challenges and perils’. The conference’s ‘central defining task…was [thus] to lay the basis for the restoration of the ANC and the NDR’ and so ‘put the NDR back on track’.

Ramaphosa has also been an ardent advocate of land expropriation without compensation (EWC), which is a vital mechanism for expanding state ownership or control. In July 2018 he went so far to announce on national television that the ANC would indeed amend the Constitution to provide for EWC – even though Parliament’s joint constitutional review committee was still busy investigating whether or not this should be done.

In Ramaphosa’s view, EWC will not bring about the disastrous consequences so evident in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Rather, it will usher in a ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘unleash enormous growth in our country’. Perhaps this is what Msimang had in mind in stating that ‘in recent years, the ANC has been more focused on promoting economic growth than on creating a socialist society’.

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*Dr Anthea Jeffery is Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations, and is the author of the recently published Countdown to Socialism – The National Democratic Revolution in South Africa since 1994 (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

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