ANC conference sets militant course

Wednesday, July 31, 1991

By Norm Dixon

Nelson Mandela's opening address reflected the fiery mood among the 2244 delegates who assembled in Durban July 2-7 for the 48th national conference of the African National Congress. The conference was the first of its kind to be held inside South Africa for 30 years.

The progressive South African weekly New Nation commented that the conference "sent out clear signals that the movement's historical commitment to a militant program had not been dented."

Mandela told the delegates: "The point which must be clearly understood is that the struggle is not over. We are dealing with a regime that is steeped in a culture of racism, violence and domination. We are dealing with a group of politicians who do not want to negotiate themselves out of power."

Mandela made it clear that the view of the integrity of the de Klerk government held just 12 months ago has dissipated completely. He accused the government of having a "double agenda" and of "talking peace while actually conducting war". The government was involved in the "murder of innocent people". He demanded that trade sanctions be maintained until a democratic constitution had been adopted.

Mandela reminded delegates that the ANC had merely suspended armed action but not terminated the armed struggle: "Umkhonto we Sizwe ... has a responsibility to keep itself in a state of readiness in case the forces of counter-revolution once more block the path to a peaceful transition to a democratic society".

He also condemned a red-baiting campaign that preceded the conference aimed at splitting the alliance between the ANC and the South African Communist Party: "We will rebuff any attempts to drive a wedge between our organisations ... our detractors should outgrow the pathological anti-communism of the period of the cold war and live up to the commitment they all express in favour of a multiparty democracy."

Delegates heard a frank report on the ANC's organisation from outgoing secretary-general Alfred Nzo. While membership had more than doubled from almost 300,000 in February to 700,000, Nzo told the conference that "Our task ... is bigger that just signing up members. It is also striving to maximise support behind our policy positions."

He warned that the movement displayed a "sense of complacency that nothing is at stake and the ANC's ascendancy to power is

already assured".

Important resolutions of the conference included:

  • To pursue negotiations but that they must "be linked to continuing mass struggle and international pressure ... Negotiations do not win our freedom, but represent the recognition of the victories we win on the ground ... The period ahead will be one of intensified struggle." Negotiations are not to be carried out in secret, and ANC negotiators must consult and communicate with the movement.

  • That Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) be maintained, developed and remain in constant combat readiness "until the adoption of a democratic constitution and the creation of a new defence force into which cadres of MK will be integrated", and that MK establish units to defend communities from state and Inkatha terror.

  • To build unity between the various liberation movements, a "Front of Patriotic Forces" being established as soon as possible.

  • "Sanctions must be used creatively in order to arrest the erosion that has occurred, push the peace process forward and attain the objective of a democratic South Africa as speedily as possible ... Specified groups of sanctions should be used to achieve strategic objectives ... The National executive Committee in consultation with our allies is to determine the precise formulation of this process."

A new National Executive Committee was elected that included many younger activists with close links with the grassroots, many of whom led the anti-apartheid struggle inside the country through the '80s. The most significant addition was the election of Metalworkers Union leader Cyril Ramaphosa as secretary-general.

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