We meet here today to remember and honour a great son of our soil. We meet here to recall the enormous contribution he made to the struggle for the freedom of our people. We remember his kindness, his selflessness, his modesty, his intellect and his unwavering courage. He was an outstanding soldier, a disciplined cadre, a democrat and a leader with vision and integrity. He was a leader who put the interests of the people above his own. He put their well-being and safety before his own. He was a revolutionary who was truly worthy of the title Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe. He was a giant of our struggle who has rightly earned his place among the most outstanding leaders of our people, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Moses Kotane, Lilian Ngoyi, Dorothy Nyembe, Joe Slovo and Ahmed Kathrada.
As we gather here, we recall with great anguish and sorrow the horrific act of racial hatred that ended his life on the eve of our freedom. For the masses of our people, this was the darkest moment before our democratic dawn. It was the moment at which the apartheid government realised that they would no longer be able to contain the anger of an oppressed and persecuted people. They relented and quickly agreed on the date for South Africa’s first democratic election.
It is fitting that, as we celebrate the contribution of Isithwalandwe Chris Hani, we reflect on the revolutionary tasks that we must still undertake to achieve the free and equal society for which he gave his life. We must reflect on the work we need to do to liberate all our people from all forms of oppression and exploitation. As we undertake the second phase of our transition, in which intensify the struggle for socio-economic freedom, we must focus our attention on the actions required to advance radical economic transformation.
We must direct all our resources and energy to achieve far higher rates of inclusive growth, to create jobs, develop the skills of our youth and reduce poverty and inequality.
It is fitting that we reflect on how the life, contribution and character of Chris Hani provide some guide to how we approach the responsibilities we must now shoulder together. It is fitting, particularly at a time like this, to reflect on what kind of a leader he was.
Chris Hani was a unifier, a nation builder. He was a champion of a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, deeply committed to breaking down the barriers that had long kept our people apart. He was not the kind of leader who, through reckless statements and self-serving actions, would divide the movement or polarise the nation. He embodied the revolutionary qualities that we need in our leaders today.
Critical, honest debate necessary for unity
He was the kind of leader that we speak about in the document ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’, when we say:
“A leader should constantly seek to improve his capacity to serve the people; he should strive to be in touch with the people all the time, listen to their views and learn from them. He should be accessible and flexible; and not arrogate to himself the status of being the source of all wisdom.
“A leader should win the confidence of the people in her day-to-day work. Where the situation demands, she should be firm; and have the courage to explain and seek to convince others of the correctness of decisions taken by constitutional structures even if such decisions are unpopular. She should not seek to gain cheap popularity by avoiding difficult issues, making false promises or merely pandering to popular sentiment.”
Chris Hani was a leader who was rooted among the masses, who was willing to listen and who was not afraid to confront problems. He was not afraid to raise concerns about the state of the movement or the conduct of its leaders. He was able to clearly articulate the weaknesses in our strategy or the shortcomings in its implementation. He did so precisely so that we could correct our errors and build the movement as a stronger, more effective instrument of struggle. He did so not to divide the ANC, but to unite it around a common understanding of the tasks of the moment and the actions that these tasks demanded. For Chris Hani, critical, honest debate was a necessary condition for unity – and organisational renewal was a necessary condition for progress.
Heightened tensions after Cabinet reshuffle
Early in 1969, Chris Hani and six other members of Umkhonto we Sizwe produced a document that became known as the ‘Hani Memorandum.’ It began:
“The ANC in Exile is in a deep crisis as a result of which a rot has set in. From informal discussions with the revolutionary members of MK we have inferred that they have lost all confidence in the ANC leadership abroad. This they say openly and in fact show it. Such a situation is very serious and in fact a revolutionary movement has to sit down and analyse such a prevailing state of affairs.”
There are many within the Alliance and the broader democratic movement who say that the ANC is today in a deep crisis. Many say that a rot has set in, a result of our inability to respond effectively to the challenges – and temptations – of political office.
While some may want to contest the use of words such as ‘crisis’ and ‘rot’ to describe the current situation, the undeniable reality is that the democratic movement is undergoing a period of greater turbulence and uncertainty that at any time since 1994. There is a strong sense among many of our people that the ANC no longer represents their hope for a better life. Many believe that the ANC is no longer a trusted repository of the aspirations of our people for freedom, dignity, peace and justice.
Recent political developments have thrown into sharp relief the divisions within our movement and brought to the fore broader grievances about the direction of the country. The manner and form of the cabinet reshuffle a few weeks ago heightened tensions within the movement, causing some comrades to engage in bitter exchanges in public statements and on social media. It has further polarised the Alliance and broader democratic movement, with different formations taking strongly opposing positions. But there is a broader problem.
Over many years, the unity of the democratic movement has been gradually eroded as the politics of patronage, factionalism, vote-buying and gate keeping has become more widespread. In many parts of our country, the interests of the people have been rendered subordinate to the interests of the few as they jostle for positions of authority and access to resources.
This challenge has been identified at the highest levels of the movement, resolutions have been taken at successive national conferences and it has been much debated within the Alliance. Yet it continues to plague the organisation and diminishes our ability to realise our objective to achieve a better life for all South Africans.
The challenge that faces each and every member of the ANC, the Alliance and the broader democratic movement is what to do. How should we respond to the many challenges that today confront our revolution?
The lesson from the life and struggle of Chris Hani – the lesson from the ‘Hani Memorandum’ in particular – is that we must honestly and directly own up to the problem. We must do so not in an effort to achieve some kind of factional advantage. We must do so not to divide the organisation or demoralise our membership. We must do so because that is what a revolutionary movement does.
Once we have analysed the challenges – once we have a common understanding of what the causes and manifestations of these problems are – we must take concrete action to address them. And we must do so together.
As former ANC President Oliver Tambo said in 1980: "The need for the unity of the patriotic and democratic of our country has never been greater than it is today. Our unity has to be based on honesty among ourselves, the courage to face reality, adherence to what has been agreed upon, to principle."
These words, spoken over three decades ago, perfectly capture the central task of the democratic movement at this difficult moment in our history.
Allegations of ‘state capture’ must be put to rest
Chris Hani would have been the first to say that we need to be honest among ourselves. The ANC cannot fulfil its historic mission if it is divided. It has a responsibility not only to be united itself, but also to unite society behind a programme of fundamental social and economic change. This has been its central strength over many decades of struggle, first in defeating apartheid and then in building a new democratic state that has had significant success in improving the lives of millions of people.
However, its ability to unite society is significantly diminished. The divisions within the organisation and among its leaders are well ventilated in the public space.
Despite the good work that continues to be done by cadres and deployees in all spheres, the ANC’s programme in government and in communities lacks sufficient coherence and focus. The allegations that there are private individuals who exercise undue influence over state appointments and procurement decisions should be a matter of grave concern to the movement. These practices threaten the integrity of the state, undermine our economic progress and diminish our ability to change the lives of the poor. These activities, if left unchecked, could destroy the revolution. It is therefore critical that the allegations of ‘state capture’ are put to rest, that wrongdoing is exposed and that illicit practices are brought to an end.
The ANC should support the establishment of an effective, credible mechanism to investigate these claims. Those that have evidence will be able to come forward. Those that have been unfairly implicated will have an opportunity to clear their names. We cannot leave this rot to fester. We must have the courage to face reality. And we must be prepared to talk about these things openly and honestly, as our forebears did. Unless the ANC addresses these challenges, we can be certain that our electoral support will continue to slide.
'We have alienated many of the people'
We have research that shows that many ANC supporters did not vote in the 2016 local government elections because of perceptions of factionalism in the movement and a sense that many of its leaders and public representatives were self-serving. A decline in the ANC’s electoral fortunes is not so much about the ‘maturing’ of democracy, as some have suggested, as it is about a waning confidence in the ANC as the organisation best placed to build a better future for the people of this country.
If the ANC is voted out of office – as happened in several metros in 2016 – it will be unable to use state power to effect transformation. It will thus lose the most potent weapon it has to build a national democratic society.
Recent marches in various centres across the country are further evidence of the challenges the movement faces. While it may be true that those who marched do not reflect the views of the majority of South Africans, many of them nevertheless represent important constituencies that the ANC should be engaging and mobilising to bring about social and economic change.
Throughout its history, the ANC has been most effective when it has drawn a variety of social forces towards it – when it has mobilised broad fronts in pursuit of common objectives. Today, this no longer seems to be a priority. In fact, we seem to be pushing many important constituencies away from us. Through some of our utterances, through some of our conduct – sometimes through sheer neglect – we have alienated many of the people who we should be organising and mobilising. The ANC is meant to unite, not divide.
Reason to hope
These marches and associated forms of mobilisation present a direct challenge to the ANC’s mission to unite all South Africans in pursuit of a better life for all. Unless it acts with determination and urgency to address these challenges, the organisation is likely not only to lose further electoral support, but also to lose its ability to lead society in a popular programme of change. In responding to these challenges, the ANC must adhere to its values.
The unity that Oliver Tambo spoke of in 1980 was premised on honesty, courage and principle. It was unity in support of revolutionary ideals. He never envisaged that this unity should be used as a cover for misconduct or as reason not to confront those implicated in wrongdoing. He never saw unity as an excuse to avoid the difficult, painful questions that we need to ask ourselves.
But even through our movement faces great challenges – and even though our country is going through a particularly difficult time – there is every reason to hope. There is every reason to expect that the cadres of this movement will respond with the same resolve and purpose as they have done before.
'We are the glue'
I am confident – and many in the leadership share this confidence – that the branches of our organisation will use the upcoming 54th National Conference to chart a new path of political, organisational and moral renewal. Many of the elements of this renewal are to be found in the Policy Conference discussion documents currently being debated in our structures. Among other things, these documents assert that critical to the resolution of the challenges facing our movement is the strengthening of internal democracy within the organisation. As we prepare for Conference, these current challenges need to be addressed within the ANC’s constitutional structures, with the participation of branch members and leadership at all levels. It is also needs to be a matter for structured and direct engagement with other formations in the Alliance and broader society. The manner of engagement is particularly important.
The political culture of the ANC requires that comrades accept each other’s bona fides, avoid divisive language and name-calling and be prepared to engage honestly with each other’s views. At a time when there is great distress – even anger – inside and outside the movement, it is the responsibility of all cadres to ensure that they are respectful, honest and constructive in their engagement. This situation requires calm heads and sound political judgment.
This is a responsibility that rests in great measure on the leadership of the movement and the Alliance, but ultimately it is the duty of each and every one of us to take responsibility for the cohesion and effectiveness of the organisation. Each and every of one of us needs to understand – as Oliver Tambo did, as Chris Hani did, as Ahmed Kathrada did – that in our conduct and in our contribution, we are the glue that holds the movement together.
'We must combat arrogance, complacency and dishonesty'
We must weigh every action and pronouncement to ensure that it unites rather than divides. We need to constantly ask ourselves what is it that we must do to build a united and cohesive movement that is honest, courageous and principled. We need to draw from Chris Hani the lesson that criticism of the movement does not mean that one is disloyal. Criticism cannot be disloyal if it is honest, if it is consistent with the discipline of the movement, and if it is intended to strengthen the movement and promote unity.
As we gather to remember Chris Hani, as we ask ourselves what is it that history demands of us at this difficult moment in our revolution, we must resolve to be the kind of cadre – the kind of leader – that Chris Hani was.
We must resolve to humble ourselves before the people. We must combat arrogance, complacency and dishonesty. We must heed the words of Chris Hani when he said: “I’ve never wanted to spare myself because I feel there are people who are no longer around and died for this struggle. What right do I have to hold back, to rest, to preserve my health, to have time with my family, when there are other people who are no longer alive – when they sacrificed what is precious: namely life itself.”
Isithwalandwe Chris Hani gave his life for the freedom of his people. Inspired by his courage, determination and compassion, though we may face great challenges and difficulties, we dare not spare ourselves in the struggle to build a united, free and equal society. The spirit of Chris Hani lives on. The struggle continues.
By Cyril Ramaphosa
Cyril Ramaphosa is a South African politician, businessman, activist, and trade union leader who has served as the Deputy President under President Jacob Zuma since 2014.