Interview National Chairperson of ANC Baleka Mbete – By Eric Singh, ANA Snr., Editor

Baleke Mbete, ANC National Chairperson

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Back in Johannesburg, it was possible to conduct an interview with the National Chairperson of the ANC Ms Baleka Mbete at the NEC (National Executive Committee) Meeting which was held from 2-5 February. Ms Mbete served as deputy, and later speaker of Parliament. She also served a short term as Deputy-President of the Republic after the resignation of Mr Thabo Mbeki from the Presidency. She also heads the committee responsible for organising the Centenary Celebrations which will run through the whole of this year.

Madam National Chairperson, congratulations on the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress. It is an auspicious occasion. For 82 years the ANC was in the vanguard of the struggle against racism and injustices against the majority of the people of South Africa. But since 1994, the ANC is at the helm of the Government of this country. What have you achieved; what are your difficulties, and how do you see your way forward?

As you say, the ANC is now 100 years old and most of the time was spent in struggling to finally have the people of South Africa, as represented by the African National Congress Government, of being in charge of the programme to transform the lives of our people. As is well known, we took over the reins of government in 1994 after the first fully democratic elections and had to start from scratch. We had to lay a constitutional framework for the people of this country to have a structure with which to guide the policies, the legal framework, the budget and to obtain actual experience of running the country. It has not been an easy journey.

It has been a very rich experience and lesson for us. In the early days of parliament in the new South Africa, we would continue talking about this institution as though it was something far from us. It was still “THAAAT” parliament. It was something out there because previously we did not have any direct contact with it. Suddenly, the realisation hits you that the struggle we were engaged in has reached a point where we ourselves, not anybody else, have to go into these institutions. We had to come to terms with the fact that it was a parliament that we had walked into and find our way around the corridors, including the mechanisms, the structures, procedures, and how you actually use the institution of parliament and begin a process to transform it. Most importantly, it was imperative to use this august body to come up with a constitution which could be the long-term framework to guide the South African society into the transformation or new dispensation that we have been referring to.

Very high on the agenda of the new parliament was to get rid of those legislations through which we were oppressed. We got rid of them and started, as we were finalising the new constitution, to put in place a legislative framework, portfolio by portfolio, to help us to address specific areas of life of our people and make the necessary changes. This is an ongoing process and will continue to do so.

I am sure things were very tough at the beginning given the fact that you had to rely on the old guard to run the civil service. The Movement had very few trained people in this area.

That is correct. A large part of what we have had to do was to begin to tackle the daily manifestations of the baggage as a society we continue to have. A cultural mindset type of baggage where you have a civil service which was overwhelmingly geared towards an old political and cultural framework where the majority of the people continue to be seen as nonentities.

Civil servants are human beings. Those of them who have lived most of their lives in the old South Africa will obviously find it difficult overnight to change the way they think about service to people. It is difficult for them, for instance, to recognize a black old lady who comes from some rural area and is ill-informed about her rights. This person needs to be helped because she does not know how to move around but needs service. Instead, you will find racist attitudes and sexism also, continue to manifest themselves. These things exist. Having said that, I must point out that it is the older generation that is burdened with this baggage.

But this problem is being tackled by bringing in the enlightened younger generation and teaching them new norms of a new South Africa and instilling in them the values that formed the liberation struggle. These things are easier said than done. We appreciate that it will take some time. Maybe decades. But the seeds have to be sown now. Where better than in the schools? These schools are now open for all children irrespective of colour so that the kids look upon each other as schoolmates, friends and South Africans.

Obviously you cannot undo unjust frameworks that have been set up over 100s of years in the short span of a few decades. My observation of the South African scene shows a very strong anti-ANC vendetta. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, it is ANC wrong irrespective. How do you explain this?

We underestimated the resilience of the bad old manifestations of the oppressive regime that we come from. For a start we live in a racist world. It is not as though South Africa is the only place where our people have had the experience of racism. The whole world is like that. It will continue to be there, and remember how our oppressors have worked, not for decades, but for centuries. It is something that has been an expression of a system of exploiting people of African origin, the darker people who have been subjects and victims of slave trade and slavery in the interests of profit by those that managed to dominate that world from which we are emerging.

That is why we had for many decades networks across the globe of people fighting for progress, and against imperialism. Up to this day when we are at international fora, we continue to say ‘Lets plan together, let us talk to one another and exchange experiences and views’ about the forms with which our enemies have now regrouped and are continuing to fight the ideals of progress, and our effort to improve the lot of the poor in this world, especially in Africa.

It is one of the main reason why the ANC continues to be a victim of the main stream media. The owners and the policy makers that run the tools of communication in our society are not the people who come from the struggle that we waged. They are not people who were in the trenches with us. They are people who will always look at a way of misinforming the community. We are by no means saying that we have not made mistakes. But these are a drop in the ocean compared to the atrocities perpetrated against our people. Things are always blown out of proportion.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are sections of the media whose sole occupation is to churn out very negative and hostile information against our leaders, and the ANC. When some of us as individuals make mistakes, that incident is then multiplied a hundredfold and presented to the general public as ANC policy, not that it is the misdemeanour of an individual member. The impression given is that when a comrade makes a mistake, they do so because they are instructed by the ANC to do it. What is not said is that, that particular individual was just not the right person for the job. Instead, that will be used as a stick with which to beat up the government led by the ANC. But such tactics do not deter us from the guidelines handed to us down the line over the years. Therefore, it does not make us less determined or committed to carry out this mission. History will speak for itself.

During the years of struggle, the ANC was supported by millions of people throughout the world. What message do you have for them now that you are celebrating your centenary?

As National Chairperson of the ANC, on whose behalf I speak, on the occasion of our 100th Anniversary, I say to our very many supporters and well-wishers Siyabonga THANK YOU VERY MUCH for all your support, your sweat over the years and your commitment. We are grateful for the support you are giving us as we are marking our centenary. We really hope that we have reconnected and we will revitalised our connections because the struggle continues. In the next 100 years we don’t think we will have a reason to make our relationship weaker. On the contrary, we have to redouble our efforts and continue to fight for a better world for the most poor of the world. Lets do that together.

Thank you very much. A M A N D L A !