THE African National Congress (ANC) leadership has an obligation to defend the party’s brand, and while the party welcomed criticism, its honest responses should not be labelled as bullying, the party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, said on Wednesday.

Speaking at an academic dialogue on the policy resolutions reached at the ANC’s electoral conference in Mangaung in December last year, Mr Mantashe said the ANC was "under siege" from criticism. But its responses were not "outbursts or bullying", nor were they "angry or arrogant", he said.

Criticism by business leaders has led to a strained relationship between the party and the private sector in recent months. Earlier this month, First National Bank apologised for a series of online videos after strong criticism by the ANC that the bank was undermining the government.

The decision by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) to retrench 14,000 workers this year had also provoked a strong reaction from the ANC, and Mr Mantashe was reported to have said that the mining company had "stolen our money", "built on the back of South African capital and labour". His comments related to Amplats’ primary listing on the London Stock Exchange.

On Wednesday, Mr Mantashe said the ANC would not be "defensive about our honest responses", nor should policies decided upon by the party be criticised before they were put into practice. "We can only say they are failing if we implement them and they fail," he said.

The director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Steven Friedman, said he was sceptical that the resolutions reached by the ANC were sufficient to deal with the party’s own structural problems.

The continued failure to address economic inequalities, or reduce the racial nature of inequality, meant that many in South Africa continued to use the government, politics in general, as well as ANC politics to acquire wealth they would have otherwise acquired in the private sector, Prof Friedman said. This meant that the effect of money on politics in the country continued to be "toxic".

However, if an ANC resolution to use public funding to promote and support democracy was adopted, it could lead to transparency in political funding and regulations on private financing, he said.

The ANC’s own structural problems needed to be addressed before the government could become more accountable to citizens — a necessary condition of improving service delivery for the poor and addressing poverty, he said.

Mr Mantashe acknowledged that there had been campaigning ahead of the Mangaung conference, but denied that money had any effect on the outcomes of congress.

In what seemed to be a reference to Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale’s failed bid for the ANC deputy presidency — and ultimately the businessman’s failure to be elected to the 80-member national executive committee — Mr Mantashe said one of the better-financed campaigns had failed.

He also criticised black economic empowerment, saying it would only create "millionaires and billionaires". A greater focus on empowering the black middle class was needed, as well as a focus on education, said Mr Mantashe.