I have been an African National Congress (ANC) member since 1980, and a political activist for much longer. For the record, I have also been a member of the national executive and national working committees of the ANC. From 1994 to 2009, I was in the public service, initially as minister of labour and then as Reserve Bank governor. That’s just to introduce myself, in the event that someone asks: who is this fellow?

During my 10 years as governor, I was restricted from active politics. Now I am “free at last” to rejoin other citizens in exercising my political rights of freedom of association and expression. It is in this context that I will be writing for BDlive to express my views about general macro trends in South Africa and elsewhere.

I have been fascinated, offended and occasionally upset and embarrassed by the way the media and some “intellectuals” portray the ANC.  At times, of course, the behaviour of the ANC’s members and leaders has fed into a rather terrible image of the party. The ANC, it would seem, has lost its moral compass. Some of these “intellectuals”, I might add, are what we used to refer to as peacetime “armchair intellectuals”.

During the struggle, they hid at universities, churches, surgeries and shops, refusing to associate themselves with activists, whom they considered too dangerous a breed.

Activists were hounded and pounded by the apartheid machinery while these folks stayed in their comfortable study-rooms and occasionally looked through the window to see how the battles between the police and activist students or community members were progressing.

They never raised a voice, clenched a fist or threw a stone at the police or soldiers, yet today they are the first to lecture us about “emperors without clothes”, or why this and that is not being done. Some of these chaps cannot even run a chicken shop. All they do is write and lecture us about what is right and what is wrong. But I do pay tribute to the many others who joined in the fight. I remember Prof Gessler Nkondo in particular. Great fellow, that.

There is a persistent tendency to portray the ANC as an organisation of fools. In fact, the undertone is that since the party’s membership is predominately African, why should one expect anything else from that lot? It is dressed up in sophisticated language and, from time to time, the horse bolts from the stable when people refer to  “they’’ or “ them” — coded language for Africans. They cannot fix a road! They cannot fix traffic lights! They are corrupt! They don’t differentiate between an official credit card and a private one!

The ANC is a broad organisation; a broad church, if you like. But one thing is certain: it is not an organisation of fools and incompetents. In such a large organisation, there will be fools and thugs who steal from the public purse, but there are far more good people. Many intellectuals and — believe it or not — economists can also be found in the party. Yes, there have been times, as William Butler Yeats would have put it, when “the ceremony of innocence (had been) drowned; the best lack(ed) all conviction, while the worst (were) full of passionate intensity”.

Do members of the ANC read? Yes, they do. You are welcome to visit my study and personal library and examine the contents of my books. I know many economists in the ANC: people who have had many years of structured, post-matric economics education, and not just the ones who learnt “economics” on the road to a conference or a media house and cannot understand the relationship between the Edgeworth box and a Pareto optimal condition.

You might ask where these folks were during the recent ANC policy conference. That would be a fair question. Many of them were not there, but that is not the whole problem. People must understand that policy is politics. If you are not present when debates take place, someone else will make the decisions that affect your life. Standing on the sidelines and shouting your wisdom at the decision-makers does not help. You have to be in the mix. 

Sure, the role of the technocrat is to help the thought processes and not to determine the policy conclusion. What I take offence at is the suggestion, in most of what uninformed or misinformed journalists write, that the ANC does not have any economists or intellectuals on board. That is nonsense.

But there is also a lesson for the ANC leadership here: it should make better use of its technocrats. The “professional classes” must feel at home in the movement and not sidelined whenever they try to contribute. It is most unlikely that these classes will shout slogans or sing moving songs at rallies, but they have to be accepted and fully utilised. This approach will help energise them and silence those who think the ANC does not have any members who can read, write or understand policy.

I accept, though, that the behaviour of some ANC members and leaders has not been exemplary. Using your official credit card for personal expenditure is simply stupid and theft. Forcing people off the road because you have blue lights is just not on, and it is one way of increasing the numbers of those against you. Cooking up tenders to benefit you or your buddies is theft and immoral, and people must go to jail for that. Building sub-standard Reconstruction and Development Programme houses is pure incompetence and not advancing a better life for all. Staffing state departments and institutions with your unqualified and incompetent buddies in the name of “cadre deployment” is not serving our country and the cause that the ANC so ably led against apartheid. Not owning up to some of the failures since 1994 is not helping our developmental trajectory at all. Forgetting that the basic policy approach of the ANC is non-racialism, not Africans only, is a big mistake, and we will pay dearly for this in the next 20 to 30 years. Employment equity does not mean Africans only. Please, people — conditions must not be created for a “spiritus mundi”, a second coming.

My future contributions to BDlive will try to expand on some of the themes I have fired here from the hip. Stay tuned.