The ANC's all-time top 10
1. "We've been standing here for 26 seconds and nobody has been
A quote which reveals the callous attitude and sustained denial which, for a long
period of time, defined the ANC's response to the high crime levels in South
Africa. Said on 2 February 2000 by the late minister of safety and security,
Steve Tshwete, and former minister of justice and constitutional development,
Penuell Maduna. The two were speaking on the American television program '60
minutes', during a CBS broadcast, and commenting on the statistic that one
person is raped in South Africa every 26 seconds, something they clearly thought
they had disproved using their own special kind of logic.
2. "[The ANC is] more important" than the Constitution. "No political
force can destroy the ANC - it is only the ANC that can destroy itself... "[the
Constitution is only there] to regulate matters."
The definitive quote when it comes to the Constitution and the ANC's attitude
toward it. From cadre deployment through its various attacks on the judiciary,
it is this sentiment that still motivates much of the ANC's action today. Said
by then-ANC national chairperson Jacob Zuma, during an address to ANC delegates
at a regional meeting in Durban, on 17 November 1996. Zuma was explaining the
ANC's decision to remove Patrick Lekota as Free State premier (Lekota had
exercised his constitutional right to fire an MEC without consulting the ANC
NEC. In response the ANC NEC had removed from office and Zuma was deployed to
reinforce the principle that party members were accountable first and foremost
to the ANC.)
3. "We need to look at the question that is posed, understandably I
suppose: does HIV cause AIDS? AIDS the acronym stands for Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome. Now I do believe that is a sensible thing to ask: does one
virus cause a syndrome? A virus cannot cause a syndrome. A virus will cause a
The theory that HIV did not cause Aids and the thinking that underpinned a
sustained long assault on best medical practice and, with it, the hopes and
needs of thousands suffering from HIV/Aids. Said by then-president Thabo Mbeki
in the National Assembly, on 20 September 2000. What followed would be almost a
decade of denial, the promotion of quackery, the courting charlatans, the
refusal to implement court orders, the denouncement of antiretroviral drugs, the
vilification of those who stood opposed to this kind of thinking and, finally,
the ultimate price for those in desperate need of the state's help.
4. "God expects us to rule this country because we are the only
organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed
in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow
anyone to govern our city [Cape Town] when we are ruling the country."
Of the many statements Jacob Zuma and the ANC have made, along the lines that
it will govern until the end of days, this is the definitive one. Said by Zuma
at an ANC rally in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on 4 May 2008, it illustrates
perfectly the ANC's attitude to power: that it governs not by the democratic
will of the people, but by divine right and that South Africa belongs to the
ANC, as opposed to its citizens. It represents the very antithesis of democracy
and freedom of choice.
5. "I did not join the struggle to be poor."
I was somewhat hesitant to include this quote because, on face value, it is
defensible. Who in their right minds would struggle to be destitute? But it is
the context in which it was said that makes it infamous. Said by ANC national
spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama in November 2004, in defence of his involvement in a
BEE deal involving the sale of a R6.6 billion stake in Telkom to a consortium
led by former director-general of communications Andile Ngcaba. Ngonyama alone
stood to make up to R160 million. Around this period there were a range of BEE
deals, each of enormous value, which time and time again, would be awarded to
companies loaded with the same broad group of ANC. It was through this kind of
‘redistribution' that ANC created a wealthy, politically connected class that
not only benefited repeatedly from BEE but, in turn, would fund the ANC and its
activities. If it was not technically corruption, certainly it was ethical
corruption on a grand scale.
6. "The African National Congress congratulates the people of Zimbabwe for
a successful 2002 Presidential Election."
The ANC's official response to the 2002 Zimbabwean election, from a 13 March
2002 statement on the outcome. Another quote that speaks the ANC's sustained
denial on a fundamental issue that affected negatively the human rights of
thousands. Although Robert Mugabe narrowly won, the result was condemned by the
Commonwealth, foreign observers and government, the media and Zimbabwean
opposition figures as not free or fair. And with good cause. Among a myriad
other problems, the number of polling stations in urban areas and MDC
strongholds was reduced by up to 50%, some 1 400 opposition members people were
arrested during the voting period and in 40-50% of rural constituencies,
opposition officials were unable to oversee polling. Later that year ZANU-PF
official Emerson Mnangagwa, referred to in some quarters as ‘The Butcher of
Matebeleland', was given a standing ovation at the ANC's 2002 national congress
7. "I think it's very important for coloured people in this country to
understand that South Africa belongs to them in totality, not just the Western
Cape. So this over-concentration of coloureds in the Western Cape is not working
for them. They should spread in the rest of the country ... so they must stop
this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are
so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the
Said by then director-general of labour Jimmy Manyi, in March 2010. A quote
that goes to the heart of the ANC racial attitude, to coloured South Africans in
particular and race relations in general - the very idea that people of any race
should be stereotyped in this way or that they have a duty to equally distribute
themselves being anathema to diversity and freedom. This kind of thinking not
only informs hard ANC policy (the employment equity plan for correctional
services, for example) but the ANC's general attitude to the Western Cape and
coloured South Africans, which it paints as illegitmate and whom it disregards
as second-class citizens respectively.
8. "I, for my part, will not keep quiet while others whose minds have been
corrupted by the disease of racism, accuse us, the black people of South Africa,
Africa and the world, as being, by virtue of our Africanness and skin colour -
lazy, liars, foul-smelling, diseased, corrupt, violent, amoral, sexually
depraved, animalistic, savage - and rapists."
Remarkably, this statement was made by then-president Thabo Mbeki, as part of
along diatribe along similar lines, in response to a simple parliamentary
question, asking whether or not he stood by his claim that HIV did not cause
Aids. The next day, on 22 October 2004, Mbeki would publish the full response as
an edition of ANC Today, the natural home for so much of his racial vitroil over
the years. It was typical of the way Mbeki and the ANC would play the race card,
not just on Aids, but with regards to almost any public position critical of the
ANC. And how, through this kind of racial rhetoric, he would re-radicalise
public discourse in the South Africa. Aids and Zimbabwe might well have been
Mbeki's defining policy mistakes but it was this kind of deep-seated racial
prejudice that remains his quintessential influence and, in fact, underpinned
those policy positions in the first place.
9. "Same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was
growing up, ‘ungqingili' [homosexuals in isiZulu] could not stand in front of
me, I would knock him out."
Said by Jacob Zuma to thousands of supporters at Heritage Day celebrations in
KwaZulu-Natal, on 26 September 2006. Zuma offered an apology, after the comment
caused a national outcry, arguing that he "did not intend to have this
interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians". The quote is not only
remarkable for its bigotry but for the particular brand of social conservatism
it represents, one that defines much of the thinking behind and many of the
positions adopted by the ANC.
10. "This rot is across the board. It's not confined to any level or any
area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers
opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC's
problems are occasioned by this. There are people who want to take it over so
they can arrange for the appointment of those who will allow them possibilities
for future accumulation."
No such collection would be complete without a quote about corruption. And no
quote on corruption is more forthright or disturbing as this one. Said by
then-ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe in an interview about corruption in
the ANC with the Financial Mail, on 19 January 2007. It clearly and in no
uncertain terms defines the fundamental problem: that the ANC's general attitude
to the state is one of self-enrichment and patronage - nothing more, nothing
less, than the means to that end.
Where does one start, when faced with so many difficult choices?
First, there were some quotes I did not include because they were more
personal than reflective of the ANC's general attitude. Zuma's infamous April
2006 shower quote, for example - "It... would minimise the risk of contracting
the disease [HIV/Aids]." I felt such utterances said more about the individual
than the organisation, however problematic.
A harder decision was to exclude the June 1999 comment by former Mpumalanga
premier Ndaweni Mahlangu that "[Lying] is nothing new. Many politicians publicly
deny they did certain things but then later admit to them. It is accepted and is
not unusual anywhere in the world." One could make a case that dishonesty in the
ANC was commonplace but then, compared to the problems that flowed from its open
positions on issues like Aids and Zimbabwe, I felt it just missed out.
On Aids and Zimbabwe the list of choices was extensive. There was, for
example, the infamous quote from former ANCYL leader Peter Mokaba, made in an
interview with the New York Times on 31 March 2002, where he said:
"HIV? It doesn't exist. The kind of stories that they tell that people are
dying in droves... It's not true. It's not borne out by any facts. Where the
science has not proved anything, we cannot allow our people to be Guinea pigs.
Anti-retrovirals, they're quite dangerous. They're poison actually. We cannot
allow our people to take something so dangerous that it will exterminate them.
However well-meaning, the hazards of misplaced compassion could lead to
In the end, though, I felt Mbeki's quote more important because, if anything,
Mokaba - an out-and-out Mbeki acolyte - was just parroting Mbeki's line
Leaving out the former minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was
difficult too. Her suggestion in June 2005, that "beetroot, garlic, [and] lemon"
were a suitable substitute for ARVs, came to define her as ‘Dr Beetroot'. And
her stubborn refusal to implement an ARV programme (perhaps best captured by her
November 2000 quote - "Today I want to dispel this myth, because it is
absolutely not true [that ARV's work]. The pharmaceutical industry and those who
have a vested interest in the drug industry fuels this propaganda") was
indicative of the ANC's broader attitude. But again, Mbeki was the root cause,
and so his quote won out.
Likewise on Zimbabwe - so many options. I went with the election quote
because that moment was defining, not only for Zimbabwe but for the ANC which,
having then endorsed the inexcusable every day for the months and years that
followed dug itself deeper and deeper into the anti-democratic trench it had
built. Zuma's 15 March 2002 quote from inside Zimbabwe, that "...the elections
were legitimate, are valid. They were free and fair and we have got to respect
that", was a close second, but the ANC's national release was more
In other cases it was a close call between two quotes that illustrated the
same problem. Take the 26 seconds rape quote - a horrific sentiment. So bad you
might be forgiven for thinking it was isolated. Not so. In May 2002 then-safety
and security minister Charles Nqakula would ask, "Is that realistic? I have more
than three children at home, and yesterday not one was abused." A reference to
the figure that one in three South African children are abused daily. That two
police ministers could advocate the same attitude about crime statistics and the
victims of crime tells you everything.
Then there was a random collection of quotes, each one of which was
disturbing and powerful and, indeed, represented something important but which
lost out on nothing more than their overall significance.
Here, for example, I am referring to quotes like president Mbeki's March 2002
statement about our national sporting teams, that "for two to three years let's
not mind losing international competitions because we are bringing our people
into these teams" (to this day I wonder who exactly "our people" are). And the
December 2000 quote (just before the local government elections) by ANC leader
in KwaZulu-Natal, Sbu Ndebele:
"To all Africans, Coloureds and Indians who voted for the DA, be warned that
there's going to be consequences for not voting for the ANC. When it comes to
service delivery, we will start with the people who voted for us and you (DA
supporters) will be last."
A quote which tells you much about the ANC's attitude to the opposition.
Racism was another issue about which it was difficult to choose the defining
ANC quote. No doubt everyone remembers the late Blackman Ngoro, media advisor to
Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, whom in July 2005 described coloured as
"...beggars, homeless and drunk on cheap wine", and wrote how "vastly superior
Africans are" before concluding that "coloureds must undergo ideological
transformation if their race is to prosper and not die a drunken death". In the
final analysis, I felt Manyi's reference to national demographics spoke more to
the nature of the ANC's general prejudice.
Finally, there were many quotes that might have been used to demonstrate the
ANC's attitude to service delivery and accountability. Alec Erwin's Eskom bolt
quote, said on 28 February 2006, that "this is not, in fact, an accident. Any
interference with any electricity installation is an exceptionally serious
crime. It is sabotage", was not only a good way for the ANC to excuse its
failings on the eve of an election but a perfect illustration of how it was
willing to say anything, including flatly contradicting itself, rather than hold
someone to account for a problem. A few months later, in August 2006, he would
appear before parliament to say: "The cause of the damage to the generators is
the question that has caused massive public interest. Of as much interest has
been whether I said that this was an act of sabotage. I did not say this." To
date no one has been fired, rebuked or sanctioned in anyway for the fact that
the country ran out of electricity.
Alas, any top ten list requires some brutal decisions.