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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

RDP Council Rebuilding the Mass Democratic Movement for a people-driven RDP

This paper was written by the RDP National Council's Working Group, as a discussion document for the RDP Council National Workshop, 9-10 March 1996. It seeks to stimulate debate around issues identified by the participating formations within the RDP Council, and by a series of debates that have happened in the provinces.


The April 1994 elections were a major victory for the democratic forces in our country. We are now in the midst of a profound transitional struggle.

Through the RDP we provided the only viable vision for change in our country. It is a vision based on meeting the needs of the impoverished majority of our population, through a people-centred, people-driven developmental process. This is a vision that our opponents do not dare to challenge openly.

The adoption of the RDP by the GNU as its governing mandate represented another victory for the democratic forces. But the fact that virtually all political parties and other significant formations have, in theory, accepted the RDP does not mean that they all share our vision. Indeed, we have witnessed an intensified ideological and political contest around the character, content and implementation of the RDP.

The responsibility for providing political leadership and asserting influence over the RDP process lies with the broad democratic movement, in and out of government. Through the RDP Council we seek to consolidate the capacity of our popular formations to play an active role in the RDP.


2.1 Maintaining cohesion and coordination

A large part of ensuring effective cohesion and coordination lies with our democratic government. But our democratic political, MDM and CBO formations also have a critical coordinating role. There are at least four major aspects to this:

. helping to reinforce government efforts at strategic coordination;

. from the side of civil society, helping to safeguard against tendencies towards the bureaucratic, technocratic stifling of the RDP vision;

. ensuring that within and between our democratic formations we help to find the right balance between our own specific sectoral/constituency concerns and the bigger South African (even Southern African) transformational picture; and

. ensuring that we are able to drive a strategically coherent transformation programme through the host of multi-party participatory forums that now exist in our country - NEDLAC, LDFs, Community Policing Forums, PTSAs, university transformation forums, etc. etc. In all of these forums there are (and there need to be) a wide range of forces, many of which are not spontaneously sympathetic to the transformational goals of the RDP. Our democratic formations must, at all levels and in a vast variety of sectors, be able to coordinate their activities within these broader forums.

2.2 RDP implementation

As with strategic coordination, RDP implementation requires, in the first place, the effective and determined marshalling of the resources and capacities of government. But RDP implementation also requires the active participation of the great mass of our people. Without the active mobilisation of popular skills, aspirations, resources, and local knowledge the RDP is not going to be implemented.

Active popular involvement in RDP implementation includes:

. support for progressive government initiatives;

. helping to set priorities and goals;

. ensuring that government institutions act in a transparent, efficient and accountable way;

. helping, through organised popular pressure, to overcome either bureaucratic or private sector resistance to transformation.


It is clear that this kind of popular participation requires well organised democratic political, MDM and CBO formations with an organised presence on the ground.

However, our ability as democratic formations to help build a people-driven RDP is at present uneven. Both individually, as different formations, and collectively we are hampered by many organisational weaknesses.

Many of the reasons for our present limitations are well known, and they include:

. we have all, in varying degrees, suffered destabilisation as a result of the re-deployment into new positions in government, the legislatures, parastatals (and, to some extent, even into the private sector) of many of our leading cadres;

. external funding for many of our formations has ended, or is diminishing;

. the need, in the new conditions, for us to shift (at least to some extent) our strategic focus from anti-apartheid resistance towards a more developmental mode of struggle. This shift does not mean that the need for mass mobilisation or organisation, or mass resistance to the blocking of transformation has now disappeared. But clearly, we have to adapt to new challenges, which will certainly require the deployment of many of our old MDM skills, but now with new purposes. This adaptation has not always been easy.

None of these difficulties is insuperable. Each of our formations have begun to address them in various way. Can the RDP Council system also help us, individually and collectively, to meet the new challenges?


In our discussions and also, in a limited way, in actual practice at least five potential areas of activity for the RDP Council have started to emerge:

. Mobilising grassroots involvement for the RDP;

. Building capacity for and inputting into the policy formulation process;

. Cadre development;

. Communication;

. Building international links.

4.1 Mass mobilisation

The character of the Masakhane Campaign thus far (heavily weighted to government and narrowly focused on the payment of rates) is, in effect, partly an indication of our own organisational and capacity weaknesses. We need to be able to build our capacity, both as separate formations and collectively, to be effective grass-roots, campaigning structures. We need to acquire, once more, the capacity to organise door-to-door, to launch media campaigns, to convene people's forums, etc.

4.2 Building capacity for, and improving our input into, the policy formulation process

The unequal power relations in our society, in terms of resources and skills, impact upon our own capacity to participate in policy formulation. As a result, business and some sections of the bureaucracy continue to dominate policy formulation.

4.3 Cadre development

As noted above, our capacity has been affected by the re-deployment of thousands of cadres, and we need to build new layers of leadership within the broad democratic movement. The RDP Council might act as a useful forum through which we are able to cooperate in this task. The proposed ANC political education school, for instance, could be a resource that helps all allied formations.

4.4 Communication

For effective coordination of RDP Council activities we need an efficient communications strategy, mobilising all the resources at our disposal. In the first place, we need resources to network the activities of the RDP council. Participating organisations should commit themselves to exchange information relevant to the objectives of the RDP Council.

To help popularise active mass involvement in the RDP, a communications strategy should also include a media liaison capacity. In this respect, media, like community radio, video and newspapers, which have a close potential affinity with our own objectives, should be particularly engaged.

4.5 Building international links

Globally, the forces of free market liberalism are powerful, and they are impacting negatively on developmental efforts throughout the Third World.

There are, however, also powerful social and political movements, in both the South and North, with aims similar to our own. These formations have their own rich and valuable experience, and we need to share with them, and learn from them.

We need also to link up with our global counterparts, in both the North and South, taking up joint campaigns against, for instance, the irresponsible activities of the toxic waste trade, or against the unsupportable debt burden on the South, etc. etc.


The RDP Council has evolved as a broad alliance of democratic forces in SA. Our formations have a proud record of work amongst oppressed communities, and most of us were involved in the original elaboration of the RDP document.

The Council has embraced a diverse range of progressive formations including political formations and trade unions, civics, students, teachers, cultural, health, religious and human rights groups, rural, sports, youth, women and environmental formations, and progressive NGOs and CBOs.

The participants in the RDP Council have all tended to affirm the centrality of the ANC and Tripartite Alliance in providing leadership in the transformation process, without renouncing their own respective organisational autonomy.

The RDP Council was established and has been driven by its participants through sectoral and cross-sectoral forums. The diversity of our autonomous formations and location among the mass of the people lies at the heart of the potential strength of the RDP Council.

In the period of its existence the RDP Council has also been able to build fairly dynamic linkages with both government and parliamentary structures on the one hand, and our democratic movement formations on the other. We see this as an important ongoing function, but which has two potential dangers that we are determined to avoid:

. the danger of becoming gatekeepers. We hope to facilitate the contact between government and organised democratic formations. We must, however, avoid setting ourselves up as gatekeepers, attempting to monopolise channels of communication.

Ø. the danger of becoming little more than a transmission belt for government perspectives. The RDP Council has always been well aware of this danger, and has, from the outset, been careful to assert its autonomy. However, the danger is ever-present and we need to be vigilant about ourselves.

These are some of the general characteristics of the RDP Council, as they have emerged over the last period. But what about the specific organisational features of the RDP Council. In the past months there has been a debate at national and provincial levels, and several options have been proposed:


There are several somewhat different scenarios around how the RDP Council should he structured and should function.

These differences basically relate to:

. the degree to which the structure should be formalised; and

. the main area of focus.

6.1 Degree to which the structure should be formalised

Should the RDP Council be:

. a largely act hoc, network that helps to co-ordinate cross-sectoral campaigns and access to government or legislatures?


. a more structured entity - a network directed by sectoral and crosssectoral forums, with established democratic decision-making structures (like steering committees), in which decisions are made collectively, but in which implementation of campaigns is essentially carried out autonomously by our different formations?


. a still more structured entity, with a more full-time staff at national (and perhaps provincial) level, with the capacity to more directly activate and facilitate campaigns, without, of course, undermining the autonomy of participating formations?

6.2 Main area of focus for the RDP Council

Here the differences largely concern whether the main focus of the RDP Council should be:

. advocacy work, lobbying government, inputting into legislation, etc.; or

. more campaigns oriented, programme driven in character.

Clearly, neither of these is necessarily mutually exclusive, the debate concerns emphasis.

Clearly, also, the debates summarisecl under 6.1 and 6.2 need to he interrelated. The kind of structure we hope to build will obviously need to be related to the kind of tasks and challenges we intend emphasising.


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