50th National Conference of the African National Congress

The 50th National Conference of the African National Congress (ANC) took place from 16 to 20 December 1997 at the University of the North West[1] in what was then called Mafikeng. Attended by 3,000 voting delegates,[2] the conference elected a successor to outgoing ANC President Nelson Mandela, who declined to stand for another term. Thabo Mbeki was elected unopposed, and Jacob Zuma was elected unopposed as his deputy; they were later elected President and Deputy President of the country in the 1999 general elections, in which the ANC won 66.35%, a notable increase from 62.65% in 1994.

50th National Conference of the African National Congress
← 1994 December 16–20, 1997 (1997-12-16 – 1997-12-20) 2002 →

3,000 party delegates
  SthAfrica.ThaboMbeki.01 (cropped2).jpg
Candidate Thabo Mbeki (unopposed)

President before election

Nelson Mandela

Elected President

Thabo Mbeki

Although the conference entirely changed the composition of the party's top leadership, with Mbeki and Zuma the only residuum of the so-called "Top Six" as elected in 1994, most candidates were elected unopposed, and there was relatively little appearance of friction from any wing of the party. On some accounts, this was because the top leadership prepared assiduously for the conference, advocating unity and continuity, lobbying for a slate of preferred candidates, and negotiating compromises with potential dissidents.[3][4] However, two of the top positions – National Chairperson and Deputy Secretary General – were contested, and neither went to the Mbeki-allied candidate. The conference also elected the 60-member National Executive Committee (NEC) without any significant upsets. Significant resolutions of the conference endorsed cadre deployment; endorsed the controversial Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy; and changed the ANC constitution to reduce the frequency of the national conferences and to centralise the election process for parliamentary candidates.

Resignation of Nelson MandelaEdit

The time has come to hand over the baton in a relay that started more than 85 years ago in Mangaung... [H]ere are the reins of the movement – protect and guard its precious legacy; defend its unity and integrity as committed disciples of change; pursue its popular objectives like true revolutionaries who seek only to serve the nation.

Nelson Mandela's closing address to the 50th Conference[5]

Outgoing ANC President Nelson Mandela

President Nelson Mandela, the outgoing ANC President, had, since February 1995[6] or earlier, made it clear publicly that he intended to retire after the 1999 general elections. The 50th National Conference thus centred around electing his successor as ANC President, who would become the ANC's presidential candidate in the national elections and therefore would likely become the next President of the country.[7]

Mandela's political report to the conference, delivered on 16 December, was memorable for its length (it took four or five hours) and for its direct and numerous expressions of reproach.[4] Mandela harshly criticised those who acted as "the anti-democratic forces of counter revolution," including foreign-funded non-governmental organisations, "various elements of the former ruling group," and "the bulk of the mass media." He said that, since the ANC's 49th National Conference during the fall of apartheid, there had been a "counter-offensive which would seek to maintain the privileges of the white minority," and that white-led political parties had "essentially decided against the pursuit of a national agenda" and in favour of "a reactionary, dangerous and opportunist position."[8]

During the closing session, newly elected ANC President Thabo Mbeki used his speeches to the plenary to deliver tributes to Mandela.[9][10] Mandela likewise honoured the ANC's former leaders in his final address.[5]

Leadership electionEdit


Mbeki, who had been Mandela's deputy in the party and in the government since 1994, was widely understood within the ANC to be the candidate whom Mandela and other top leaders intended to become the next ANC President. In July 1996, Mandela said that Mbeki was "very talented and very popular and if the organisation elected him, I would feel that they have made the correct decision."[7] In a televised interview on 14 December 1997, two days before the conference, he said:

...Thabo Mbeki is already a de facto President of the country. I am pushing everything to him and I’m a ceremonial president. They can ask me any day to hand over all powers to Thabo Mbeki – he is the man who is already running the government of the country. And my stepping down will be very smooth, it won’t bring about any disruption.[7]

It was indeed the case that he had increasingly delegated authority to Mbeki in recent years,[11] and he was seen as the most likely successor to Mandela as early as February 1995.[6] There remained persistent rumours that Mandela's preferred successor was former trade unionist and ANC Secretary General Cyril Ramaphosa,[11] who had resigned from politics the previous year to pursue a career in business, but Mbeki was elected unopposed.

Deputy PresidentEdit

In September, the ANC Women's League announced that it would nominate its president, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, for the ANC deputy presidency.[12] Senior elements of the Eastern Cape province also reportedly supported Madikizela-Mandela.[4] However, following her controversial appearances at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Women's League nomination was invalidated on a technicality, and she received no nominations ahead of the conference.[13][14] On the second day of the conference, she was nominated from the floor. According to the ANC constitution, a nomination from the floor stood only if it was seconded by at least 25 per cent of delegates (recently increased from 10 per cent).[13] Madikizela-Mandela's nomination reportedly received support from only 125 delegates[15][4] or fewer,[16] far short of the threshold, but, before a tally could be announced, she conferred with the NEC and then announced from the podium, to applause, that she would decline the nomination.[1][13] Peter Mokaba said that she had long planned not to stand for election, while others, including outgoing acting Secretary General Cheryl Carolus, said that she had not made the decision until the seconders were being counted.[15] Outgoing National Chairperson Jacob Zuma was ultimately elected unopposed as deputy president. Both Lindiwe Sisulu and Julius Malema have since criticised the ANC for elevating Zuma over Madikizela-Mandela at Mafikeng, with Malema implying that senior leadership had expressly excluded Madikizela-Mandela from the competition.[17][18]

National ChairpersonEdit

Although it was understood that senior leadership backed Minister of Sport and Recreation Steve Tshwete, an ally of Mbeki's, for the party chairmanship, the branches nominated two other candidates: Mathews Phosa, Premier of Mpumalanga, and Terror Lekota, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. Phosa declined the nomination, leaving a two-horse race between Tshwete and Lekota, who were known to be on poor terms.[19] Lekota had the support of six of the nine provincial branches, as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Tshwete had the support of the other three provinces, the ANC Youth League, and, at least initially, the Women's League – after the nominations phase, Tshwete was involved in a public dispute with Madikizela-Mandela, the Women's League President, over government service delivery.[19] At the conference, Lekota won the vote by an overwhelming margin.[4]

Other positionsEdit

The only other Top Six position voted on was that of Deputy Secretary General. The Mbeki-allied candidate was Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini,[20][21] but Thejiwe Mtintso, with the support of COSATU,[19] ultimately narrowly won the election.[4] COSATU also supported Pravin Gordhan for the Treasurer General post,[19] but he did not run.


The results of the leadership elections were as follows (victorious candidates in bold):[22]

Position Candidate Votes %
President Thabo Mbeki Unopposed
Deputy President Jacob Zuma Unopposed
National Chairperson Terror Lekota 1,775 67.39%
Steve Tshwete 859 32.61%
Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe Unopposed
Deputy Secretary General Thenjiwe Mtintso 1,398 54.40%
Mavivi Manzini 1,172 45.60%
Treasurer General Mendi Msimang Unopposed

Election of the National Executive CommitteeEdit

The conference also elected the sixty additional members of the NEC, from a list of 131 candidates.[4] The following ten candidates received the most votes:[23]

  1. Cyril Ramaphosa (2,390 votes)
  2. Kader Asmal (2,324 votes)
  3. Pallo Jordan (2,304 votes)
  4. Mac Maharaj (2,260 votes)
  5. Jay Naidoo (2,243 votes)
  6. Tito Mboweni (2,242 votes)
  7. Trevor Manuel (2,240 votes)
  8. Dullah Omar (2,166 votes)
  9. Valli Moosa (2,162 votes)
  10. Ronnie Kasrils (2,150 votes)

Ebrahim Ebrahim, Thandi Modise, and Stella Sigcau failed to gain re-election to the NEC – Sigcau was the only cabinet minister not to be elected[4] – but all three were co-opted onto the committee soon after the conference in February 1998.


The 50th National Conference marked the inauguration of a formal ANC policy of cadre deployment in the public service. The conference resolved that the ANC should pursue a strategy of cadre deployment across "the key centres of power," including by establishing deployment committees at every level of the organisation.[24] This resolution was implemented from 1998, when the national deployment committee was founded under the leadership of Zuma, the newly elected ANC Deputy President.[3] Following allegations of state capture in later years, the cadre deployment policy has become controversial.

The conference also weighed in on the burgeoning controversy around the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy (GEAR), a neoliberal macroeconomic policy introduced in 1997, and its implications for the ANC's flagship Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). The conference endorsed GEAR as a central part of the ANC's economic and social framework, and resolved that GEAR did not supplant the RDP but rather "aimed at giving effect to the realisation of the RDP."[25][26] Despite dogged criticism of GEAR in the past from within the party and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the resolution was adopted unanimously after fifteen minutes discussion, possibly because the leadership had engaged extensively with critics prior to the conference.[4]

Finally, the conference made modifications to the ANC constitution which are viewed as having consolidated executive power within the organisation. Notably, the constitution was changed such that national conferences would be held only every five years, instead of every three years, with national general councils introduced as the mid-term national meeting of the ANC.[27] This extended the term of the Top Six and NEC commensurately. The constitution was also changed to establish a "national list committee," composed of between five and nine members chosen by the NEC, which would control the election of parliamentary candidates.[4]


  1. ^ a b Duke, Lynne (18 December 1997). "Winnie Mandela drops bid for ANC's no. 2 post". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  2. ^ "50th National Conference: Credentials Report". ANC. Archived from the original on 20 March 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b Booysen, Susan (2011). "State institutions as sites of struggle in ANC war". The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power. Wits University Press. ISBN 978-1-77614-166-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lodge, Tom (1998). "The ANC's 50th Conference: A House of Many Mansions?". Southern Africa Report. 13 (2). Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b "50th National Conference: Nelson Mandela's closing address". ANC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Mandela says he will not stand a second term". The Independent. 16 February 1995. Archived from the original on 5 May 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "1997 Conference, leadership dynamics and Presidential transition". Nelson Mandela: The Presidential Years. Archived from the original on 12 May 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  8. ^ Mandela, Nelson (25 April 2015). "50th National Conference: Report by the President of the ANC". ANC. Archived from the original on 25 April 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  9. ^ "50th National Conference: address by ANC President Thabo Mbeki, at the Mafikeng stadium". ANC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  10. ^ "50th National Conference: Closing statement by ANC President Thabo Mbeki". ANC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  11. ^ a b Lodge, Tom (2006). Mandela : a critical life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-19-151723-5. OCLC 99996633.
  12. ^ "ANC women nominate Winnie for deputy president". SAPA. 14 September 1997. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Daley, Suzanne (18 December 1997). "Winnie Mandela Stops Trying to Rekindle Political Career". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  14. ^ "Winnie Mandela ruled out of race for top ANC post". The Independent. 9 December 1997. Archived from the original on 10 December 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  15. ^ a b "Winnie saves face at ANC conference". SAPA. 17 December 1997. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  16. ^ "After Mandela: Winnie bows out of race for deputy leader". The Independent. 18 December 1997. Archived from the original on 10 December 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  17. ^ "Patriarchy robbed Winnie of the opportunity to be the first woman president - Malema". Polity. 4 April 2018. Archived from the original on 13 April 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  18. ^ "EFF 'would not exist' if Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had been ANC president: Lindiwe Sisulu". Sowetan. 26 September 2019. Archived from the original on 27 September 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  19. ^ a b c d "Lekota and Tshwete battle for the chair". The Mail & Guardian. 12 December 1997. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  20. ^ "Who is ... THENJIWE MTINTSO?". The Mail & Guardian. 23 January 1998. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  21. ^ Laurence, Patrick (19 December 1997). "ANC elects a 'nice guy' to chair". The Irish Times. Retrieved 10 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ "Terror Lekota bounces back as ANC Chair". Sowetan. 19 December 1997. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  23. ^ "50th National Conference: NEC Election Results". ANC. 10 November 2014. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  24. ^ "50th National Conference: Resolutions – Building the ANC". ANC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  25. ^ "50th National Conference: Resolutions – Economic Transformation". ANC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  26. ^ Booysen, Susan (2011). "Policy, pursuit of the 'turn to the left' and the paradox of continuity". The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power. Wits University Press. ISBN 978-1-77614-166-1.
  27. ^ Munusamy, Ranjeni (7 September 2014). "The road to perdition: How the ANC lost its way, one conference at a time". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 10 December 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • Twala, Chitja (2014-11-01). "The African National Congress (ANC) and the Cadre Deployment Policy in the Postapartheid South Africa: A Product of Democratic Centralisation or a Recipe for a Constitutional Crisis?". Journal of Social Sciences. 41 (2): 159–165. doi:10.1080/09718923.2014.11893352.

External linksEdit