Has the ANC passed the eye of the needle test?

“Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

 What has the gospel passage of the writer of Matthew got to do with the ANC and its practices as both a liberation movement and a governing party – and its policy formulation insights, to boot?

 Through the Eye of the Needle is a seminal ANC document, or the party’s blueprint, to call comrades of the glorious movement to action while running the government for the benefit of society.

 The idea of changing the lives of disenfranchised black people who have been denied opportunities for self-fulfilment by apartheid and colonialism systems and other oppressive methods exerted by the ruling elites of the past was the reason why the ANC in later years of its existence, and following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, resolved to wage a liberation war through the formation of its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

 Pacifists such as Oliver Tambo and Chief Albert Luthuli, both presidents of the ANC in earlier years before the onset of democracy in 1994, were forced to spurn peaceful means of negotiations, and instead, for strategic reasons, resorted to military and guerilla tactics to unseat the intransigent National Party oppressive rule.

 In his famous recorded words, Tambo said: “In the past, we were saying the ANC will not deliberately take innocent life, but now, looking at what is happening in South Africa, it is difficult to say civilians are not going to die.”

It was the March 21, 1960, Sharpeville massacre of innocent anti-pass protesters that precipitated the MK’s guerilla activities – a factor that gutted both Luthuli and Tambo.

 In addition, there has always been a held notion that to defeat the enemy camp, which included the apartheid regime and colonialism, the party would have to become a mass-based movement, incorporating within its ranks alliances, which are part of all organs of society.

 This would include mobilising labour union formations, and student bodies that included the Congress of South African Students and the South African Students Congress, among others.

 Cosatu, the SA Communist Party and the SA National Civic Organisation, among others, would with other structures of civil society, align themselves with the liberation ideals of the ANC, all together forming what would be known as the Mass Democratic Movement.

In the end, all disparate structures would coalesce under the banner of the ANC to win the bush war as a broad church.

 To achieve this objective encompassed, among other things, the building and sustaining the ANC as an agent of change; ensuring that the leadership inspire the masses to be their own liberators; the commitment to serve with dedication and honour; and, crucially, to improve the capacity of the state to meet its obligations to the citizens.

 And so, what about the biblical eye of the needle? “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

 Biblically, the eye of the needle refers to a narrow gateway within which members’ capacity to do the work of the ANC is to be measured against stringent tests of efficiency and moral rectitude.

 The ANC was born in the womb of the church in Mangaung, Bloemfontein, on January 8, 1912.

 As a broad church, the ANC belongs to society, and its members must pass through the stringent litmus test through the eye of the needle.

 In the words of former president Nelson Mandela: “The ANC has never been a political party. It was formed as a parliament of the African people. Right from the start, up to now, the ANC is a coalition, if you want, of people of various political affiliations.”

 But the big test the ANC faces as the country approaches the 2024 national and provincial elections, is whether its leaders and cadres have sufficiently understood what it means to inspire society.

The Madiba touch of seeking to serve society, and acting uprightly, has dissipated and has escaped the consciousness of the glorious movement that now suffers from a credibility deficit.

The spirit of Tambo, of holding together the organisation through difficult times, has been lost.


  • Mdhlela is the acting news editor of Sunday World, an Anglican priest and former editor of the South African Human Rights Commission journals

Visit SW YouTube Channel for our video content

Latest News