The ANC Policy Conference: The real and the imagined
11 July 2017
In a week that saw the media quarantined from delegates and delegates turn on factions within the ANC, Zuma’s frail proclamation at the closing of the Party’s 5th National Policy Conference, “there are no losers or winners at the conference, there is only the ANC”, rang hollow.
There was no one ANC on show, publicly or privately.
The agenda notwithstanding, including the presentation and discussion of policy briefs, the real work of the weeklong Nasrec affair was to gauge how the cards were going to fall in respect of the leadership succession.
The Zumaites or the Premier League came prepared to defend their man, to batten down the hatches and pronounce boldly on white monopoly capital, land expropriation without compensation and the push for radical economic transformation, while the Ramaphosa bloc urged a tempering of positions, seeking compromise. The net effect of Ramaphosa’s tactical approach is yet to be tested in the coming weeks and months. While a day in politics is a lifetime, a coy Ramaphosa must show his hand sooner rather than later.
An important question to ponder, is what did Ramaphosa’s faction walk away with at the Policy Conference.
On the face of it, the slew of discussion documents was no different to previous Policy Conferences since the inaugural one in 1990. Big ticket issues for discussion include the following:
Strategy and Tactics
Education, Health, Science and Technology
Legislature and Governance
Peace and Stability
The difference this time round is well summed up by Huffington Post editor-at-large, Ferial Haffejee, in her article on 7 July 2017, Cry, the Beloved ANC, “then (1990), hope was in ample supply although money was not. Fast forward to 2017 and there is a lot of money but the hope is a scarce resource”.
In short, money has snatched away hope. Not money for all but money for some.
The private interests of the President and his associates are being served through the effective capture of the levers of the state, including use and abuse of the security apparatus, capture of the Treasury, supplanting of decision-making away and through the formation of factions and kitchen cabinets, and the management and control of state-owned enterprises. Looming large, of course, are the hands of the Gupta network, serving as brokers and managers of the “shadow state”, as the authors of the Betrayal of the Promise Report have so powerfully referenced.
The isolation of the media notwithstanding, news got out, including discussions from commissions and committees, again reinforcing that trust and unity were paper thin and in very short supply. There was no premium on policy wonks but the real money (pun intended) was placed on guessing the permutations and who won what, and why. In other words, did the sponsors of proposals win or lose, and how might this go down in Saxonwold?
For the rest of South Africa, minus the 400 delegates, other highlights of the Conference included the presence of an ill-advised and compliant ANC Women’s League (ANCWL). They averred from focussing on the pressing problem of gender-based violence, the empowerment of women in homes, workplaces, business and government, or the distance so many women have come and have yet to travel to enjoy full and unfettered lives.
Instead the ANCWL came with a delegation that included six men. President of the League, Bathabile Dlamini, said they were there to provide equilibrium to the propensity for women who were prone to emotional and less rational responses in the policy arena. Additionally, the Secretary-General of the ANCWL said that their demands at the Policy Conference included, “the expropriation of land without compensation, the establishment of a State Bank, legislation for 50/50 gender parity in all sectors at all levels, free sanitary pads for all girl children of the poor and the working class, free and compulsory education for the children of the poor and the working class until undergraduate level”. A mulling and shifting is required to distil the policy objectives and policy strategies proposed in this slate of demands from the ANCWL.
Did the Policy Conference amount to much? Was it a forum for the contestation of ideas? Not so much, would be the colloquial response.
The hard work required to address structural challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment played second fiddle, if played at all, at the 5th Policy Conference. Sleeves were not rolled up to grasp and address the matter of achieving inclusive growth through a vibrant, diverse and deracialised economy, or to tackle the diminishing returns on an ever-larger investment in basic education. Additionally, the hammering the mining sector is taking post the introduction of the third edition of the Mining Charter by Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
At its launch, the Minister punted the Charter as “an instrument of change, giving practical expression to radical economic transformation”. Nevermind that the rand tanked almost immediately and mining houses started the risk-assessment process, including mine closures and retrenchments of workers. This at a time when rates of unemployment are at an all-time high and economic turnaround is slipping fast.
Capture and corruption are the evils bedevilling South Africa, not a neo-liberal agenda, or “regime change” by opponents locally, or the “West”, or the repurposing of colonialism. The alarm bells may have sounded for some at the Policy Conference but for the whole, the real fears and apprehensions were left in the air, dependent on who lives to see another day.
The proxy battles were fought and won or lost, depending on the faction represented, and the can has been kicked down the road to the branches. Little emerged, and left still so much to do.
Ms Zohra Dawood is Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity
The first in a series of three articles by the FW de Klerk Foundation and its Centre for Unity in Diversity (CUD) and Centre for Constitutional Rights (CFCR), reflecting on the recent ANC Policy Conference.