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31 October 2014 10:08 (South Africa)
South Africa

ANC policy conference: Zuma misses vital trick at the start

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • South Africa
zuma anc polcon intro

ANC president Jacob Zuma delivered his speech at the opening of the national policy conference. It was as typical a Zuma speech as anyone could have expected – that is, we heard nothing new or wildly controversial. But wasn’t this the president’s chance to explain his vision to his delegates before they broke up into commissions and debated against those who didn’t want him to take a second term? It didn’t sound like anyone received direction or instructions. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The opening of the African National Congress’ 2012 national policy conference was a subdued affair. Aside from sporadic moments of excitement when delegates were led in song, and an entertaining parting shot from Tokyo Sexwale, there was none of the usual drama that dogs these things. The centrepiece of the morning session – Zuma’s speech – was an equally dreary affair.

Zuma used the policy discussion documents as a broad guideline for his speech, and also plagiarised heavily from his own previous speeches delivered in parliament, when he praised the progress that the ANC had made in achieving its developmental goals. 

Ill-discipline is a favourite gripe of Zuma’s, however, and true to form, it was not left out of the speech. It formed a large chunk of it, in fact.

“To maintain [its] character, the ANC should be able to cleanse itself of alien tendencies,” Zuma said, numbering as these “alien tendencies” ill-discipline, patronage, careerism, corruption, abuse of power and a decline in the ideological depth of ANC members. Following that, the Youth League and Veterans League were given a gentle slap on the hand for the other enemy, extremism: “The renewal [of the organisation] must include the revitalisation of structures of the movement. We should support, guide and strengthen the Youth League in particular. The league should be a preparatory school incubator of future ANC leaders… It is expected of the ANC Veterans’ League to be the custodians of the culture and discipline of the ANC. They must know their role is to help the organisation, not to deepen what may be a controversial decision”. 

And then, just to make sure there could be no misunderstanding, Zuma said to ANC Veterans’ League president Sandi Sejake (who has been very vocal in his opposition to the way that former ANCYL president Julius Malema was expelled from the party): “Ke thaba haholo hore ke a le bolella hona mo. (I’m glad I’m telling you in your face right now).”

While calling for a broad rethink in the way that the ANC pursues transformation, Zuma strongly condemned the willing-buyer-willing-seller policy in land redistribution. “Our position is that the current willing buyer, willing seller model must be reviewed,” he said. “It tends to distort the land market through inflating the prices of land earmarked for restitution.”

The current model makes land reform expensive and delays land restitution to the poor, Zuma said. The conference must therefore come up with a different proposal, “within the confines of the Constitution and the law.”

None of this is new. The ANC has been complaining about the sticky inertia of the willing-buyer-willing-seller model since the mid-2000s. The government has already proposed the creation of a Land Management Commission and a land valuer-general to try and speed up the process of reform (this probably won’t deter the ANC’s usual opposition on the land question from reacting to Zuma’s comments at Midrand). 

Oddly, Zuma only mentioned the controversial Second Transition discussion document in passing. 

“We had to make certain compromises in the national interest and these were absolutely necessary to make,” Zuma said. “We had to be cautious about restructuring the economy in order to maintain economic stability and confidence at the time. The time has come to do something more drastic to accelerate change towards economic transformation and freedom.”

The document has drawn criticism from Cosatu, the South African Communist Party, several provinces and key members of the national executive committee. It is thought that the document is a veiled campaign for a second Zuma term, on the grounds that the work started in the first is incomplete. 

While the Second Transition document is very vague about what it intends (aside from saying that a the national democratic movement needs to shift gears to focus on socio-economic emancipation), it may have been written in that way to allow Zuma to point it in any direction he pleased once he gave his speech. He didn’t – he merely said that a second transition was “vital”.

As explained in a previous story, the leadership battle has been inseparable from policy, and there was even more evidence of this at the beginning of the conference as provinces who were openly supporting Zuma, like KwaZulu Natal, sang songs in support of the Second Transition. They could, however, have expected some firmer direction, so as to know what to fight for at the commissions when they face up to provinces, league structures and tripartite allies who do not support Zuma. 

The support dynamics of power for Zuma may represent the race to Polokwane to a far greater degree than it does for the other ghost candidates for the presidency, but even the incumbent cannot be blind to the fact that appeasing factions and special interest groups has become very important. Even if they’ve already pledged support to him. He’s got to find a way to herd these cats, and the Second Transition document was the perfect opportunity. 

As it stands now, the interpretation of what a Second Transition actually is, is too wide for nothing but a single, united pro-Zuma front to emerge from the policy commissions. That is, unless the pro-Zuma crowd decides to caucus secretly over lunch before going to the different commissions.  

There is already some trouble brewing on the horizon for the president, even if at this stage it is not yet full-blown drama. The anti-Zuma crowd has not been silent. Just before the media was asked to leave the main hall, Tokyo Sexwale (one of two possible candidates to run against Zuma) got up to complain that people who wanted to sing anti-Zuma songs weren’t allowed to because of the rules, but those who wanted to sing pro-Zuma songs weren’t stopped. It was a valid point of order, but the human settlements minister was quickly shouted down by delegates from Limpopo. And immediately after that, the ANC Youth League began to complain about the credentials of some of the people leading commissions. 

These incidents may seem petty, but they are significant. Fights about credentials are ultimately always really about who controls the meeting, and therefore its outcome. And at first blush it may seem like Sexwale humiliated himself, but it is very likely that it was a shot across the Zuma bow. Symbolically, it was a rebalancing of control. The ANC president and his people now know that they won’t have it their way that easily. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma (Jordi Matas)

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • South Africa


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