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30 July 2014 21:01 (South Africa)
South Africa

ANC policy conference and the immensity of the capacity challenge

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
  • South Africa
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This year’s ANC policy conference will be remembered for the great debate over the Second Transition. With the concept now rejected by most of the commissions, delegates are getting into brass tacks discussions on how to amend its policy trajectory to deal with mounting poverty and unemployment levels. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

One thing the ANC cannot be accused of is being in denial about the extent of the crisis it is facing. The policy discussion documents before delegates acknowledge that there are major “fault lines”, which, if left unattended, will “reverse the achievements” of its 18 years in government. 

President Jacob Zuma said in his opening address that there is “widespread consensus that we have been unable to reach the goal of a truly prosperous, inclusive, non-racial and non-sexist society”.

“The triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment persists, affecting Africans, women and the youth in particular. We are therefore calling for a dramatic shift or giant leap, to economic and social transformation, so that we can be able to deal decisively with the triple challenge,” Zuma said.

He told the media he could not sleep peacefully at night because he was worrying about the levels of poverty in South Africa.

The second transition document goes further to diagnose the problem:

“Despite the progress made, and despite our status as an upper middle income country by virtue of our GDP per capita, extreme income inequality (reflected in our Gini coefficient), deep poverty, and lack of access to opportunities persist, still reflecting the old fissures of race, gender, class and geography. The majority of low-income households are still black, female-headed and rural. 

“Fault lines in our society also took on new forms, for example the growth of inequality within the black community, deep poverty in cities due to inward migration in search of work, and lack of opportunities based on class. Women continue to earn and own less than men, even though differences in years of education and labour market participation rates have narrowed,” the document says. 

So gone are the days, such as was the case under the Thabo Mbeki presidency, when the ruling party would ask “what crisis?”

According to policy head Jeff Radebe, the commissions currently in progress are looking at ways to “change or refine” policy to ensure effective implementation. 

On Tuesday, Zuma defended the system of cadre deployment, arguing that it was practised around the world in leading democracies. He claimed this was not the reason for policy implementation failures in government.

In May this year, auditor-general Terrence Nombembe raised the alarm over the “dire” situation that has seen a weakening of the pillars of governance. 

Nombembe said the management of supply chains, service delivery and human resources, the security of government information and the accuracy of government reports were deteriorating.

“Things are serious, and they are even more serious than we thought they are. They are more serious because the people that are employed by the government to do the work are least prepared and equipped to do it. The situation is dire,” he said

One thing the four-day ANC police conference will not to be doing, however, is measuring the performance of government in real terms and identifying who is responsible for implementation failures and bad performance. In fact, the ANC does not have a system to assess competence and capacity, or a mechanism to act against its deployees who fail to deliver or perform adequately. 

When you search the word “capacity” in the ANC’s 69-page discussion document on “organisational renewal”, it comes up with 73 mentions. 

“Organisational renewal should address all the concerns raised by our people on the image of our movement and its capacity to deliver fundamental socio-economic transformation,” the document says. 

Among the major organisational weaknesses and shortcomings, the document cites “The danger of lack of capacity and capability to implement policies in order to rapidly improve the standard of living of the masses.”

“Unlike in the pre-1990 period, the ANC is not rapidly training and deliberately deploying competent cadres in accordance with the pillars of our current strategy and tactics,” it reads. 

It says there is an “increasingly critical attitude among our support base” as a result of capacity problems. This is particularly the case at local government, where the party is facing increasing anger through local government protests. 

“The key question is how much of these capabilities exist in municipalities, provinces and national government. Our view is that more needs to be done to build developmental capabilities of our entire state machinery.”

“Going forward, the ANC has to step up its capacity to rapidly improve the quality of life and shared prosperity amongst the overwhelming majority of our people before it loses its place as a trusted leader and loyal servant of the people,” the document says. 

It is possible that this thinking informed the establishment of a ministry of performance monitoring and evaluation. But since 2009, a minister has yet to be taken to task by the president or the ANC for poor performance or non-delivery. The results of these evaluation processes are not evident, and for this reason it is difficult to filter such a system to provincial and local government, where the ANC’s greatest capacity problems exist. 

The discussion document on legislature and governance recommends that there should be more oversight over municipalities. 

“The key issues on local government have been: collapsing municipalities, municipal demarcation, the role of ANC structures on political oversight of municipalities and financial viability of most rural municipalities. The (national executive committee) lekgotla of 2011 took significant decisions on all of these issues. However, implementation has been the challenge. The issues of the role of ANC structures in political oversight of municipalities will require a policy decision by both the policy conference and the national conference,” the document says. 

This suggests the ANC faces the peculiar situation of not being able to implement its own decisions over the failure of implementing its policies. 

The document also emphasises the need for building capacity: “The state must ensure adequate and competent personnel that deal with service delivery, particularly in the case of essential services and basic services.” 

But before the organisation figures out how to fix its capacity and implementation problems, particularly at local government level, it is discussing the devolvement of key national and provincial functions to municipalities. 

Radebe told the media on Wednesday that delegates are discussing whether to move the functions of housing construction and transport systems to local government. This will require a constitutional amendment and will vest huge budget allocations in the hands of already failing municipalities. 

The document on legislature and governance also suggests: “There is scope for the revenue-raising powers allocated to municipalities to become even more differentiated. This means that a particular group of municipalities (e.g. cities or rural municipalities) might apply for a new revenue raising instrument that could only be used by that group.” 

So while the alarm bells are ringing over incompetence and the lack of capacity, more resources are headed in the way of the problem areas. 

When he spoke in May, Nombembe had remarked particularly about the dismal functioning of municipalities. 

He said people voted into power were slow in taking responsibility for what they had been voted into power for. 

“Bad results are regarded as a norm and when people get a disclaimer or qualified reports, little happens to them to show that this is unacceptable. That is the culture that we need to be concerned about,” he said.

Just like with the issue of corruption in its ranks, the ANC has diagnosed the problem but has so far been unable to halt its progress. 

The policy conference has a real chance of dealing with such issues, which could unblock delivery logjams. The ability to do this rests on the strength of leadership and the political will of the people locked behind closed doors at Gallagher Estate. 

The next 48 hours will show whether they themselves have the capacity to rise to the challenge. DM

Photo: Jordi Matas

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
  • South Africa


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