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ANC NGC: Economics 1, old guard 1, Youth League 0, nationalisation of mines gets sandbagged

ANC NGC: Economics 1, old guard 1, Youth League 0, nationalisation of mines gets sandbagged

The ANC Youth League won a famous victory at the battle of the Durban national general council. Not! The youngsters, so confident of their power coming in, left with not a single important concession. That makes for an easy scoreline: Julius Malema lost, and ally Fikile Mbalula lost, and Jacob Zuma and Gwede Mantashe came out stronger, as did the media and miners. Not that everybody agrees with us on that – most notably the Youth League. By STEPHEN GROOTES and PHILLIP DE WET.

Late on Thursday night the rumours were still flying thick. The Youth League had made a comeback, Julius Malema had rallied the troops and won the day, an ANC that is committed to the nationalisation of mines would be the real legacy of this conference. But on Friday morning those rumours were proven false, unless you have the extraordinary ability to read victory into getting people to talk about stuff, but in the end disagreeing with you and actually pushing your issues backwards.

Trevor Manuel walked into the NGC media briefing room and delivered the final stinging blow the Youth League agenda, declaring that mine nationalisation was a very important issue. So important that it will have to be studied for the next two years, and then revisited at a policy-making congress in 2012.

The debate on the Youth League’s call for nationalisation of mines had clearly not been gentle. Asked for an indication of the tone of the discussion, Manuel delivered this quotable quote: “It was as flavoursome as some of the curries you get in this part of the world – hot.” And that rings true given who went into it, and what came out. During the Youth League’s NGC, called specifically in preparation for this main event, Malema was unequivocal: After the ANC NGC the mines would be nationalised. He didn’t say that getting the issue on the agenda would be a victory, he didn’t say getting the party executive to “investigate” was his aim. But that’s what he got. The NGC suggested that it would be a good idea to fold currently state-owned mining assets into a single parastatal – a pretty uncontroversial move already afoot – and that such a company could look into partnering with other companies in the mining sector, as companies do.

Photo: Trevor Manuel was in a good mood on Friday morning. (The Daily Maverick)

That denied the Youth League its last possible victory. The organisation came to the NGC wanting three things – generational mix (with an assured position among the top six for Fikile Mbalula), the nullification of Malema’s sentence for being ill disciplined, and sufficient movement on mine nationalisation that it would be able to claim it had saved the Freedom Charter from those who are ignoring its basic demands.

Instead it limps away with nothing more than three hard life lessons – don’t speak too soon, don’t get too emotional and don’t tell everyone your plans in advance.

The victory the ANC Youth League now has to claim is that it managed to get nationalisation on the agenda. Because, as Manuel told the media, it really did get a lot of discussion, shoving aside the arguably more burning issues of fiscal policy. But having got the talk going, which we consider the equivalent of getting bankers to talk about money, the League was promptly told to butt out. Now that the Youth League has finally gone through channels instead of just shouting out of turn, Jacob Zuma said in his closing address, it “is no longer just a Youth League issue”. And the NEC, when it considers the matter, should be “holistic and comprehensive”, and “look at existing solutions”.

Photo: Gwede Mantashe was a picture of confidence during Zuma’s closing speech. (The Daily Maverick)

But wait, there’s more. The super-mining-parastatal will be set up by Parliament, Manuel subtly pointed out to the media. Parliament that, he did not have to add, has to look after the economic well-being of the country rather than worry about an ideological fight about whether the Freedom Charter’s call for the people to own mineral wealth is satisfied by mining royalties or not. Even more subtly, he suggested that the process of consolidating state mining holdings won’t be an easy one; what, for example, happens to assets owned by the Public Investment Commission? It is a state-controlled body to be sure, but it is responsible to the government workers whose pension schemes it matters.

In reading the tea leaves, as we have been forced to do during this conference, it’s also important to note that Manuel seemed to take pleasure in delivering a quick lesson in economics. Spending money funding new mines or buying existing ones, he said, would mean diverting it from somewhere else (which we read as building schools and houses and clinics). He also mused about the strength of property protections in the Constitution, and how difficult it would be to even think about expropriation without compensation.

So much for nationalisation of South African mines, then.

Photo: Julius Malema, by many accounts, got mauled at the ANC NGC. (Reuters)

On generational mix, the news was much plainer: The NGC slapped Mbalula down for daring to suggest age, specifically his age, is a reason for high office. The written position is that “leaders cannot be chosen because of the generation they represent…everyone must pass through the eye of the needle.” Translation: Shape up first, then we can talk about you taking over from Gwede Mantashe as secretary general. We’d go even further, and say it is a sign that the ANC is finally turning its back on people who are too blatantly self-interested, and who break the rules of the party too easily.

Most telling of all, though, was the volume of talk around nullifying Malema’s disciplinary sentence, which was none whatsoever. We heard not a whisper, not a suggestion that it had been discussed in passing in the halls, not a mention of a gesture of support. That project had clearly been scuppered in its entirety, in the face of the obvious anger around discipline issues.

That is more than just a formality in the life of Malema. It means that he continues for the next two years with that bit about possible suspension for divisive behaviour hanging around his neck, like the proverbial albatross.

The story of the 2005 NGC was that Thabo Mbeki lost and Jacob Zuma won. It set the tone for what was to come. This NGC is very different. Malema will lick his wounds, but is unlikely to lie down and do nothing. But he’s been reduced to a ripple who foolishly took on the tsunami.

And the only weapons he has left are the ones he’s used all along. But spinning and twisting the truth can only get you so far. DM

Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter.

Main photo: The picture is sometimes worth thousand words, isn’t it? (The Daily Maverick)


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