ANC briefing: A state pharmaceutical company mooted… and other business

By Sipho Hlongwane 19 July 2011

After the excitement of miscellaneous political conferences in the past few weeks, getting back to business at the sausage factory can seem a bit dull. But with the ANCYL and Cosatu posturing done - for the time being - it’s a reminder of who actually runs things. His name is Gwede Mantashe. It’s nice to hear from an adult again. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The press briefing was really about the ANC national executive committee lekgotla held at St George’s Hotel over the weekend. These lekgotlas are a chance for the NEC to get together and measure the progress the party is making in implementing its policies at a governmental level. It’s also a chance to tidy the house, if need be. Given the paper-thin separation between the ANC and the government in this country, these lekgotlas are really where the broad executive decisions in the country get made.

The briefing was attended by the ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu as well as the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe (with Tony Yengeni inexplicably lurking in the background). It’s an indication of just how peppered the political tone has become since about June when Mthembu and Mantashe sounded grandfatherly and non-combative.

According to Mantashe, they’re giving the implementation of a state pharmaceutical company some very deep thought. He had the numbers to back it up. “South Africa is consuming about 25% of ARVs in the world.” However, South Africa only makes up 0.7% of the global population.

He wouldn’t go into details about how such a thing would work. “I don’t know how it will work,” he said. “I have never managed a pharmaceutical company before. It should work like any other.

“The state-owned pharmaceutical company is an idea informed by the Polokwane resolutions given to cabinet to work on,” Mantashe said. “There is a compelling case for it.”

Presumably then all the figuring out would be cabinet’s problem. But he did say countries like China, Cuba and Brazil had state-owned pharmaceutical companies. “In fact, Brazil’s one is building a facility in Mozambique. Why should we be a market for Brazil when we could be a market for ourselves?” Mantashe asked.

It seems as if South Africa’s market is going to grow. Mantashe said: “We are happy to see a six-fold increase in the number of people who have been tested voluntarily for HIV (on the way to) the 15 million target.” He explained there had been a six-fold year-on-year increase in the number of people tested when comparing this year’s number to 2010. Obviously as more people get diagnosed with HIV/Aids and incorporated into treatment programmes, the need for an expanded ARV supply increases.

While on the topic of health, the NEC wants the treasury to provide seed grants for national health insurance. Again Mantashe went all Machiavellian when asked to explain what that could mean. It could mean cabinet had to begin building an NHI. Or it could mean cabinet had to work with the department of health and “various other stakeholders” to produce study documents. But don’t worry; it’ll be cabinet’s problem to figure out what to do. “Remember, the ANC is the strategic centre of power,” Mantashe reminded the briefing.

Other lekgotla outcomes include the creation of a land valuator general and the Land Management Commission. Land tenure agreements would be split into four categories: state and public land leasehold, private land freehold with limited extension, foreign precarious tenure with conditions and obligations and communal tenure with institutionalised use rights. Basically, it’s the old “we’re solving a political problem by keeping land ownership and leasing it off to the previously disadvantaged.” Cue tragedy of the commons analogies.

There was also a quote about state-owned enterprises needing to pay back the money owed to municipalities.

All in all, it’s business as usual at Luthuli House and for journos who’ve been chasing the ANC Youth League and Cosatu, the briefing made a welcome break from the tension of high-stakes politics. DM

Photo: Daily Maverick



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