Something really odd, and for now undefined, happened at this last weekend’s ANC national executive committee meeting. It was scheduled for five days. It was supposed to discuss all aspects of policy, including mine nationalisation. It was also expected to produce almost final versions of policy discussion documents, which would then be sent to the branches ahead of the June policy conference. In the middle of the NEC, you had the outcome of Malema’s disciplinary appeal, and then it ended a day early. Mantashe says the early ending was unavoidable because many of the NEC’s members are preparing for Thursday’s State of the Nation Address. Quite frankly, we’re a little cynical. Surely that was foreseeable. So then, did it end because there was nothing to discuss? Or perhaps there was way too much to discuss, particularly the weekend’s rather dramatic news regarding Malema. And perhaps, those with the power were going to make sure it wasn’t discussed. We don’t know. But perhaps.
Right, now onto nationalisation.
First the facts. We all know that at the ANC’s 2010 national general council, the compromise reached was for a research team to investigate various models. They then reported back to the last NEC meeting of 2011 but were told to go and put it into “plainer language”. This the team did, and presented another report to the NEC over the weekend. Inevitably, parts of it leaked to the City Press. In short, it’s against what you could call the Zimbabwe model of government taking over mine nationalisation. But the current mining regime will change, and there will be government intervention. The final report hasn’t, formally at least, been made public. This is now expected to happen in the next 10 days or so (just as Malema’s hearing around his sentence should get underway).
It was a Reuters man from the news agency’s Southern Africa bureau who asked Mantashe, pretty directly, if government paying compensation and taking over the mining companies directly was still on the table. What he got in response was, for Mantashe, a tirade.
“One of the things I don’t like in this debate, on the part of business and investors, is this threat that they will not invest. The beauty of minerals is that they are not mobile, you will go away and come back find them there,” he said. There was more. “We must deal with those issues, and investors must not blackmail us not to debate the contribution of mining in the well-being of South Africa.” So he was pretty angry then. In fact, he almost sounded like a former general-secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. And, importantly, “This not a Malema issue, it’s an issue of the ANC.”
Mantashe was also distinctly annoyed at the speculation around the report. He chided, none too gently, one journalist who “pleaded with the president to tell us what was happening with nationalisation” (I can’t think of who he means – Ed). Apparently, this is “journalistic mischief”. Mantashe is annoyed that us nasty impatient hacks are not awaiting the outcomes of ANC processes. (We geddit, Gwede. But we still worry about the damage caused by those who have the money to blackmail us into doing the right thing.)
Mantashe is not saying this for his international audience. It was one of those moments when it was the international correspondent who gave the politician the perfect chance to say something for his domestic audience. By delinking this issue from Malema, he makes Malema appear less powerful, and gives a signal that it is he and President Jacob Zuma who are really in the driving seat. And the anger at white capitalists is to be expected. All is as it should be when the secretary-general of the ANC (and chairman of the SACP) is having a go at mine-owners. That’s one of his roles in life.
But notice that he didn’t actually say anything on what will happen to our (in the South African rather than us as capitalist sense) mines. He was simply not going to go there, he doesn’t need to. He can quite happily await the outcome of the policy processes, knowing that he might be able to control – as far as an ANC SG is ever able to – the debate.
It’s when Mantashe is in this mood that you get to see what’s really important for him. When asked about the education crisis in the Eastern Cape, he got extremely animated. He says that parents in the province need to now get involved. He used the example of a Tembisa school where teachers had been slacking off. Eventually parents turned up and turfed them out of the building. Mantashe talking about our society in this way is always exciting. It’s clear that dealing with teachers union Sadtu is proving difficult. And he’s not above asking for allies.
Let’s hope it works.
One final word, a personal indulgence. Journalists like to complain. It’s what we do. That said, the facilities for press conferences at Luthuli House are a national embarrassment. As one journo said on Monday, even the Zanu-PF facilities are better. It lowers the stature of the entire party to hold press conferences in its ground-floor reception. The noise is awful, the heat is horrific and the place is simply too small. And there’s a growing sense of hostility towards reporters. This is something that is easily overstated, but there was a distinctly uncomfortable moment on Monday. Some journalists had been locked out and were banging on the door. When a senior journalist put up her hand and informed Mantashe of this, she was almost drowned out by ANC employees amid loud claims she was lying and the SG should not be interrupted. They were clearly in the wrong, as Mantashe ensured those reporters were let in.
If this doesn’t change soon, given what’s at stake for journalists’ careers during ANC press conferences, which by their nature are of national importance, we will one day have a very public incident. You can imagine the eNews footage on high rotation of a journalist being assaulted by a security officer, simply for trying to get in. It’s unnecessary, and it should be fixed.
In the meantime, the ANC says its report on nationalisation should be on its website “soon”. That means, after the State of the Nation Address. It should make for fascinating reading. DM
Photo: Will talk of nationalisation fly out of the window now that Julius Malema has left the room? Phillip de Wet/iMaverick.
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