South Africa, Politics

Holy cows and the ANC’s quest for policy change

By Stephen Grootes 6 March 2012

The ANC has finally released its discussion documents ahead of its two big conferences this year. The documents are seen as the playing field for discussions: they are to guide the debate, set the tone, ensure that everything in the political world that is the ANC runs along some kind of formal line over the next few months. As a result, the documents are a first blueprint of our future. Kind of. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The first thing to know about ANC discussion documents is that their job is to include most of the facts and almost all of the issues around a particular subject. To quote the ANC’s policy head Jeff Radebe, “there are no holy cows, everything is on the table”. They are “discussion documents”. We’re labouring the point because it’s easily forgotten that these are not policy, they are talking points. In other words, while many have read the billboards and felt the Constitution is in danger, it’s important to remember that for any party, discussing an issue, what the Constitution says about that issue matters. And as part of a discussion, someone may propose a change to that document. Whether it will happen is a completely different story. The other aspect is that these documents are usually very honest, particularly about the failings of the ANC in government. There is much lamentation about how policies haven’t worked, and how plans have come unstuck. This batch is no different.

If you’ve been paying attention to our politics over the last few years, there is very little that is new in these papers. Almost all of it has been said by some ANC figure at some time or another. This would seem to point to very few radical departures from current policy. For example, the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana, was clearly able to say that there is no discussion in these documents about changing the mandate of the Reserve Bank. If you want an indication of President Jacob Zuma’s strength at the moment, there it is. Cosatu and other bodies have been pushing for a change, they’re not gonna get it.

Right, let’s charge right in. There are ten documents altogether. They cover everything from state involvement in the economy in general and mining in particular, to the role of indigenous knowledge systems in health, and then even take a swipe at fixing our various sporting issues.

Of them all, perhaps it’s the economic transformation document that contains the most suggestions. There’s a little bit of wishy-washy-ness about some of it, but plenty of interesting goodies. It’s all about jobs, and thus infrastructure development. Some of this we’ve heard in the State of the Nation – for example a suggestion to identify certain areas in the country and then “unlock their economic potential”. There are suggestions that the state must consider subsidising on-the-job training. This strikes us as the youth wage subsidy in another guise. Vavi ain’t gonna like it. But he’ll probably have to take it. There’s also an idea that the National Youth Development Agency can help “stabilise outflows from the tertiary system”. In other words, it could take newly qualified graduates, and find a space for them until proper jobs can become available. And it’ll help them get over the need a job/need experience problem.

Business will probably enjoy the bit about the need for “regulatory reform and areas such as logistics and telecommunications” to improve competitiveness of our firms. And a few CEOs may also appreciate the need for regulatory and licensing systems to be “more transparent and properly coordinated across departments”. The real lament comes at the end of the paper. It says there’s been general instability in the public service, which means nothing gets done. And there’s an admission that there is a “phenomenon of changing senior bureaucrats too often”. It also says policies change too often, with all sorts of awful consequences. But being a policy document, it also mentions that change is needed – however, it should be incremental in nature.

Perhaps the more interesting political stuff is contained in the document around legislature and governance. This is about the provinces and the different spheres of government. Firstly, there’s a recommendation that the provinces actually remain, for now. There should be a full national discussion about this, with everyone. Decoded: we’re stuck with them for now. The point is, the country should not be “subjected to” too many re-organisations. However, provinces must be reformed and strengthened. The role of the provinces is one that should be debated. Think about the Eastern Cape education department; really, there’s a province that can’t seem to run anything. Never mind Limpopo. Of course the real problem will be when it comes to the Western Cape. And the ANC isn’t ready for that fight, and knows it.

Perhaps the starkest internal debate in these documents revolves around the issue of a single election day. There’s been a strong move in the ANC to move this way, presumably because it would strengthen its support in local government elections. There’s a lengthy discussion, and many points are raised in favour of the move. However, the document “recommends” against it. Mainly because leaders really get to grips with their communities during election time; to reduce the number of elections would mean they would lose touch with those communities. Mantashe, you old rascal… He’s always been against it, and he’s found a way to win them over.

The vital issue of police gets an interesting view. And not one that was predicted. It’s the role of the metro police that seems to get the documents’ authors very hot under the collar. The papers point out that the national police are governed under completely different procedures to the metro police. As a result, they are disciplined completely differently. If you are a police officer, you are under the Police Act. If a metro officer, you’re governed under a collective agreement signed by municipal employees. As the documents states, only in South Africa does a police officer have the right to stop and search, and to use deadly force, but is not disciplined as a police officer. It describes this as “unacceptable”.

This thinking is the product of two things. The first is the ANC’s difficulties with governance. The second is a political problem. They all come nicely together in one incident. About two years ago, during a metro police protest in the Joburg CBD, metro police officers opened fire, with live ammo, on national police officers. Yes, really. When everyone calmed down, the City of Joburg tried to hold a hearing for those metro officers. The entire force refused to work until the action was stopped. A few weeks later, around 100 metro police officers in the City of Cape Town went on an illegal strike. A certain blonde mayor sacked the lot. If ever the difference between ANC governance and DA governance was shown to the voting public, it was then. This is the ANC’s final response. And not a moment too soon.

Overall, these documents provide a good basis to ponder our future. There is much more to them than we can mention here, it’s worth having a look at them yourself. Unlike Cosatu documents, which contain many of the same economic facts, there’s still no huge push, no real direction at this stage. Certain trends are evident: the ANC wants to use the state to develop the country, the fight is now for “economic freedom” rather than “political freedom”. However the papers also admit, once again, that ANC policies are all well and good, there are problems with implementation. They lament this problem time and time again. And the reason for that is that implementation means making choices. And that means making a political decision that will piss someone off. And because of the broad nature of this particular church, and the “ideological/policy lock” in the Alliance, this is not a problem that will go away soon. Or ever. DM




Photo: The ANC’s top six in Polokwane. DAILY MAVERICK/Branko Brkic.

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