South Africa

The ANC policy conference: the real issues

By Greg Nicolson 25 June 2012

This week’s ANC policy conference is likely to be just another episode in the Mangaung series. It has the potential to shape South Africa. But to do that, says GREG NICOLSON, it must forget the proxy battles and look inward. 

Each new member of the ANC makes the same pledge: “I solemnly declare that I will abide by the aims and objectives of the African National Congress as set out in the constitution, the Freedom Charter and other duly adopted policy positions.”

Those positions are meant to guide their work and set the agenda of the governing party. They’ll be discussed this week as 3,554 members converge on Gallagher Estate, Midrand. 

But it’s been preceded by a storm of disunity. As the shine of South Africa’s miracle transition wears off, the ANC says it’s united in the belief that it needs to address the main challenges tarnishing its time in government– inequality, poverty, unemployment and lack of service delivery. Then again, who isn’t?

More specifically, we might get an idea on the direction we’re going on issues such as land reform, the youth wage subsidy, nationalisation and the state’s role in the economy.

The conference is meant to be a glowing example of the ANC’s internal democracy. Delegates will debate different methods to address SA’s problems. In theory, they’ll build on the discussion documents and agree to policies that will bind all members. 

The conference should offer a plan of action to fulfil the party’s aims and few South Africans would deny its objectives are noble – a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic country with economic development for all, and common patriotism while recognising individual cultures.

But the conference is likely to be a failure. The “Second Transition” discussion documents, premised on the fact that 1994 ushered in political rights but that economic gains are yet to be shared, assume we have a well-functioning government to implement party proposals. Likewise, the ANC constitution assumes it has a healthy party to form policy.

But after leading the country for 18 years, the ANC is hardly healthy and the indications suggest we’ll get what we’re expecting from the event– just another stop on the journey to Mangaung.

So far, each proposal has been couched in the language of the leadership battle. Choosing legitimate policy is likely to be sacrificed on the altar of factions, slates, corruption and access to power.

Those who support the idea of the Second Transition are said to back President Jacob Zuma. Those against it, apparently, don’t. 

The Second Transition is said to be an attempt by Zuma to spin South Africa’s problems. If he neatly divides the ANC’s national democratic revolution into two phases he can put a tick next to the political rights box and gallantly say, “Now, it’s time to tackle the next problem.”

But there was never an agreed attempt to address the issues separately, critics within the ANC suggest, and the spin is an admission of failure. Deputy president Kgalema Mothlanthe’s criticism has been seen as him finally, finally entering the race to Mangaung, in his own way. And quite rightly.

In his Harold Wolpe address last week he fired salvos at Zuma supporters, ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe and his SACP counterpart Blade Nzimande.

While even moderates within the ANC are determined to chart a new policy course, what we’re likely to get is policy not based on what’s best for the country but a perceived alignment to a candidate at Mangaung.

Agreements will be useless. To make it on to the government’s agenda, they need to survive a possible leadership change, the political will to be implemented, then have to pass muster with the public, Parliament and the courts. 

To craft a strategy for SA that can actually be implemented the ANC will have to take its eyes off the leadership battle, which is unlikely. And the discussion documents aren’t much to build on, so there’s no hope good policy will fall from the sky.

But let’s say it does. Even the best policies will fail if corruption and patronage persist.  The ANC must use the conference to recognise these flaws. The days at Gallagher Estate won’t be enough to solve unemployment, but they could address the party’s problems so that one day the policy conference could be a legitimate arbiter of change.

While delegates wage proxy leadership battles, there’s one document that needs special attention: Organisational Renewal. The discussion paper outlines the ANC’s achievements since 1994, and there are many, before sketching three organisational weaknesses: 

  • The ANC no longer has the capabilities to meet demands. 
  • It’s not able to mobilise, engage and lead as it once could.
  • Its cadres aren’t appropriately trained to be deployed in strategic positions. 

Governance has hurt the character of the ANC, causing continuous internal conflicts, and raised seven “dangers”: 

  • social distance from the masses 
  • state bureaucratisation and demobilisation of the masses 
  • corruption and neopatrimonialism 
  • institutionalised factionalism 
  • using state institutions in party disputes 
  • neglecting policy 
  • and the inability to implement policy to help the masses.

“Political life of the organisation revolves around internal strife and factional battles for power. This is a silent retreat from the mass line to palace politics of factionalism and perpetual in-fighting. The internal strife revolves around contestation for power and state resources,” reads the document. 

“These circumstances have produced a new type of ANC leader and member who sees ill-discipline, factionalism and infighting as normal practices and necessary forms of political survival.”

It doesn’t matter what stage of the transition it is. Without focusing on organisational renewal, the conference is pointless and members are doomed to pledging their allegiance to a future of useless policies from “a new type of ANC leader”. DM

Read more:

  • Exactly what does organisational renewal mean for the ANC in Daily Maverick

Photo: Children write notes from a makeshift black board at a school in Mwezeni village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province in this picture taken June 5, 2012. The Eastern Cape, home to giants of the African National Congress like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu who helped end apartheid and Thabo Mbeki, the nation’s second democratically elected president, is a glaring example of the ruling party’s failure to deliver its promise of a “better life for all”. While thousands of schools wait each year for textbooks and many Eastern Cape children are forced to write on loose sheets, the ANC has produced copious reams of policy papers to be studied by about 3,000 delegates at next week’s meeting. (REUTERS/Ryan Gray)


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