South Africa

The stakes at the ANC policy conference

By Sipho Hlongwane 26 June 2012

The ANC’s policy conference goes ahead on Tuesday in Johannesburg. Thirteen policy documents will be debated ahead of the elective conference in December. Adopted policies become ANC policy and very often form the basis of new legislation. But the leadership battle will not be far from the minds of the 3,500 delegates gathered at Gallagher Estate. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The constitution of the African National Congress requires it to hold a national policy conference every five years, at least six months before the national/elective conference. The point of the policy conference is to deliberate on the policies of the party, the progress made in reaching strategic objectives and the general state of the party. 

The policy conference allows delegates to focus on talking about nothing but policies with no distractive leadership battle happening in the background. And so it will be this week in Midrand. But this conference does not necessarily mean leaders who have an eye on a top position in the party will not use the opportunity to canvass support or test their strength against others. Policies are often “sponsored” by certain leaders, and are accepted or shot down on that basis.

The documents likely to ignite the fiercest debates are the ones on organisational renewal, state intervention in the minerals sector and the Second Transition. 

To date, the document, titled: “The Second Transition: Building a National Democratic Society and the Balance of Forces in 2012” has generated the most controversy. Criticism of the document says it stands in isolation to the rest of the discussion documents. 

The ANC’s tripartite ally Cosatu has panned the document for ideological inconsistency. Since the other documents do not reflect the idea of a second transition, it “therefore remains an isolated, notional idea; it is not elaborated into a concept that defines the parameters and content of the change that it purports to undertake,” it said.

The union federation also wants any discussion about transitions to acknowledge the damage done by “neo-liberalism”. 

“It is incorrect for the document to suggest that the last 18 years was focusing on democratisation and that our focus must now be on social and economic transformation, as if there exists a Chinese Wall that separates politics from economics and social development,” Cosatu said. 

“There are more examples where the document veers off (at) a tangent and avoids confronting the monster that is colonialism of a special type, at the heart of which is monopoly capitalism in general, white monopoly capitalism in particular.”

The South African Communist Party (the third pillar of the tripartite alliance) in the Eastern Cape has already said it would reject the document because it suggests that the struggle against apartheid was one just for political emancipation. 

“We come to this (conference), arguing quite strongly that maybe the negotiated settlement had far-reaching implications into how far we can go. Perhaps the whole argument of a second transition … delays the urgency for us to move because we understand our struggle as one struggle.

“The political and economic struggle are one. The danger of having a second transition is having a third one and a fourth one,” SACP provincial secretary Xolile Nqatha said at a recent press conference.

One of the document’s critics has been the ANC’s own deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe. At a lecture delivered in memory of Harold Wolpe last week, he reportedly criticised the document’s “Marxist jargon” and said it failed to convey what the ANC wanted to achieve as it grappled with underdevelopment. 

“Second transition! Second transition! Second transition! From what, from where to where? What constituted the first transition? What were the tasks of that phase? Have all those tasks been accomplished or not?” the deputy president reportedly said.

Motlanthe’s stance puts him in diametrical opposition to ANC president Jacob Zuma and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who have both championed the document over the last few weeks. 

When the Mail & Guardian contacted Mantashe to get his response to Motlanthe’s speech, he said: “It’s his personal view and it must go to the policy conference and, if it prevails, it prevails. If you are asking that question, you are asking a wrong question. It is wrong to say: ‘From where to where?’ For me, it’s not about first or second or third or fourth transition, it is about a document informing us to debate in the policy conference that we have, over the past 18 years, reached and consolidated our political ground. We now need to pay attention to the socioeconomic.”

The organisational renewal document echoes the concerns of a similar document released at its last national general council, which fretted over the party’s loss of credibility. According to the 2012 document, the party has not done anything to address this. “And yet, we have not succeeded in effectively dealing with factionalism and ill-discipline. Mangaung must be a turning point, because unless we halt the decay, we will soon reach a stage where it becomes irreversible,” the document says.

The organisational renewal document also raises concerns over the party’s loss of support among minority communities in the country. 

Another area of key contest will be state intervention in the mining sector, as well as land reform. Thanks to the efforts of the ANC Youth League since 2008, the wholesale nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of land without compensation has been forced on to the party’s agenda. Whereas the ANC Youth League, Cosatu and the SACP all support the nationalisation of mines, many key provinces do not. The small, but influential Gauteng ANC is one of those provinces and will push for the state to bolster its own mining company instead, and to speed up land reform. The province also wants the mechanisms of the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle in land reform to be examined, but not with a view to replace it with expropriation without compensation. 

Tied in with the ANCYL’s push for nationalisation of mines and land expropriation is the “generational mix” idea. It wants the ANC to adopt it as policy, with a view to install its former leader, Fikile Mbalula, as the party’s secretary-general at the end of the year. Some top party leaders, like deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise reportedly support the league in this regard. 

The ANC Women’s League is seeking to make a big splash at the conference by pushing for greater gender representivity. “As a society women are in the majority, the same with the ANC membership,” the league’s secretary-general, Sisisi Tolashe, said in an interview with Business Day. “Our constitution for now is quiet, so we want to push a position that says for every male delegate coming from the branches, the second delegate must be a woman.”

The ANCWL will also try to convince the party to decriminalise prostitution, saying that the law tends to punish sex workers and not their male clients. 

Cosatu will use the policy conference to try and squash the government’s youth wage subsidy

Though the policy conference was separated from the elective conference to keep the leadership debate out of policy deliberations, the two will inevitably be intertwined over the next few days.

The second transition document has already been represented as stillborn for Zuma’s re-election campaign. Critics have said the work he started in his first term is incomplete. Perhaps not surprisingly, provinces like KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State (which have openly declared support for a second Zuma term) have supported the document, whereas the others have not. Then there is Motlanthe’s open opposition to the second transition document – and he has been strongly linked to a presidential campaign at Mangaung.

The outcomes of the policy conference will tell us who has the strongest hand going forward. It could tell the story of the emergence of a strong Motlanthe campaign, or could reinforce the perception of Zuma’s superiority. We could even see the emergence of Tokyo Sexwale as a credible contender for ANC president. However, the incumbent currently enjoys pole position. Unlike Polokwane, this year will be dominated by special interests and factions, rather than personality politics. It means that policy will be more important than it was in 2008, but could result in a weak national officials roster come December, as special interest groups try to balance their demands by electing a group that benefits them the most. DM

Photo: Jacob Zuma (Reuters)


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