South Africa

Alliance Summit: Unity now, economic policy later

By Ranjeni Munusamy 2 September 2013

Hollywood, the music industry and romance novels are all built on the narrative of a passionate romance gone horribly wrong and the consequences of the messy break-up. The best revenge, many slighted lovers presume, is to give the impression that “you never meant that much anyway” and “look how well I’m doing without you”. Zwelinzima Vavi and his allies in Cosatu did not attend the three-day alliance summit but those who did were quite determined to show how well things went without the rabble-rousers. There was a big show of unity between the ANC, SACP and Cosatu at the end but all the issues of contention were kicked into a yet-to-be-determined future. And so alliance's, and South Africa's, economic policy remains a veritable dog’s breakfast – until further notice. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

It was quite remarkable how delegates from the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP drifting in and out of the alliance summit hall on Sunday expressed similar impressions about meeting. It had gone better than expected, there is a meeting of minds and general appreciation of each other’s views, and there was now a positive atmosphere in the alliance. Of course they were all drinking from the same Kool-Aid glass because most of the people who would ordinarily be kicking up a fuss were either flushed out from the leadership of the three structures or opted not to attend.

At a joint media briefing after the summit, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe was determined to communicate that the meeting had not been pre-occupied with controversies or hamstrung by issues of contention. “The emphasis was not on where we disagreed. The emphasis was on what we agreed and on that we should drive and start running,” Mantashe said, in particular reference to the National Development Plan (NDP), which is opposed in parts by the SACP and Cosatu.

There is no doubt that the suspension of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the fiery statements by metalworkers union Numsa, including accusing alliance leaders of fanning divisions in the trade union federation and threats to walk out of Cosatu and the alliance, were the elephant in the room. But there was denial by all of the alliance partners that any of these were discussed.

The summit declaration states that from the onset, the alliance partners agreed that “there are no holy cows”. “Where there are differences within the alliance these were freely expressed, and we have established processes for further engagement,” the declaration reads.

Cosatu went limping into the alliance summit on Friday. It was dealing with the fall-out from Vavi’s suspension, internal conflict between affiliates had burst into the open, some affiliates decided not to participate in the alliance meeting and there were fears that the federation would get short-changed at the summit. At a media briefing on Friday, when they were meant to be attending the opening session of the summit, Numsa’s leaders said Cosatu was ill-prepared for the alliance meeting and that the federation had taken a decision last week to request a postponement. Numsa’s general secretary Irvin Jim said as a result of this not happening, his union would not form part of the Cosatu delegation at the summit.

Despite the non-participation by some sections of Cosatu, the federation was represented by 63 delegates, led by Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini and acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali. They were eager to show that Cosatu would not back down on the federation’s concerns on issues like the economy and the NDP because Vavi and Jim were not in the room.

“We want to declare right from the onset that as Cosatu, we come to this summit preoccupied with one intention, which is to find answers and solutions to the challenges facing our country and to generate practical ideas on how we strengthen the alliance to execute its task of deepening and advancing our common objectives… We want this summit to desist from generating hopes full of air and not real commitments,” Dlamini said in a speech to the summit on Friday.

He said the NDP was a departure from the spirit of the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung, which was inclined towards decisive action for economic transformation. “There is nothing decisive in the NDP towards the realisation of the Freedom Charter; instead the decisiveness remains in favour of capital. In this context we will argue in this summit that the NDP in its current form does not even move closer to transforming the patterns of wealth production and distribution in our country,” Dlamini said.

According to the summit declaration, both the SACP and Cosatu raised a number of concerns with aspects of the NDP, particularly on the economy. As a result, the summit agreed to set up an alliance task team to work through the differences – although it is not clear how long this process will take and how it will filter into the policy-making processes of government. The SACP and Cosatu are for now acclaiming that the declaration says the NDP is “not cast in stone and needs to be adapted, where appropriate”.

The task team will comprise representatives from all the alliance structures, including the SA National Civics Organisation, and report to the alliance secretariat. Mantashe said the team would also monitor, evaluate and follow up on resolutions taken by the alliance.

The idea was actually proposed by Dlamini on the opening day, when he said an alliance team should be set up to “oversee the redrafting and fundamental overhaul of the political orientation of the NDP, the core economic chapter of the plan, and any other aspects of the NDP in conflict with Alliance policies”. The move by the summit to accept Cosatu’s proposal is perhaps a strategic move to show that the federation’s concerns are not being taken lightly.

The SACP’s deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin said the task team was not in a hurry to finish its work before next year’s elections as it was not in “some short term sprint”. Alliance policy and resolutions could take years of work, he said.

The problem, though, is that the ANC and its alliance partners are beginning the process of drafting a manifesto for the 2014 elections. The ANC will need to convince voters that it is ready to put an end to years of economic policy confusion and disagreements. But it is clear that it is nowhere near doing that and that brokering consensus within the ANC and between the alliance partners remains an uphill battle.

The alliance task team will therefore need to pull a rabbit out of a hat to adapt the NDP and develop a macro-economic strategy that all the partners agree on, and which can be sold on the campaign trail.

In the meantime, while the summit was “characterised by constructive debate and a high level of strategic unity”, all the issues of disagreement between alliance partners remain unresolved. These include e-tolling, labour brokers and job-creation initiatives. The summit declaration stated that among the labour market priorities were social wage measures and incentive schemes “approved by all constituencies”.

Ntshalintshali said the controversial youth wage subsidy never arose in the meeting and was not part of the submissions made by any of the alliance partners. Cosatu has been fiercely opposed to the youth wage subsidy and has blocked government plan’s to implement the scheme as a job creation mechanism.

With regards to tensions that have beset the alliance due to conflicting interests, the summit agreed that the “long-standing tradition of complementary independence” should be maintained. However, this is “not to be confused with either mechanical conformity or chronic oppositionism to each other”, the declaration reads. Cronin said this means that issues of difference should be raised “boldly, constructively and with a sense of responsibility”.

With all the partners content with the outcome and committing to wholesale support for the ANC in next year’s election, Vavi and his allies are now firmly outcasts. Whether they can stop swimming against the tide and agree to play by these rules is doubtful, especially with Numsa heading for a special congress to decide their future participation in Cosatu and electoral support for the ANC.

From the sounds of it, the alliance summit was a three-day bonding and therapy session for everyone to express themselves and hear each other out. The real heavy lifting now lies with the still to be established task team, which has the impossible task of brokering agreement on the NDP and the economy.

Economic policy is not a side issue; it will ultimately determine the success or failure of the ANC government, and continued procrastination is what causes uncertainty, hampers job creation and undermines investor confidence.

The ANC had previously set up its own task team on the economy, which Mantashe says has no relationship to the alliance task team. These two teams will therefore rotating on their own axes, and there is no clarity on which takes precedence in policy-making and what happens if their outcomes clash.

The general consensus from all the partners is that they came out better than they went in. And that the parts of the NDP they agree on will now be implemented. By the time the ANC seeks a renewal of its electoral mandate, it will need to have something more to offer than a piecemeal development plan and hodgepodge economic policy. As things stand, this looks rather unlikely.

One thing after the summit’s ending is that stated unity was the outcome desired above all. While difficult to achieve with such opposing economic policy views and visions of the country’s future, unity as a word, a statement, is still much better than any other option facing the alliance members so close to the next year’s elections. Sharp differences prevail but one thing binds the alliance so strongly still: the glue of power, and the need to remain in control of South Africa post 2014. DM

Photo: ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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