South Africa

South Africa

ANC Policy Conference 2017: ‘Unity’ at the close, now for the pushback

ANC Policy Conference 2017: ‘Unity’ at the close, now for the pushback

Unity. It’s paper tissue thin, but it could be publicly proclaimed at the end of six days of ANC policy discussions that had something for everyone but nothing in particular for anyone. In an unusual move, the policy conference put forward rival proposals on contentious issues like land expropriation and (white) monopoly capital. Effectively, it’s kicking for touch, and the next five-and-a-half months will see fierce political battles before final binding decisions are taken at the ANC December national elective conference. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

President Jacob Zuma in his closing address proclaimed: “There are no losers or winners in this conference. The only winner is the ANC”. There really could not have been any other pronouncement for a gathering held under the theme “Let us deepen unity!”

His statement comes after six days of tightly fought battles, the factional proxy battles that unfolded in closed sessions in debates described variously as “intense”, “heated” and “vibrant”. Those pushing the white monopoly capital narrative and calling for land expropriation without compensation and other positions associated with the radical economic transformation camp, associated with Zuma, came prepared. Many seemed to read off a prepared script, according to two insiders. When confronted with argument against such proposals, tensions erupted, and it got personal on occasion. But as the arguments unfolded, according to one source, there was a steady shift towards those supportive of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The compromise? An unusual one: the positions from both would go to branches for further discussions once the conference report is printed and distributed. More discussions, more behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring, to clinch the numbers.

So on land, the agreement is that restitution must be accelerated but on expropriation the rival proposals are expropriation without compensation within the law, and expropriation with fair and equitable compensation as the Constitution stipulates.

On monopoly capitalism, nine commissions agreed there was no such thing as white monopoly capitalism as it was a global phenomenon, although white domination of the economy could not be denied, while two commissions held firm on white monopoly capitalism.

But shortly after unity was proclaimed at the Wednesday closing session – Zuma also called for the end of factionalism that was “hurting the ANC and the country” – the pushback got under way.

Both the youth and women’s league issued statements in favour of white monopoly capitalism and land expropriation without compensation. “We will continue to canvass the view that the national conference must officially adopt the proposition that white monopoly capital must be characterised as the strategic enemy of the revolution,” said the ANC Youth League. The ANC Women’s League argued: “… in the South African contest there is white monopoly capital being the primary enemy of national democratic revolution and all monopolies perpetuating economic inequalities”.

While the ANC Youth League “welcomed” the proposal on land expropriation without compensation, the ANC Women’s League called for the consideration of amending the Constitution to allow for this.

It was that call Zuma made in his closing speech. Expropriation without compensation within the law was democratic, he argued: “ It does not say in a democracy you can’t amend the law… the Constitution. It’s how you do it… As long as it’s within the rules of democracy, why should you not do it?”

His comments echo those made to the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders at Parliament in March this year.

“We must do everything within the law…. We’re not saying let us take the land, we are saying let’s amend the Constitution. Constitutions are amended all the time,” he told the traditional leaders days after his ANC parliamentary caucus voted against an EFF proposal to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, the property clause. “We need to accept the reality that those who are in Parliament, where laws are made, particularly the black parties, should unite because we need two-thirds majority to effect changes in the Constitution,” said Zuma then.

Perhaps inadvertently the land issue has even broader implications in the proxy battles. It is an example of exactly how ANC policy does not translate into implementation by the ANC government. The process of finalising constitutionally-compliant expropriation legislation has now been under way for a decade. The current draft law, sent back to Parliament by Zuma over concerns over the public consultation process, is still in process.

Once the National Council of Provinces passes it – currently it includes compensation in line with the fair and equitable principle of the Constitution – it goes back to the National Assembly for adoption as that House must agree with any potential changes effected. It’s a long process.

The ANC policy conference called for the urgent finalisation of this law, before the end of the year, according to ANC NEC economic transformation chairperson Enoch Godongwana. “It is unfortunate that 20 years after Mandela attached his signature to the Constitution, we don’t have expropriation under the Constitution,” he said, adding there was overall agreement land reform and restitution needed to be speeded up.

But the land expropriation debacle talks directly to the troubles of the ANC. Implementation, or the lack thereof, emerged as a theme alongside the proxy battles for control, at the conference. Hence discussions around “holding to account deployees in government”, but more concretely a proposal for a party monitoring unit as it seems the ANC is staking its reputation on creating and recreating structures.

This unit – there is already one in the presidency of the ANC government, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation – would either be the responsibility of one of two deputy presidents or one of the two proposed deputy secretary-generals, depending on which of the two proposals for a party organisational rejig is adopted in December.

Zuma on Wednesday came down firmly on the side of a second deputy president. And, again going off script, he touted a proposal for a deputy president. Effectively reiterating a proposal from his KwaZulu-Natal home province – it is understood it did not find favour in earlier debates – that the losing president candidate would be a deputy president. The second deputy president would be the one with the most votes from that poll. All this is, of course, part and parcel of unity: the broad-sweep argument is that if both winner and loser are represented in the top officials structures, this would eradicate factionalism and its related slate voting.

There was little warmth from the delegates in the hall, except perhaps a bit of polite clapping, on this point. Like at Friday’s opening, the president had gone off-script to make his view clear – perhaps in the hope of swaying ANC delegates to presidential wishes. The other proposal would see an additional deputy secretary-general.

As everyone eventually filed out of the hall, it was clear the battle lines are drawn. And the focus will be on numbers, one way or the other, to carry the day.

As the unresolved policy discussions now continue, branches are audited, and verified, as will be overall ANC membership, which according to a document seen by Daily Maverick now stands at 788,474. This leaves room for manipulation. It would not be the first time, but as policy and leadership collide in the proxy battles, the stakes are high.

At the policy conference, KwaZulu-Natal was the largest delegation with 508 branch delegates, according to the document seen by Daily Maverick. Its political, ideological and factional associate Free State came with 180 and North West with 255, and the women’s and youth league with 64 each. This represented just short of 50% of the 2,500 branch delegates. It was not enough to carry the day for Zuma.

But neither could the other side muster the numbers: Eastern Cape (432), Gauteng (280), Western Cape (155), Northern Cape (105) and Limpopo (280). Mpumalanga’s 305 branch delegates made the difference, as was seen on Day 1 when it supported the presentation of a hard-hitting diagnostics report on the ANC’s troubles, including being seen as inherently corrupt, its leaders socially distant from people and institutionalised factionalism.

If a week in politics is a long time, the time between now and December is an eternity. And it’s all fluid after this ANC national policy conference. DM

Photo: Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa at the end of the ANC Policy Conference 2017 (Ihsaan Haffejee)


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