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14 December 2017 21:02 (South Africa)
South Africa

Analysis: At the ANC Lekgotla, much ado about nothing

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • South Africa
Photo: ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe greets President Jacob Zuma at closing session of the ANC's 5th National Policy Conference held in June 2017. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

The National Executive Committee of the ANC that will leave office in December is unlikely to be kindly remembered by history. It supported President Jacob Zuma through Nkandla, presided over the worst electoral outcomes, ever… and that’s about it. So it would be foolish to expect much from its final policy lekgotla. Still, this being election season, there is plenty of shade to throw around. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

There are really two types of ANC meetings. The kind where either everyone agrees on something or one faction has enough power and thus something can actually be decided – and the other kind, where the forces are balanced, and nothing can be done. This one was probably the latter. Considering that the first prize for both factions in December is control of a fully functioning non-split ANC, this is not surprising. You can imagine the finessing of both sides to keep the other happy, but only just. Add in the fact that much of the policy discussion within the party at the moment is a proxy for the leadership battle and you have the perfect recipe for inaction.

Despite this, the NEC has made some headway on one or two issues. It was, said Gwede Mantashe on Monday, all about the economy. Well, finally, you’ve noticed! There is the official NEC backing for Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s 14-point plan, for example. Which may sound important but you could hardly expect Gigaba to have unveiled it without knowing in advance it would be rubber stamped. As a plan it doesn’t really do much to help the economy, but it also doesn’t threaten anyone either.

Mantashe was asked about the “investment strike” currently under way by businesses, where firms have held on to cash rather than investing it back into the economy. The secretary-general said that business and the ANC is a struggle of opposites, that “we love and hate each other... but we are tied together at the hip… we need each other… and until we accept that, we are not going to perform in the economy.” For Mantashe, it’s about firms investing in South Africa, but “investing in South Africa must lead to them making profits”. In other words, he believes government’s role is to create an enabling environment for business.

Wasn’t he chair of the SA Communist Party at one point?

But, seriously, one can imagine a business person investing other people’s money in the economy being asked how the ANC could create a more “enabling environment”. Their answer would be simple…. “Pick Cyril”.

During his press conference Mantashe said that during the NEC lekgotla one comrade had pointed out that everyone had hated the economic policy known as Gear, but that while it was implemented, the economy had grown at around 4-5%. And that when it was stopped, the growth stopped too. Sometimes, just sometimes, it seems possible the ANC may be about to jump to the right on the economy, just to get things going again.

In the meantime, there are plenty of minor tweaks, but no real reform. One of these tweaks sounds a little ominous. The ANC believes that local people need to have their jobs protected from foreign people. Instead of just banning Zimbabweans from being waiters, there should be a ratio system, where a business would have to employ 80% South African staff, and could then employ 20% foreign staff. He used the example of a restaurant to make his point.

Well, this is one of those situations where everything is based on perception. There may be some places that do employ almost entirely foreign nationals, but surely not many. And this kind of notion has the risk of legitimising xenophobia, despite the best efforts of the ANC to suggest that it doesn’t. You have to ask, is the risk of inflaming tensions against foreign nations worth the economic gain for South African workers? Considering that this is, at best, a tweak, it seems unlikely. And if the economy was growing, it wouldn’t matter, there would be jobs for everybody.

Within the battle between the factions in the party, it seems obvious that Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane – he who lied about that banking inquiry and was not moved in the reshuffle – is a proxy or pawn for Zuma. Okay, sorry, for the Guptas. He is at the forefront of this situation in the mining industry where he released a new Mining Charter without consulting the Chamber of Mines at all. And then, after they all reached an agreement on how the chamber’s legal action would be heard, he then instituted a moratorium on new prospecting rights. How this will lead to economic growth has not been explained. Now, the NEC has said this: “Lekgotla tasked the ANC Economic Transformation Sub-committee to co-ordinate an approach that looks beyond the current dispute over the mining charter to focus on the industry in its totality.”

That looks pretty much like a bid to simply go around Zwane. Consider that the chair of the sub-committee is Enoch Godongwana. It would appear that the NEC is trying to put out some of the fire that Zwane’s actions have sparked.

Later, your impolite correspondent asked Mantashe if the NEC was undermining Zwane, and, “if not, why not?” The answer: “No, we are reinforcing him. When you are deployed to a portfolio, it is not a personal domain, it is an ANC issue. If you commit mistakes those mistakes come back here running. So we are not undermining Minister Zwane, we are having a responsibility to help him that we should do things in a particular way that do not affect the economy negatively.”

Zwane is not the most popular person at Luthuli House, is he? That looks like serious shade, and considering the damage he has wrought, he surely deserves it.

Perhaps the best indication of the relatively equal balance of forces in the ANC at the moment came with the announcement that the NEC has decided to overrule the provincial executive committee of the ANC in the Western Cape, and reinstate the leadership of the Dullah Omar Region. The region appears to support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and it was disbanded by the provincial leadership, which appears to go the other way. But there were also calls to disband the provincial leadership, which the NEC has rejected. So, it seems, the forces here are balanced, and there is horse-trading to be done in the run-up to December.

To listen to Mantashe, it has been business as usual in the ANC, there is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to see here. You might believe that in fact the December conference might be relatively civil, that we could avoid the tense scenes that people like Your Correspondent have been predicting so regularly. But recently ANC MP Makhosi Khoza was prevented from speaking at an event hosted by the Young Communist League. It was disrupted, by people wearing ANC T-shirts. You’re not surprised, are you? Don’t be fooled. This race is not going to be clean. The stakes are too high. DM

Photo: ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe greets President Jacob Zuma at closing session of the ANC's 5th National Policy Conference held in June 2017. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • South Africa

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