The outcomes of the ANC’s 53rd national conference ideologically and politically were not the most helpful on various fronts, yet some sense of unity was proclaimed as its primary outcome due to a slate of leadership preferences being elected and those who opposed it being excluded from the leadership of the ANC. This is, however, not the biggest anomaly committed by the 53rd national conference, which was supposed to be a “watershed” conference as prematurely pronounced by the ANC leadership even before conference began.
“Watershed” moments and conferences should necessarily be declared after their occurrence, due to hindsight analysis of the impact those moments and conferences could have caused ideologically and politically in my conjecture. Judging by the inconsistencies and contradictions of the ANC conference pronouncements on vital policy and economic transformation aspects, the 53rd national conference does not fall into the “watershed” category such as the ANC’s founding conference in 1912; the 1949 conference in Bloemfontein that adopted the programme of action to confront the Apartheid regime, after years of peaceful resistance; the 1956 conference that adopted the Freedom Charter and led to the breakaway Africanist faction forming the Pan Africanist Congress; the 1969 national consultative conference in Morogoro, Tanzania which adopted the strategy and tactics, the 1991 conference that elected Nelson Mandela as president of the ANC and set a new path towards negotiation, and the 1997 national conference in Mafikeng which signalled the ANC’s embrace of neoliberal policy direction.
The biggest anomaly out of the ANC’s 53rd national conference was its adoption of an elite “development” set of ideas called the National Development Plan prior to a thorough interrogation by its own structures and mass democratic movement formations. The ANC’s 53rd national conference said that “the ANC welcomes and embraces Vision 2030 and the National Development Plan as a critical basis for united action by all South Africans to build a truly united, non racial, non sexist, democratic, prosperous society. In many respects, the NDP accords with the objectives of the ANC and its own elaboration of the second phase of the transition to a national democratic society.” This is despite the fact the 2007-adopted “Strategy and Tactics of the ANC” document says the overall objective of the ANC is to build a national democratic society, which was understood as a Freedom Charter inspired society. Within this new formulation, it is evident that the NDP also seeks to achieve not only a national democratic society, but what the mass democratic movement said are aims of the national democratic revolution.
The NDP is further adopted by the ANC despite the conference’s aesthetic re-affirmation of the Freedom Charter’s clarion call that the wealth should be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole. The NDP is adopted by the ANC conference despite the strategy and tactics document nostalgically saying, “In broad terms, our approach is informed by the ideals contained in the Freedom Charter, adopted in the congress of the people in 1955. The practical measures towards a national democratic society are contained in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) adopted by the ANC, the tripartite alliance and the broad mass movement in the run-up to the first democratic elections.” Clearly there is confusion in the “Strategy and Tactics” document’s appended foreword over the question of whether it is the RDP or NDP or the Freedom Charter which the NDP and national democratic strategy seeks to implement and achieve because it will be foolhardy of anyone to argue that the three are the same. In the liberation movement, the Freedom Charter is the correct version of a deliberate political and ideological programme to transfer political and economic power to the people as a whole, and this is not articulated in the National Development Plan.
Despite their broad and possibly elastic principles, the Freedom Charter and RDP are not similar to the NDP and there seems to be laxity on how the ANC deals with this vital difference. The Freedom Charter decidedly speaks about discontinuation of private ownership of banks, mineral resources and monopoly industries. The RDP’s central theme is growth through redistribution, while the NDP waffles all over, yet certainly hanging on to the notion of pursuit of economic growth and the rest- shall-follow doctrine. How the ANC adopted a NDP, which is not a product of its own internal process, instead a product of elite round-table deliberations (excluding the youth), escapes one’s imagination. The NDP is not a product of robust internal deliberations of the ANC, but it is the biggest winner out of the conference, even gaining a mention in the appended foreword of the “Strategy and Tactics” document. In adopting this neo-liberal framework, the Freedom Charter is thrown into the equation as if the Freedom Charter speaks of the same things as the NDP. It does not. The Freedom Charter is not the NDP and should never be dragged into neoliberal strategies, with the aim of hoodwinking the people in the same manner the overtly neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) was imposed on the ANC. The Freedom Charter says the national wealth beneath the soil, monopoly industry and banks shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole, and further says that all other trade and industry shall be controlled (regulated) for the benefit of the people as a whole. The NDP does not say this. It instead misdiagnoses the structural challenges to the South African economy and claims that, “the fragility of South Africa’s economy lies in the distorted pattern of ownership and economic exclusion created by Apartheid policies. The effects of decades of racial exclusion are still evident in both employment levels and income differentials. The fault lines of these differentials are principally racially defined but also include skill levels, gender and location.” The NDP completely misses the point for obvious ideological reasons.
The racial aspects obviously do not define the fragility of the South African economy and any policymaker worth his salt has to know that South Africa’s structural economic problems are deeper and broader than its racial outlook. While vividly important, racial dynamics do not constitute South Africa’s primary economic problems leading to high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequalities, but because of class prejudices and interests, some policymakers will believe such is the case because the immediate policy solution is de-racialisation (BEE) of the existing economy. De-racialisation of the existent economic structure will never address the massive poverty, unemployment and inequalities that define the neo-colonial economy of South Africa. South Africa can replace all white owners of the means of production in one month with black business owners, but the structural incapacity of the economy to absorb the entirety of its workforce will remain intact, poverty unchanged, and inequalities will not be eroded.
The second phase of the transition in the ANC was supposed to have conceptually provided a solution by defining this phase as the phase to decolonise the South African economy, due to relative, but not durable success in political decolonisation that happened in the first decade. Decolonisation of the South African economy will, among other things, include the following:
These have to be pursued and implemented concurrently.
For any developmental and industrialisation plan to succeed in South Africa, it needs to be buttressed by accessible, mainly state ownership and control of key natural resources.
The recently updated industrial Policy Action Plan (Ipap) will, for instance, not succeed if the state is not in ownership and control of key industrial inputs like metals, iron ore, steel and various other minerals. While this can happen through nationalisation (de-privatisation) of the actual production and processing of these natural resources, it can alternatively happen through state ownership of larger components of these sectors, while the private sector continues to play a role.
The resource-rents or maximum taxes proposed by the State Intervention in the Minerals Sector (Sims) is also not a solution because it assumes that South Africa’s economic developmental challenges will be addressed through additional money from state-generated taxes, without substantively addressing the job-creation conundrum. Too much money for the state is not the only solution and could widen and make more sophisticated instances of corruption, with corrupt state administrators and corporations reliant on state contracts overpricing the services they provide to the state. With higher taxes, mining corporations will, as Anglo platinum threatened recently, close mines and cause massive job losses and instability in the mining sector. This can only be averted when the state has adequate capacity to extract, beneficiate and industrialise mineral resources. It currently does not have such capacity and is at the mercy of privately owned transnational corporations, which will not be bound to South Africa’s developmental missions.
A coherent policy framework that speaks to these vital aspects did not happen and might not happen because the ANC has just proved to itself, the country and the world in its 53rd National Conference that it does not know what it wants, and is instead going nowhere slowly. The NDP does not propose anything new and does not say anything innovative to address unemployment, poverty, and inequalities. It claims to adhere to a non-linear conception of progress, yet harps on the growth- first- development-later drivel that led to the displacement of the RDP by Gear. We all know the massive socio-economic problems brought by Gear, yet society is being bullied into supporting another Gear, called the NDP, until 2030. Because the NDP is now the actual replacement of the NDR, RDP, and Freedom Charter; and because the ANC is going to truly embrace and welcome it as Vision 2030, South African society is headed for a developmental disaster.
South African society is headed for a developmental disaster because the NDP will not lead to reduction of the crisis levels of unemployment, poverty and inequalities. Instead, the rapacious political elite will continue to use its political capital to generate economic capital, and continue with self-enrichment and gratification through state tenders and looting of state owned enterprises. The NDP is not a solution to South Africa’s developmental problems. It is, instead, a way of raising false hopes among the people that development will come in or before 2030. The ANC has fallen into a trap and will gradually loose integrity because of promises it cannot fulfill. The claim by the deputy chairperson of the National Planning Commission (now deputy president of the ANC) that most ministers have read and understand the NDP is even more worrying because it means that they are knowingly leading society to a deeper developmental crisis. There will never be any successful developmental strategy and plan in South Africa that does not demolish the foundations of Apartheid capitalist relations and ownership patterns.
South Africa’s developmental challenges are tremendous, and the self-worshipping and praise the ANC government gives to itself is meaningless because without addressing the fundamental economic structures and therefore giving people real economic opportunities and solutions, no amount of houses, grants, food parcels, and so on will be satisfactory. Development in the 21st century is after all about improving the wellbeing of individuals through provision of sustainable income generating opportunities and such is possible in South Africa. Development practice post- World War II and most vividly in the 21st century has proven that it is only sustainable through provision of sustainable economic activities, and the NDP is not pursuing such. It is also odd that that the ANC wants to lead society towards neoliberal orthodoxy that the NDP is, despite the fact that in the foreword of the “Strategy and Tactics” document is an acknowledgement that, “there’s a growing appreciation among various sectors of society that the current configuration of the country’s political economy is unsustainable”.
Why is the movement leading society towards an unsustainable future? DM
Floyd Shivambu is an MA student at Wits University.
Bumblebees can fly higher than Mount Everest.