Comment and Analysis

Mangaung turns on economics

Jeff Radebe (author)

The conference is a watershed moment in policy direction for the ANC and its second transition, says Jeff Radebe.

One of the biggest debates in the months leading up to the 53rd national congress of the ANC in Mangaung has been the question of economic policy.

One of the biggest debates in the months leading up to the 53rd national congress of the ANC in Mangaung has been the question of economic policy. The key preoccupation of the ANC is how to accelerate the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment. 

Underlying this second phase of the transition after the attainment of freedom is the question of the extent of state participation in the economy and how far it should extend, given these imperatives and the apparent market failure to stimulate economic growth to acceptable levels.

At the same time, how do the policies we adopt ensure that we are able to fast-track interventions to make certain that more and more people are able to enjoy the fruits of our freedom?

The debate in the alliance, civil society and business has thrown up key policy options that need to be discussed. The national development plan will be at the heart of these discussions, but the following are among the issues that need to be articulated by the conference:

  • The issue of state intervention in key sectors of the economy. The thorny question of nationalisation must be finalised by the conference once and for all and a clear policy directive must emerge. A lot of work was done ahead of the policy conference, following in-depth research. There is enough on the table for the ANC to make a decision. 
  • The issue of black economic empowerment. A lot has happened since the adoption of the codes of good practice and the Black Economic Empowerment Act. It is key that this policy evolves to the next level and that it focuses on entrepreneurship, among other challenges, as well as actively combating fraud and fronting.
  • The issue of land redistribution. The recent conflict in Lenasia over housing and land has once again highlighted the need to fast-track the processes of redistributing land in South Africa, whether for human settlement or agriculture. This is at the heart of transforming the economy. If we take any lessons from liberation movements on the continent, this is easily recognisable as an issue on which our quest for economic development may rise or fall. 
  • The issue of state-owned enterprises. One of the crucial issues to be considered by the conference is the strategic realignment of how the state uses the levers of its own enterprises to address the development agenda by correcting market failures and creating jobs. There is agreement that, in general, the state has to confine its role to that of creating a conducive environment for business to create jobs. But deeper questions have to be asked in relation to the state’s ownership of enterprises and how they align with government objectives to create jobs in the sectors in which these enterprises operate, as opposed to running them merely with a profit motive not aimed at development. The issues of governance of these enterprises will also come under intense scrutiny at the conference: we must answer the question of the working-shareholder model to avoid blurred roles, unnecessary (perceived or real) political interference and deal with any misunderstandings about board accountability as opposed to shareholder mandate and interests. 
  • Job creation. What is a sustainable approach to job creation? What is the status of our industrialisation policy? What is the link between the national growth path and the national development plan in terms of implementation strategy? How does this affect our plans for a massive infrastructure roll-out? All these policy questions will be straightened out at this conference, which will answer the big question of the character of this second phase of our transition. There have been a lot of serious interventions in this regard, such as the creation of the jobs fund and the massive infrastructure programme. Also up for review will be the public works programme, which has created thousands of jobs and will create more in reaching our job-creation targets.    

When you scan through the highlights of the conference agenda, you will agree that a lot has been processed since the Polokwane conference. Both the political report and the organisational report will underline progress in implementing the Polokwane resolutions so that the Mangaung conference can make its own assessment of how far the organisation has come in implementing a range of resolutions in the economic realm and elsewhere. 

The discussions will also look at how the national development plan will be implemented to ensure that the vision of economic transformation becomes a reality. The plan, which has now been adopted by the Cabinet, must go into the phase of implementation.    

No matter from what angle you look at it, this conference is a watershed for the movement. Its decisions are an exercise in introspection and decisiveness for the vision to take the ANC into its next century.

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