ANC: To the left, to the left?

Zwelinzima Vavi does not seem to run out of hyperbole to illustrate what is wrong with the government’s economic policies. “It is like a doctor saying an operation has been successful when the patient is dead,” he said to great laughter when addressing a youth rally in Mangaung in the Free State last Saturday.

Vavi and many of his left-leaning comrades hope to use the policy conference starting on Wednesday June 27 at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, not only to save the patient, but also to remind the doctor that without the patient, there would be no need for a doctor.

The battle next week seems set to revolve around the party’s strategy and tactics document, which deals with the identity and visions of the ANC.

The left believes the current draft of the document will continue the economic growth trajectory, the potential of which the government lauds, but which the left believes has mostly benefited the elite, failing to make a dent in the conditions of the poor.

The document is the first topic of discussion for the first two days and will inform the rest of the discussions during the four-day policy conference.

Vavi is convinced that the left carries ammunition in its debates but concedes that numerically it is weak and it was disadvantaged by not being involved in the drafting stage.

“If you don’t have anyone who is sympathetic to your cause at the drafting stage you know you’re buried. That was where we lost. We are completely outnumbered [there are 1 500 delegates in total] but we will try our best.”

Cosatu is sending 24 delegates to the conference, but the broad left alliance also includes the SACP, the ANC Youth League and a majority of the 800 branch delegates who are workers.

Elaborating on the document to a Wits Business School audience last week, one of the drafters, ANC strategist Joel Netshitenzhe, said that a working class that seeks to impose its agenda on the rest of society would not be worthy of being called a vanguard. He said that the ANC did not believe in “isms”, but it did envisage a multi-class society in which workers and capitalists are engaged in a class struggle.

“Our revolution is multi-class, but leans towards the interests of the working class.”

The position reiterates an extract from the document, which says the ANC should guard against attempts by any force to turn it into a hostage to narrow sectoral interests. However, Vavi said it was tantamount to a thinly disguised warning against the working class claiming control of the ANC.

“As the majority the working class cannot be dismissed as pursuing a narrow sectoral interest,” he said.

The ANC Youth League also responded that “we have the problem of labour and capital [being] treated as equal partners of the developmental state. This dilutes our bias to the working class, the rural poor and the downtrodden.

“There is an absence of characterising monopoly capital as [an] enemy in the unfolding national democratic revolution.”

Another point of contention is the document’s acceptance of the role of private capital in the economy.

The document says “a national democratic society will have a mixed economy with state, co-operatives and other forms of social ownership and private capital … in this regard the state will relate to private owners of investment resources in the context of the national objective to build a better life for all.”

Vavi said this implied that there was nothing inherently wrong with market-driven capitalism as long as capitalists were encouraged to behave ethically and not seek selfish advantages. “That, however, contradicts the very nature of capitalism, which is based on self-interest, even more so in our racially based capitalism, which has always entailed the economic subjugation of the historically oppressed majority.”

The youth league criticised the document for failing to question the role of free markets in development: “It is the view of the comrades that markets are inadequate to address social needs and that the developmental state needs to intervene in markets and reorient them to play a developmental role.”

Discussion will also centre on what the left believes is the document’s silence on the central role the ANC should play in the formulation of government policy. Vavi said the document gave the ANC no proactive role in driving and developing strategy and policy, limiting it to monitoring and evaluating government.

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) has lambasted the ANC’s policy documents for being so “bland, uncritical and vague” that they create the impression that “the [ANC] just doesn’t care for the poor and socially marginalised groups”.

There is enough “evidence and ammunition” to this effect that groups such as Cosatu and the SACP would be able to “justify such an accusation”, wrote Graeme Bloch, former United Democratic Front executive member and education specialist at the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

“The [ANC] devotes critical policy discussion documents to the relationship between itself and business, as well as the possible role of workers and organised unions in the national democratic revolution,” wrote Omano Edigheji, research manager at the CPS. “Although, surprisingly missing, is discussion on how it can embed itself in communities and how communities’ values and aspirations can become the major drivers of its development agenda.”

Edigheji suggests that the state and market “seem to receive much more attention in the economic transformation document” than the people and points out that “a disturbing aspect of the discussion documents is the near silence on the high levels of inequality, which have continued to rise in the post-1994 period”.

“While there are verbal calls to terms such as ‘people-centred’, a ‘caring society’ and ‘social solidarity’; while the proposals say education and health ‘must be prioritised as the core elements of social transformation’ and thus appear to define a strategy; while a range of topics from education to land reform to social security, housing and youth are tackled — the reader will struggle to find the unifying thread or central argument that drives the ANC’s approach to the people and to social transformation,” wrote Bloch.

Talking points


  • The shape and form of the developmental state: will this mean greater state intervention or a return to a form of nationalisation?

  • Skills crisis: a search for creative solutions. An early suggestion, for example, is the creation of a National Youth Service.

  • Sustainable growth beyond the commodities boom: this depends of the finalisation of the long-awaited industrial policy.

  • Bridging the divide between the shrinking formal economy and the growing informal.

  • Rural agrarian reform.

  • The volatility of the rand.

    Social transformation

  • The viability of a state-owned pharmaceutical company.

  • Consider free primary education for all.

  • Strengthen the state’s legal right to expropriate property for purposes of equality.

  • Develop regulations to limit land ownership by foreigners.

  • Intervene in industry and residential property market to curb high prices.

  • Consider expanding the child grant up to the age of 18.

    Legislature and governance

  • Review South Africa’s electoral system.

  • The future of the provincial tier of government and responsibility of local government.

  • Re-evaluate floor crossing.

    Transformation of the judicial system

  • The definition of the separation of powers in term of executive oversight and management of the judiciary.

    Revolutionary morality

  • Develop a policy to regulate potential conflicts of interest between full-time ANC functionaries and the private sector.

  • Review black economic empowerment in this light.

    Organisational review — ANC

  • Two centres of power: should the term of the ANC president be limited to two terms?

  • Luthuli House versus the Union Buildings: should the secretary general’s office be strengthened?

  • Ideology: socialism versus social democracy.

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Rapule Tabane
Guest Author
Vicki Robinson
Guest Author

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