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09 Mar 2012 00:00
Do not be fooled: dramatic changes could still be made to the ANC’s 12 new policy discussion documents after they have been debated by the ruling party’s structures and scrutinised by its alliance partners, the labour movement and business.
Some ANC national executive committee members were quick to point out this week that the party had not taken a stand on the reports, which, at this stage, were the views of the drafters and researchers, some of them independent.
Substantially different versions of the economic and justice draft documents, for example, could emerge at the ANC’s June policy conference in Mangaung.
There are intimations that “sensitised and watered down” versions of the documents, which had been redrafted several times to align them with the National Planning Commission’s 30-year national development plan, were released to allay investor panic.
Most of the documents have gone through several drafts—the economic transformation document, for example, has been rewritten six times—since they were first put on the table at a national executive committee meeting in November last year.
At the launch of the discussion papers this week, the ANC’s head of policy, Jeff Radebe, complained that the party was almost being stifled from raising any points of discussions about the Constitution.
The committee held a special sitting last week to finalise deliberations on the papers and also looked at where substantive changes were made to them. This is believed to have resulted in a clear disjuncture between the papers that were leaked to Sunday newspapers and those that were eventually released on Monday.
An ANC insider said some discussion papers also reflected the views of their drafters rather than the overall views of the subcommittees. “Even in a committee of drafters there are often one or two powerful individuals whose views you can see coming through the documents. But, if theirs are not popular views, they are defeated at the policy conference.”
Several committee members said the party was divided over the contents of the documents, partly because most of its members found the language difficult to understand or did not understand the consequences of what was proposed.
As an example, the hotly contested debate on nationalisation, although not crude asset grabbing, was still firmly on the table, one of them said, despite the assurances of President Jacob Zuma and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu last month that nationalisation was not ANC or government policy.
Although a case of last resort in some cases, nationalisation was presented as a real possibility in the draft 400-page “State Intervention in the Minerals Sector” report.
ANC members said that some committee members advocated the nationalisation of some strategic mineral assets, such as Kumba Iron Ore, ArcelorMittal South Africa and the Phalaborwa copper mining company, which would be housed in a state minerals company, which initially would be run by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
“We don’t know among ourselves what to do,” Enoch Godongwana, head of the ANC economic transformation committee, said this week.
For instance, some of the proposals in economic documents were too ambitious—just a pipe dream—given the country’s infrastructure backlogs and inefficiency.
Another committee member said: “The tradition of engaging has disappeared. The ANC is not a progressive movement any longer in that there’s a lack of theoretical debate within the structures.”
These weaknesses came to the fore on Sunday when a phone call by a Cabinet minister (the Mail & Guardian has established it was Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan), shocked by the contents of a newspaper report, sparked a last-minute scramble by some committee members to make changes to one of the documents. A Sunday newspaper, which was leaked the draft policy proposals before they were released officially on Monday, reported that the ANC’s strategy and tactics documents called for the mandate of the Reserve Bank to be reviewed and widened to include economic policy and not just inflation monitoring and protecting the value of the rand. There was also a suggestion that the bank would be nationalised.
According to the report, the document suggested that the “narrow mandate” of the bank was one of the constitutional areas that were impeding economic transformation and it recommended that the Constitution and the duties of the bank be changed.
Apparently the committee that drafted the document understood the ramifications of its suggestions only after Gordhan’s call, and they were omitted before it was released.
“This is what happens when we don’t engage and the transformation agenda becomes an enclave,” said Godongwana. “We’re constructing policy without broadening the base.”
The lack of engagement could prove to be a problem for the ANC. Some quarters are likely to object strongly to some of the economic and justice proposals, as some tripartite alliance members, because of recent deep divisions among them, were not afforded an opportunity to make an input, as they were in previous years.
Already, among other things, the unions are divided over whether to support the campaign to replace the ANC leadership at the party’s December elective conference in Mangaung. An impasse between the unions and the ANC could put a spanner in the works of some of the party’s plans, particularly those suggested in the minerals sector report.
The ANC envisages pooling union investment money in the state’s financial development institutions, such as the IDC, to take controlling stakes in companies such as Sasol and ArcelorMittal South Africa.
In many cases state and union pension holdings already represent a significant holding in many mining companies but the unions’ holdings are generally managed by private-sector fund managers, giving little scope for direct influence by the unions.
The minerals sector report calls for the unions to pool their mineral holdings with the state in a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that would have a major influence on the mining companies and could be used to maximise the economic benefits.
“For strategic minerals, where majority state control might be necessary, this holding could be increased to a controlling holding, but this will require compensation at market value. Such state/union SPVs could be reinforced with the BBBEE [broad-based black economic empowerment] holding, where appropriate,” the document states. “In this regard the ANC and Cosatu should develop a strategy to pool their holdings to promote developmental outcomes in the company concerned. A combination of state and pensions is used to implement national priorities in both Brazil and Finland.”
Herein lies a big hurdle: How will the ANC convince Cosatu, which has broken ranks from its alliance partner on a psychological level, to give away their members’ pension fund money?
Referring to proposals to change the Constitution, a national executive committee member said that they could not be seen as the final product of the policy conference. He said constitutional changes would be made only to strengthen democracy and not to weaken it.
“You can never say there will be no changes to the Constitution. But, despite all the fears, the ANC will change it only to strengthen our constitutional democracy. Minister Radebe has already given the example of current Bills whose purpose is to increase the powers of the judiciary rather than diminish them.”—Additional reporting by Rapule Tabane
Media accountability remains on agenda
The ANC’s communications policy discussion document envisages that the forthcoming parliamentary process should review “existing media accountability mechanisms”, as well as laws dealing with privacy, libel and defamation. The document also suggests the party’s own Media Charter should be updated to reflect developments in technology.
The Mail & Guardian‘s editor-in-chief, Nic Dawes, said the moves could be a way to ” go beyond what a media tribunal could achieve”, by tilting South Africa’s carefully balanced defamation law away from free speech and towards complainants. The moves might have been prompted by the lack of success ANC figures have had in winning defamation cases against media institutions, he said.
In the document the ANC says it “remains committed to a media climate that is free from vested political and commercial interests”. But it also says there is still a need for a “parliamentary inquiry into the desirability and feasibility of an appeals tribunal”.
Lumko Mtimde, chief executive of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, would not comment on whether any perceived problems with the laws had prompted their inclusion in the review. He did say it was necessary to include all the laws that pertained to the media because any new framework would have to “align to the existing one”. Only when the process had run its course would any changes that were needed become apparent, Mtimde said.
Speaking at a discussion on media rights and regulations last year, former Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan said international media laws were becoming more uniform as judges referenced international precedent, which made it difficult for countries to be divergent. An increasing number of judgments were also accepting the importance of the professional codes of ethics that guided journalists’ work, she said.
The document questions the diversity of media ownership and proposes an “economic empowerment charter” for the sector.
The Competition Commission should also focus on “anti-competitive practices within the sector”.
ANC national executive committee member Jessie Duarte was not available for comment.—Sipho Kings McDermott
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