/ 21 June 2012

Mangaung Part 1: Motlanthe flexes his muscles

Cracks start showing: President Jacob Zuma
Cracks start showing: President Jacob Zuma

The ANC policy conference starting on June 26 is a platform to lay out South Africa’s economic future, but it has assumed a more interesting dynamic since Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe started asserting his authority and questioning how the party is projecting itself.

A transcript of Motlanthe’s speech at the Harold Wolpe lecture last week shows that he not only differed with the party’s position on a so-called second transition and the South African Communist Party’s role in the ANC, but also questioned the role of ANC leaders in promoting nonracialism, their inclination to steamroll debates and opposition with the ANC’s sheer weight of numbers, and their refusal to embrace new ideas to stay relevant.

A key document that will be debated at the conference, “The Second Transition: Building a National Democratic Society and the Balance of Forces in 2012”, stems from an analysis that the past two decades of transformation did not translate into economic transformation but mainly political freedom, which necessitates the need to enter a new transition focusing on economic transformation.

In his speech last week, Motlanthe did not mention any leader by name, but his comments that question the notion of a second transition pit him directly against ANC president Jacob Zuma and secretary general Gwede Mantashe. His remarks about the party’s stance on nonracialism stand in contrast to the comments of Mantashe and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, who both accused white South Africans of abusing the reconciliatory stance taken by their black compatriots during The Spear debate recently.

The ANC policy conference is expected to be turned into a mini   battlefield for the two main factions vying for top positions during the party’s crucial elective conference in Mangaung in December. South Africans will be awaiting the ANC’s pronouncements on dealing with youth unemployment through the wage subsidy, whether South Africa opts for nationalisation, how it tackles matters relating to the transformation of the judiciary and the media and whether the party could consider changing the Constitution to accelerate transformation. The party will not only be dealing with these issues, but also with its own factional battles.

Force of persuasion
Last week Motlanthe said: “And so today we hear from time to time pronouncements from the ANC, even at leadership level, which harped on the note of racism. And yet the responsibility of the ANC is to lead South Africans towards this strategy of a nonracial, nonsexist, prosperous and united democratic country…

“Even in the National Assembly the onus and responsibility of the ANC is to use the force of persuasion. It must mount more compelling arguments in the house than to rely on superior numbers. The message that is communicated is that because they [the opposition] don’t have the numbers, they will be dealt with in short shrift by the ANC.”

Motlanthe had hitherto kept a low profile and this week sought to downplay his comments, saying it was normal ANC debate. But many party insiders believe it was no coincidence that his comments on the second transition matched those of the ANC in Gauteng, Limpopo and parts of Eastern Cape, as well as the ANC Youth League.

The second transition has also been rejected by two of Cosatu’s largest unions – the National Education Health and Workers Union and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. And, on Thursday, SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin wrote in Umsebenzi Online, an internet SACP publication, that although the second transition pointed in the direction of moves towards substantial transformation, he did not believe it was the most useful conceptual entry point.

This was in contrast to Nzimande, who argued that it would “open the way for a different economic paradigm to change the semi-colonialist trajectory”.

Zuma strongholds
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Free State, which are seen as Zuma strongholds, support the idea of the second transition. This and other key policy issues such as the nationalisation of mines, sponsored by the ANC Youth League, will be used as a proxy for a leadership battle. The youth league has made it clear that it would not support anyone who did not want radical policy changes to the top ANC position.

Those opposed to the second transition idea have argued that it is theoretically unsound and incapable of responding to the challenges of unemployment, inequality and the eradication of poverty.

Zuma reportedly said he was not surprised at the criticism against the second transition. “It is fundamental for us to debate the second transition,” said Zuma during the Dr AB Xuma memorial lecture in Johannesburg last week. “I know some people are concerned about the second transition. It is not for the first time. They were concerned about the Freedom Charter and reconstruction and development programme. In fact, we would be worried if they were not concerned about our policies.”

Mantashe told the Mail & Guardian that Motlanthe’s questioning of the second transition document was erroneous. “It’s his personal view and it must go to the policy conference and if it prevails, it prevails. If you are asking that question, you are asking a wrong question. It is wrong to say: ‘From where to where?’”

“For me, it’s not about first or second or third or fourth transition, it is about a document informing us to debate in the policy conference that we have, over the past 18 years, reached and consolidated our political ground. We now need to pay attention to the socioeconomic.

Not about the title
“People are talking about the title, they spend all their time on the title. It’s not about the title but the contents, and I love the contents. My view is that it must go for discussion at the policy conference.”

In his address last week, Motlanthe pointed out that the controversial policy discussion document was steeped in the SACP’s “Marxist jargon” and failed to convey what the ANC wanted to achieve as it grappled with underdevelopment.

The M&G has reliably learnt that the drafting of the second transition policy document was co-ordinated by ANC national executive committee member Febe Potgieter-Gqubule and received input from certain left-wing members in the tripartite alliance.

Some believe that the rejection of the second transition was political.

SACP Gauteng provincial secretary Jacob Mamabolo told the M&G this week that those who were opposed to the second transition policy document were missing a strategic opportunity for a qualitative shift in the economy because they were obsessed with the succession debate.

“The tragedy of this debate will be if we allow it to be used for narrow and selfish leadership discussions, or for factional slates and narrow interests of groupings within the broader liberation movement,” said Mamabolo. “The second transition provides building blocks for radical economic transformation. That’s why we are saying to all members of the broader liberation movement they must not be involved in mechanical discussions of the phraseology, but welcome the strategic content and thrust of the document.”