Editorial: Prioritise policy before politics

That they are looking on, once more, as 5000 or so people decide the future of South Africa.

The conference could turn out to be the Battle of Mangaung, part one, a contest of personalities testing their strength and support ahead of the real leadership contest at the end of the year. Already we have the problem that different policy positions put forward from within the governing party and the tripartite alliance do not necessarily represent ideas to be debated as such, but are proxies for ­positions taken in the contest of power in the party and thus the government.

This empties the ANC’s policy discussions and statements of any real content. It makes it hard for the ordinary citizen to feel as though the policies that do ultimately emerge have been been thoroughly thought through and discussed sensibly, in their own right, and that the governing party has reached decisions it can stand by.

What happens at the conference feels highly unpredictable. Yet these are policies that could materially, and hugely, change the lives of millions of South Africans – the land issue, the nationalisation of mines and/or the Reserve Bank (as argued for by a leading unionist in our comment pages this week). Or, perhaps, the issue of the hugely contested youth wage subsidy could have been dealt with by next Friday, when the conference ends. We could be starting to implement solutions to some of the country’s problems.

Language which is inherited
As we noted in these pages last week, though, and as we discuss further in this paper’s health and business sections this week, the discussion documents generated by the governing party ahead of its conference are, on the whole, deeply unimpressive. Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy president of South Africa and the ANC, implied the same thing when he said this week that the discussion papers were written in “language which is inherited”, a “smattering of Marxist jargon” – a “vocabulary [that] in certain instances does not convey what the ANC wants to convey”.

If “the responsibility of the ANC is to lead South Africans towards this strategy of a nonracial, non-sexist, prosperous and united democratic country”, he said, a rigorous process of self-analysis and self-criticism was needed. He bemoaned the way the “note of racism” was struck by members of the party, “even at leadership level”. He argued strongly that “the onus and ­responsibility of the ANC is to use the force of persuasion” to “mount more compelling arguments” in places such as Parliament, and not merely to rely on “superior numbers”.

In fact, ahead of its conference, the ANC should study Motlanthe’s words carefully. He was giving a lecture in memory of Rivonia trialist Harold Wolpe and perhaps he tailored his words to his small audience (apparently ­members of the old white left).

But let us take him seriously – and hope the ANC does the same.

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