The media have been barred from most of the ANC’s policy conference sessions in Midrand, which kicks off on Tuesday.
“There will be closed sessions at the conference as we don’t want people to hold back because of the media. We want open conversation where people won’t be afraid to say what they feel,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg on Monday.
Mantashe assured journalists that although the conference would be largely off limits to the media, regular press conferences would be held to “inform” the press.
The conference will be opened by President Jacob Zuma and will run at Gallagher Estate until Friday.
Mantashe said about 3 500 delegates were expected to attend, comprising branch members, national executive committee delegates, alliance partners, ANC leagues and other representatives.
On Tuesday, the ruling party’s three main policy documents on organisational renewal, strategy and tactics as well as the state intervention in mining will be discussed, along with the national development plan spearheaded by Trevor Manuel.
Wednesday will see commissions debating the ANC’s 12 policy documents, after which each will report back on Thursday and Friday.
“There have been very robust debates within our branches, regions, provinces [and] alliance structures, and the public, on the policy propositions. We are very confident the conference will bring together all those discussions and produce outstanding policy outcomes,” Mantashe said.
It’s expected that the policy conference will be the scene where the covert ANC leadership race – happening within the ruling party ahead of its elective conference in Mangaung this December – deepens.
Zuma is embroiled in a leadership tussle with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale who are both vying to replace the him at Mangaung.
It’s understood the policy conference will be the place where Sexwale and Motlanthe not only informally launch their respective presidential campaign, but gauge possible support.
“The policy conference is a preparatory conference ahead of the Mangaung elective conference – to decide our policy mandate before then. Leadership might be discussed within commissions but there will be no nominations taking place,” Mantashe said.
Although nothing is stated in the ANC constitution regarding the rules of engagement within a policy conference, Mantashe made it clear that the leadership debate would not be touched on.
ANC policy head Jeff Radebe reiterated this notion and said the programme would be strictly adhered to.
“Any manifestation of ill-discipline won’t be tolerated at the policy conference,” said Radebe – a hint at how those wanting to open the leadership debate might be dealt with.
Radebe said while policy debates would be spirited, he said they would not become divisive or partisan.
“In my experience in the ANC there is no voting when it comes to policy. It’s a collective effort to shape policy together,” Radebe said.