While President Jacob Zuma claimed the conference had adopted a policy of radical economic change – in what was initially called the second transition until that wording was thrown out – the meeting closed with no actual radical policy proposals in sight. Instead, the current economic status quo was maintained, virtually unchanged.
On the hot-button issues of land reform and mine nationalisation, the conference discussed a range of radical options, including demanding that majority stakes in mining companies be handed over, and seizing farms from white owners without compensation.
In their final formulation, though, policy proposals made no such calls. Instead, the party said it would move towards greater compliance with the Constitution (and its clause on protecting property rights) in dealing with the redistribution of land and would consider a greater stake for the state in future projects involving strategic minerals.
But details of the exact proposals were not available and the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung in December could adopt very different policies.
There were signs that the final compromise – especially on economic issues – was hard-fought.
Shortly before the media were let into the plenary hall for Zuma's closing address, sources reported altercations between delegates as proposals on economic transformation were finalised. Others said multiple points of order were raised from the floor as delegates disagreed with the summary of their discussions as presented.
Despite these claims, Zuma had nothing but praise for how delegates had comported themselves throughout the week, a sentiment later echoed by both party secretary general Gwede Mantashe and ANC policy head Jeff Radebe. "I'm very satisfied about what has transpired," said Radebe. "But the true test will now be further preparations."
Radebe, Mantashe and Zuma all dismissed suggestions that the conference had been divided by factional battles but moments after Zuma's speech, delegates waved posters reading "100% Zuma" and flashed the two finger sign that has come to mean support for a second term for Zuma.
Not everyone was happy with policy proposals. Congress of South African Trade Unions' general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said there were many issues on which his organisation would be lobbying before the Mangaung conference in December where proposals made this week will become official party policy – or not.
The final documents have yet to be released, with party functionaries – eager to call it a night after several gruelling days – saying it was not clear when they would be published.