ANC policy mired in indecision

The ANC policy conference last weekend could be characterised as the conference of the great unknown, policywise. I was at Gallagher Estate in Midrand  for four days as delegates argued, debated and threw bottles, but it is difficult to say succinctly what the policy outcomes were.

Although the ANC insists that delegates found resolution in favour of greater state intervention in the economy rather than outright nationalisation, it is clear that the proponents of nationalisation believe that this public message is not consistent with what was resolved inside the conference (where the media was not allowed). And nationalisation is no small matter; it is a pivot on which the future of the economy turns. Yet all we can confirm is that the daggers are still drawn on the issue and are being sharpened for Mangaung, where a final decision needs to be taken.

South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande sent out an angry communiqué after the conference, accusing newspapers of being biased and not

covering the ANC constructively and objectively. He said this was the most successful policy conference ever – a statement I disagree with.

The national general council meeting in Durban in 2010 was a much more successful conference, with clear outcomes on discipline and on proposals on the economy, as well as a review of the implementation of policies adopted at Polokwane.

I have also looked at the outcomes of the pre-Polokwane policy conference in June 2007, where clear outcomes were articulated that later became policy. The resolutions ­centred mainly on the theme of returning power to Luthuli House and to ordinary delegates. They included strengthening the office of the secretary general, removing the powers of the president to appoint premiers and mayors and the introduction of the monitoring and ­evaluation mechanism in the party and in government.

Developmental state
That was also the time when talk of the “developmental state” started taking centre stage. But it is also interesting to note that there is so much else that was started in June 2007 and yet was still not resolved by last week’s policy conference five years later.

In June 2007, delegates were discussing:

The shape and form of the developmental state and whether this would mean greater state intervention or a return to a form of nationalisation;

Strengthening the state’s legal right to expropriate property for purposes of equality;

Developing regulations to limit land ownership by foreigners;

Reviewing South Africa’s

electoral system;

The future of the provincial tier of government and the responsibilities of local government; and

The definition of the separation of powers in terms of executive oversight of the judiciary.

Exactly five years later, after the national conference in Polokwane, the mid-term policy review in Durban and now Midrand, precisely the same questions linger and have now been deferred to Mangaung.

President Jacob Zuma arrived at Gallagher Estate with guns blazing, calling it a watershed conference and waving a policy panacea called “the second transition”. History will record that he left even less secure about his standing in the party.

Still, the media must be careful not to translate that into an  implication that his policy defeat at Midrand is a strong indicator of what is to come in Mangaung.

For pointers to the leadership barometer, we will have to look at other indicators. The representation at the policy conference bears no resemblance to what it will be in Mangaung. Although there were not as many of them at Midrand as there were during the 2007 policy conference, there were still a fair number of policy-makers and implementers, such as heads of departments and mayors, plus other leaders in society who are not necessarily voting ANC members.

Notwithstanding all this, there were good lessons for some in the ANC itself at Midrand, especially those who sought to use the policy battles as proxy leadership battles. KwaZulu-Natal will learn that strength in numbers does not automatically mean its position will prevail. It got a hiding on the “second transition” battle, losing its attempt to make teaching an essential service and, depending on who you speak to, it did not succeed in getting the ANC to drop nationalisation as an option. It serves to remind the province of the age-old tools of persuasion and lobbying.

Gauteng is coming out of the conference buoyed, feeling that it made a mark disproportionate to its small numbers. But it should remember that no policy decision is final – it must be endorsed at Mangaung.

I take my hat off to the delegates who remained focused amid the smoke and mirrors. I was impressed by how they tore to shreds the documents prepared for them (especially “strategy and tactics”) and returned the party to its ideological foundation.

I do wish, though, that I could categorically state what policy changes we will be facing in the next few years. But I cannot.


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