Grand slam for Zuma, but what about the poor?

So how has our world changed since the highly anticipated Mangaung ANC conference?

We certainly know how it has changed for President Jacob Zuma. He is ensconced in power for a few more years. He remains powerful because he can dispense patronage. He can finish off the upgrade at his Nkandla home without much worry. He can decide on the appointment of the country's top prosecutor and is unlikely to choose a person who will be overzealous in reinstituting the withdrawn fraud and corruption charges against him.

He is now backed by a loyal national executive committee (NEC) that will presumably support him all the way, having cleared it of his enemies. He even has a chance to use this year to reinvent himself so that by election time next year his approval ratings could be much higher than they are now. He is by far the biggest winner of the Mangaung gathering.

And we also know that big business is either completely happy or at least cannot complain about the outcome of the conference as the party buried the scourge of nationalisation introduced by Julius Malema that has haunted economic decision makers for about two years. In expelling Malema from the organisation, Zuma has killed more than two birds with one stone.

Capital is also assured that with billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa as the deputy president of the ANC it is most unlikely that the party will make any foolish or reckless decisions about the economy. It is almost as though they deployed one of their own in this otherwise unpredictable party to keep it in check and rein it in if necessary.

But what about the workers and the poor? Here I think Zuma has again aced the workers' leaders 10-0.

Economic stability
During the middle of 2012, Zuma went to several affiliates of the trade union federation Cosatu and asked them to join the leadership of the ANC so that they could influence its policies. Leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) were duly placed on Zuma's NEC slate for the conference and most made it. These include NUM president Senzeni Zokwana, Nehawu's Slovo Majola and Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.

These new ANC NEC members were over and above the other unionists already roped in, including Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel and Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi. And so we wait to see whether they can meaningfully influence anything at all in the ANC.

I have my doubts. I see emerging from Mangaung a party that preaches the language of economic stability and investor friendliness, although the occasional use of socialist rhetoric is necessary to keep the masses at bay.

It is a party that champions the national development plan, a long-term strategy that asks tough questions of trade unions and their role. If anything, as ANC leaders, the likes of Dlamini might be required to defend the e-tolls, which Cosatu is stridently opposed to. Like the South African Communist Party of the moment, union leaders would be required to defend policies that they are opposed to in principle.

Under the ANC's rule since 1994 the salaries of teachers, nurses and other public servants have improved and they appear likely to benefit again because one of the resolutions taken at the conference is a review of the salaries of teachers and health workers. So where does this leave the unemployed and the very poor?

To answer this I must remind the reader of a Zapiro cartoon years ago that showed a miserably poor family reading a message from the then finance minister Trevor Manuel that they need not worry too much, because the economic fundamentals were now in place.

That cartoon remains relevant as the party asks us to believe that with the national development plan adopted and the infrastructural roll-out imminent we must hope that something will trickle through to the impoverished. Fortunately,  with all the social grants and welfare programmes, the ANC has over time ensured that there's hardly any family that goes to bed hungry. But people need much more than that. They need proper jobs so that they can  give their children a good education in order to break the cycle of poverty. Their desperation and impatience are tested even more when they see people as unskilled as they are climbing the social ladder only because of their networks in the political circle.

My humble submission is that Mangaung has answered questions for everyone, except the very people the ANC set out to liberate all those 101 years ago.

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Rapule Tabane
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