My Chinese dream: ANC brass put ideas to work

If China can do it, so can we. That’s the attitude of President Jacob Zuma’s ANC-led government, which is looking east for ideas to boost economic growth and development.

In addition to undertaking political study tours courtesy of the Communist Party of China, the ANC also wants skills to be transferred and political ideas exchanged that may help it stay in power “until Jesus comes”, if Zuma’s wish is anything to go by.

Last month’s high-powered study tour to the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong, a Shanghai-based leadership and governance institution established by the communist party, was the sixth since 2008 and the second this year.

Several Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and legislature speakers, as well as MECs and ANC provincial secretaries were part of the 31-member group. Among them were Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

“By the Chinese’s admission, this was the first high-calibre study tour since the ANC started sending people there,” said an ANC member who went on the same tour but is not allowed to speak to the media. “The other study tours would mostly consist of provincial secretaries.”

During such visits, delegates attend lectures and go sightseeing. On the recent tour, they received instruction on how to build and manage political party structures, understand communism and a market-oriented economy, run state-owned enterprises, “manipulate” the economy and develop cities, according to the delegate.

“Governance was a large part of it; how the Chinese grew their economy and how they manage to sustain being the second-largest economy in the world,” the ANC source told the Mail & Guardian.

The ‘four comprehensives’
The communist party’s lectures to ANC delegates were on topics such as “the four comprehensives” – a renewed political philosophy that Xi Jinping’s government introduced in December to provide guidance for that country’s “national rejuvenation” and give direction to Xi’s concept of a “Chinese dream”.

In his “Chinese dream” speech in 2012, Xi said it is the responsibility of the people of China to “accept the baton of history and continue to work for realising the great revival of the Chinese nation, in order to let the Chinese nation stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations around the world and make a greater contribution to mankind”.

The country’s latest political model prioritises “comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepening reforms, comprehensively implementing the rule of law and comprehensively strictly governing the party”.

It is expected that the “four comprehensives” will be used by China to justify an increased focus on party, social and legal reform, in addition to economic growth.

In the past, visiting ANC delegates were taught “the three represents” of China. This theory, introduced by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin in 2001, championed “the development trends of advanced productive forces, the orientations of an advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people of China”.

Losing touch with the people
Zuma has led the way in ensuring that South Africa looks to China for motivation. During his visit there in 2008 as the ANC president, he asked the Communist Party of China to provide leadership training for the ANC. His main concern at the time was that liberation movements tend to lose touch with the people as soon as they become governing parties.

“Once the power and authority of the people is replaced with that of the state, the leadership and the movement disconnects from the people,” he said then. “At times, the leadership disconnects from their movements, parties or organisations. The plight of the people becomes just a theory and leaders lose touch.”

What the ANC copies and implements in government will determine whether Chinese ideas work in the South Africa context.

Gauteng is one of the provinces that has adopted the Chinese model and implemented economic development programmes that mirror those of the East Asian powerhouse. In his recent State of the Province address, Premier David Makhura detailed the radical transformation, modernisation and reindustrialisation road map to develop Gauteng.

Makhura is also a beneficiary of the Chinese programme, having been on a study tour while he was still provincial secretary. China uses its provinces as strategic economic development zones, with each focusing on selected industries. Gauteng will use its regions in a similar fashion, calling them corridors.

Gauteng is now divided into five development corridors to stimulate economic growth:

  • The central development corridor’s economy will be consolidated around Johannesburg as the hub of finance, services, information and communications technology, and pharmaceutical industries;
  • The eastern development corridor is anchored in the economy of the Ekurhuleni municipality, with manufacturing, logistics and transport industries linked to the OR Tambo International Airport being key to economic growth;
  • The northern development corridor in Tshwane will draw on an economy focusing on the automotive sector, as well as research, development, innovation and a knowledge-based economy;
  • The western corridor, based in the West Rand, will focus on the revitalisation of mining towns and on “green and blue economy initiatives, tourism, agro-processing and logistics”. Lanseria International Airport and the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site will anchor this regional economy; and
  • The southern corridor in Sedibeng and the Vaal Triangle is where Gauteng plans to “shift the economy away from its overreliance on the steel industry and diversify to include tourism and entertainment, agro-processing and logistics”.

The ANC has borrowed several ideas from China in recent years, including building a political school, which will be located in Vredefort on the border of Gauteng and the Free State.

The new ANC Political School and Policy Institute will be modelled on China’s Pudong academy. The ANC aims to use it to teach its members the skills the party needs to run itself and the government effectively. It will be compulsory for all ANC elected officials, from branch leaders to Cabinet ministers, to attend courses at the institute.

Though the ANC has investigated similar institutes, such as the Julio Antonio Mella School in Cuba and the Komsomol in Russia, the ruling party is leaning more towards the Chinese model. “The one in China came above the rest. We might consider a big part of this for our political school,” said an ANC member who has been on several Chinese study tours.

Discipline in party ranks
Among the ideas the ANC has copied from China is the creation of a commission to instil discipline in party ranks.

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is the country’s leading anti-corruption agency; the ANC established its own integrity commission two years ago after a Mangaung congress resolution. But its Chinese counterpart is better resourced and more powerful, with the authority to prosecute. The recommendations of the ANC’s integrity commission have to be ratified by the party’s national executive committee.

A former member of the Communist Party of China’s politburo, Zhou Yongkang, has been imprisoned for life after being convicted of bribery, abuse of power and the intentional disclosure of state secrets. His conviction followed a probe by China’s discipline commission, after which Zhou was expelled from the party. He and his family were found to have taken 129-million yuan (more than $20-million) in bribes.

By contrast, the ANC’s integrity commission has struggled to exert its authority, with most of its recommendations being ignored. It did, however, manage to compel former communications minister Dina Pule to resign from Parliament after it was found that she had lied to the House. She was found guilty of using her office improperly to benefit her lover in a R6-million telecommunications conference contract. Pule was also made to remove her name from a list of prospective ANC MPs for the current Parliament.

Even though the ANC is impressed with a lot that the Chinese government is doing, there are certain contradictions between what the South African Constitution permits and what China practises, something the ANC will need to manoeuvre. South Africa is a multiparty democracy, whereas China’s Communist Party is the supreme leader of that country without any opposition.

“Their system is democratic centralism: the party leads the state and, generally, society,” said an ANC delegate There is also little political reform in China to match the economic successes and any possible opposition is frowned on and discouraged. The people generally live according to the rules of the communist party, an example being the one-child policy that has been enforced for more than 30 years.

ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the relationship between his party and China goes back long before 1994, and that the current relationship is based on a memorandum of understanding and exchange programmes. Kodwa said the ANC and the Chinese communist party share common values such as “the notion to serve the people”.

All the ANC needs to do is adopt the hard-working nature of the Chinese. “We must discourage short cuts,” he said. – Additional reporting by Matuma Letsoalo

‘ANC must stamp its authority’

Last month the ANC sent a 31-member delegation on a study tour to China, in what one called “the first one with gravitas”. The Mail & Guardian spoke to two leaders who attended the programme to find out what’s behind the ANC’s love for China.

Zizi Kodwa, ANC national spokesperson and national executive committee member:

What I like about the Chinese is their depth in understanding the unity of the party as sacrosanct. Linked to that is the issue of discipline. They invest a lot in the development of their own cadres. From time to time their members – even their leaders – go through training programmes.

They have rigorous political programmes [to] determine if their members are ready to lead. They must first be sure you can represent the values of the party before you can be regarded as a leader. That’s why they have a political school. All leaders have to go there for training to understand the agenda of the party. You won’t find contradictions between leaders; they repeat the same message.

I also like how they run their [state-owned enterprises]. They have more than 700 and the government holds 40% in each one. They are extremely organised.

What did you learn there?

About water programmes, leadership and the relationship between leadership and followers. We learned [what] leadership must do in society, how leaders must engage in the battle of ideas. The Chinese have leadership courage, for instance, in how they deal with corruption. They dealt with very senior leaders of the party in the past … when they realised they were facing negative perceptions in society because of corruption.

How did the study tour change your world view?

Your political maturity must always be under construction. There is no time you can say you are perfect. One thing the Chinese don’t like is dogmatic leadership.

What can the ANC learn from Chinese?

One thing that the ANC has in common with the Chinese is the notion to serve the people. There are certain values that the leaders must observe. One of the things that I respect about the Chinese is that they are hard-working. We also must discourage shortcuts.

What about the poor state of human rights in China?

We continue to engage on that. This is being addressed at another level. We can’t expect them to do what we do and they can’t expect us to do what they do. For example, the party there runs the government. It’s not the case here. They will be coming to South Africa soon. It’s important for them to see how we run the party and [our democracy].

Nocks Seabi, ANC Limpopo provincial secretary

The tour taught me about the importance of the ruling party stamping its authority. Their decision is final and binding on the state. Once the communist party has taken a position, nobody in the state can change it; they must just implement. The Chinese government is also more concerned about the country’s citizens – they want the citizens to prosper. Whatever they do, they want to satisfy the Chinese people. Even if the outside world doesn’t like it, if it works for the Chinese people they will implement it.

What can the ANC take from China?

The ANC as a ruling party must stamp its authority. We must look at our democracy and ensure that policies of the ANC are implemented by the state without questioning. Their [communist party] deployees go to political schools regularly so that they are reminded of the direction the party is taking.

What was also impressive but will not work in South Africa is that they have about eight political parties that are not necessarily opposition parties. They complement the work of the communist party because they are all loyal to the flag. It won’t work in South Africa because here opposition parties want to take the ruling party out.

Where human rights are trampled on we are worried, but there are other good things they are doing to build the economy that we can learn from. – Matuma Letsoalo & Mmanaledi Mataboge

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Mmanaledi Mataboge
Guest Author

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