/ 30 June 2017

Will the ANC go beyond leadership squabbles at the indaba?

ANC supporters outside of Luthuli House.
ANC supporters outside of Luthuli House.

The ANC policy conference, starting in Johannesburg on Friday, presents an opportunity for the governing party to develop sound policy proposals to get South Africa out of its economic quagmire, caused in part by decisions taken by President Jacob Zuma.

But, judging by the resolutions taken by the ANC’s provincial structures in the run-up to this national policy conference, it is unlikely that immediate solutions to the country’s economic crisis and its ever-increasing level of unemployment will be found any time soon.

More than anything, this week’s gathering will be about gauging the strength of candidates campaigning to succeed Zuma ahead of the party’s elective conference in December.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former minister and African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are the two frontrunners for the ANC’s hot seat.

Ramaphosa’s and Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters will want to win policy debates at all costs to demonstrate they are in charge — not necessarily because they believe the proposed policies will contribute to economic growth and job creation.

At the centre of the ANC policy debates will be “radical economic transformation”, with Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters, on the one hand, expected to go as far as pushing for amending the Constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.

The Dlamini-Zuma grouping is also likely to push for the endorsement of the new mining charter, despite warnings by some in the ANC that it could result in further job losses in the mining industry.

Ramaphosa’s supporters, on the other hand, will argue they are not opposed to radical economic transformation or the expropriation of land, as long as it is done in line with the Constitution.

It is worth noting that most of Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters who are pushing for uncompensated land expropriation rejected the ANC Youth League’s 2012 proposals to nationalise the mines and the banks.

There is no denying that economic transformation is needed if South Africa is to reduce the increasing inequality gap between the haves and the have-nots, but it is important to understand that such a transformation cannot be achieved overnight.

ANC leaders would do well to ensure that South Africa does not follow in the footsteps of our northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, when deliberating on the sensitive issue of land.

It would be highly irresponsible of ANC leaders to deliberate on the land issue, and transformation in the mining industry, if it is not done in the interests of South Africans but rather to score temporary factional points.

Finding solutions to get South Africa out of its recession and junk status would be a step in the right direction towards the goal of achieving economic growth and reducing the high level of unemployment in the country.

The country slipped into a technical recession for the first time since 2009 after the economy contracted by 0.7% in the first quarter of this year. This came after it had shrunk by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2016.

The latest figures released by Statistics South Africa show that the unemployment rate increased to 27.7% in the first quarter of 2017.

South Africa was downgraded to junk status by two ratings agencies, Fitch and S&P, earlier this year, and Moody’s downgraded the country to one notch above subinvestment grade, citing the recent Cabinet reshuffle and reduced growth prospects.

Yet to say ANC leaders need to work hard to find solutions to these challenges is not to say the issue of economic transformation should take a back seat.

In fact, it is high time that captains of industry in South Africa come to the party and offer solutions that would contribute to the transformation of the economy.

It is not good enough for the Chamber of Mines to rush to court to halt the implementation of the mining charter without providing alternative solutions that will take black ownership in the mining industry beyond the 26% target set a few years ago.

The chamber does not have to agree with the 30% black ownership proposed by Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, but it will need to agree to something above 26% to avoid being seen as opposed to transformation.

Matuma Letsoalo is the Mail & Guardian’s politics editor