Outcomes of the ANC 5th National Policy Conference: Yay or nay?

Political analysts Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Ralph Mathekga and ANC treasurer general Dr Zweli Mkhize are led by veteran broadcaster Iman Rappetti at the Critical Thinking Forum. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

Political analysts Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Ralph Mathekga and ANC treasurer general Dr Zweli Mkhize are led by veteran broadcaster Iman Rappetti at the Critical Thinking Forum. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

A host of issues emerged in discussions around decisions to be taken by the ruling party come the ANC’s December Elective Conference. These discussions concluded last week, as the ANC wrapped up it’s 5th Policy Conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg. Issues ranging from leadership capabilities, unity and factionalism, corruption, radical socioeconomic transformation, outside influences, and many more topped the agenda, often leaving more questions than answers.
It has left many wondering if the ANC is actually ready to deal with the many challenges South Africa faces.

A panel of experts led by veteran broadcaster Iman Rappetti rehashed some of the outcomes of the policy conference at a Critical Thinking Forum held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science on July 11. Political analysts Dr Somadoda Fikeni and Ralph Mathekga and ANC treasurer general Dr Zweli Mkhize participated as panelists, squeezing the conference’s six days and nights of engagements into an hour-and-a-half discussion.

Transformation and unity were two of the themes under tight review during the policy conference. Mkhize noted that decisions will only transform into actions in December. “The issue of unity tends to be a relative issue. It is important because the ANC has to operate as one organisation. That’s why it’s important to deal with issues of discipline. We need to make sure we can discuss, agree and move forward on that particular line. When you deal with policy and policies you want to evaluate; if anything needs to be amended, you talk about that. So at the end of the day, you don’t measure the success of the conference by the release of a lot of new policies — it’s about taking stock on what has been done, and then whatever has been agreed upon then has been implemented.”

Mathekga felt the conference was a wasted opportunity. “If you go into a conversation with your position and you come out with your position intact, it means you have not really listened or yielded to the other person. So that is the problem, where we have the president of the ANC who talks about a multiplicity of ideas — and exciting ideas — that have come out of the conference. My assessment is that ANC members were so committed to the ideas they went into the conference with, they were not willing to yield to each other and make a move to possibly reach a middle ground. I’m not aware of clearly articulated resolutions, if people are so far off from even [agreeing upon] the terminology.”

Fikeni added: “The ANC could’ve been more creative in engaging the veterans and including them to craft an agenda.”

Both Mathekga and Fikeni agreed that people belonging to factions went into the conference with the instinct of self-preservation, remaining rigid in their stances, leaving many doubting if the ANC is ready to face up to its present challenges. South Africa’s current socioeconomic conditions make it hard to ignore the fact that we have hit a potential crisis mode as a country. High levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality continue to oppress the majority.

Fikeni said: “The main problem here is not the policies, it is the soul of the ANC, which has degraded over time. There are two major problems that we are facing. The first is that the ANC has not run out of policies — it is the policy turnover since 1994 that is the problem. Policies fade away in South Africa. They get mentioned less. They disappear. The time taken to develop the policies within the same political party changes when the ministers change, and then so does the strategy.

“Now you have a revolving door, where you spend billions to implement, then billions to undo. That system doesn’t leave anyone as an expert; just when you think you are grasping [it], it is gone. It is evident that as a nation, these are trying times; we are going through trying times in terms of socioeconomic issues. [One would expect] a reflection to say, ‘what intervention could be made to arrest this particular downward slope?’ That did not happen, except for mentions here and there.”

Mkhize noted that it will take a while to deal with the issues South Africa is facing and to resolve them. “In this case we are facing a number of things, but it will take a while for us to sort [them] out. Because things are happening now, it doesn’t mean things won’t be resolved because we went through the conference. There is a lot of things that have been achieved with this process of discussion, such as [decisions made regarding] water, education, roads, infrastructure improvements … there are areas where we can agree that the management of policy formulation does need to be relooked at, like reorganising the inputs of the policy formation process. [It is] a balancing act of dealing with a democratic process, of taking people through a discussion.”

It was agreed that a shared understanding about what needs to be done in order to transform the economy is required, as the issue of radical economic transformation resurfaced. The triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment are further exaggerated by widespread corruption.

Mkhize said: “It does take awhile to get the discussion going. We have been going through a number of aspects of this. Regarding radical economic transformation, how do we go about this: what does it mean? We have to get a consensus before we act. The various sectors had to be engaged to bring these issues up. So, because of the size of the government and the different players, it is going to take a while.

“The fact that people could sit down and go through difficult discussions is actually in itself a success. The number of issues that have been worrying us as we came into the conference around the issues of the characterisation of the dominance of the monopoly capital, it was a matter that needed to be discussed — not that it was the main matter, but this was one place where we were able to explain issues to each other, and so forth.

“Elaboration of radical economic transformation has been an important issue to clarify; it is an ANC decision that is a response to the persistence of poverty and unemployment. Something needs to be done to broaden the ownership patterns and make sure it is more inclusive and there’s more focus on what needs to be done to bring in more black entrepreneurs and professionals, industrialists. That must be balanced with employment opportunities and creation of growth. That issue was quite important.

“Another aspect for us that was important was that we had to deal with the challenges of ethical leadership — what needs to be done to ensure the leadership in their conduct does not bring the organisation into disrepute? The proposals that will be coming, if we all agree, will see us act faster in trying to remove [such] instances. We hear people have allegations that are tarnishing the organisation. That has been another matter.”

There was little progress on the issue of land expropriation without compensation. “Let’s go through all the sources of delays,” said Mkhize. “That’s why going into the conference, we couldn’t close [on] it, because there are implications for investors; improving support mechanisms for the land that already has been given; and how much of the land has been restituted successfully.”

Mkhize noted that the problems of bureaucracy can’t be fixed with a wave of a magic wand; time is needed. “The issue on agreeing to expedite the return of land to people has also been well discussed. The finality will be to choose the best mechanism for what needs to be done by the end of the year.”

Fikeni said: “The challenges of the ANC were approached fearfully. We like to look relevant to the world, rather than amplify our national interests. We work so hard to be approved by the world — the psyche of society needs to change.”

As the ANC went into its 5th policy conference geared with various proposals, strategies, tactics and policy reviews, the question still remains: is enough being done or are they simply rearranging the chairs on the decks of the sinking Titanic? Only time will tell.

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