/ 28 July 2022

ANC policy conference: The iceberg moment is upon us

Despite a high court ruling removing unlawfully-elected ANC mayor Dada Morero, the ANC still managed to score itself five new Johannesburg council chairperson positions on Thursday as it cemented its new-found strength in the city. (Photo by Papi Morake/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The thing about icebergs is that the greatest part of them can’t be seen. That is the part that can do the most damage. What lies beneath has the potential to have the most long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.

Comrade Zuko Godlimpi used his Facebook status this week to introduce a brilliant allegory of the Titanic. When it hit an iceberg, water poured into the cabin, right down to the furnace. Thus began the irreversible demise of the greatest ship to have been built up to that time. Meanwhile, the orchestra on the deck kept on playing. On and on went their music, lower and lower sank the ship. After a while, there was no music in the air and no ship in sight. 

Policy conferences are like icebergs. Navigate them properly and cautiously and it’s smooth sailing ahead. Misjudge them, and the consequences will be far-reaching and long-lasting. If the wrong policy decisions or resolutions are made, it affects not only the party but the state as a whole, because it forms the foundation of government policies and legislation, which is passed to give effect to those policy decisions. 

As ANC members gather for the party’s sixth national policy conference, we will do well to bear in mind three things.  

First, our economic climate is reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not insulated from the effects of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and other global developments and the effects are felt by all, particularly as seen in the rapid rise in the cost of living, fuel prices and the crippling bout of load-shedding. It exacerbates poverty and inequality.

Second, it does not make sense for us to say things like “we have great policies but they are not being implemented”. Who is responsible for implementation and why pass a policy that is not implementable. It means setting oneself up for failure.

Third, 2024 is the proverbial iceberg — although some might well argue that we have hit the iceberg already. If the ANC makes the wrong decisions at the policy conference, we will pay the price as a movement. 

There is hope that renewal will transcend from a mythical task to real tangible change in the ranks of the party. In the words of the song by Elvis, it’s time for “a little less conversation, a little more action”. When policies do not work, we need to scrap them and introduce new ones or amend the existing ones. We need to take a long, hard look and reflect on where we are. If we have failed in policy implementation, the policy conference is the ideal opportunity to rectify this. 

Despite this being the sixth national policy conference of the ANC there is objective evidence across most societal developmental barometers that South Africa is declining. 

Perhaps the most jarring indicator is the election results themselves — our electoral decline is palpable. People seem to have simply lost the appetite for politics and, many of us will say, who can blame them. State capture and corruption have cost our country millions, not only in what we lost but also by way of the opportunity costs of what we could have done to develop our country with the resources that were looted.   

The electoral decline is important because, as our intellectual doyen, comrade Joel Netshitenzhe argues, the ANC does not exist for its own sake but to lead society in constructing a new and equitable socio-political system. Sadly some in the movement seem to have forgotten that.

The overriding policy prescript of the ANC is the national democratic society. This is reconstructing society from the historical injustices of apartheid colonialism to one which is a nonracial, nonsexist, democratic, and prosperous society. Measured against our own vision, we can see that racial inequality persists. Despite the macroeconomic policies and redress legislation passed by the ANC since 1994, poverty and youth unemployment could be a trigger for social and political instability. 

Present-day South Africa is undoubtedly a manifestation of former president Thabo Mbeki’s two nations’ theory. It is as real today as it was in 1998. This reality of two nations, underwritten by the perpetuation of the racial, gender and spatial disparities born of a long period of colonial and apartheid white minority domination, constitutes the material base which reinforces the notion that we are not one nation, but two nations.

Racial inequality is but one of the many problems we are facing. Lack of service delivery affects every person who is dependent on government services. Once again, if we are not implementing policies successfully we should be brave enough to admit it and change them. 

Many of the problems we face in our country can only be resolved by implementing effective public policies and holding public servants and politicians to account. 

To this end, the ANC national policy conference should not seek to reinvent the wheel or produce yet another diagnostic report. The direction now needs to be implementation orientated. If we miss this opportunity, we do so at our own peril and the consequences may well come back to bite us in 2024.  

Chrispin Phiri is an ANC activist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.