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Op-eds

What does the ANC policy conference mean for us?

  • President Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa both arrived without any fanfare @MyANC
In the past weeks, expectations and fears over the direction of the ANC appeared in headlines around the world. The ANC Policy Conference at Nasrec in the south of Johannesburg, is now finished and there is a clearer sense of the ANC’s future direction.
by Dr IVOR SARAKINSKY | Jul 06, 2017

The Policy Conference traditionally identifies weaknesses in existing policy and drafts proposals on corrective measures and new initiatives, in order to respond to the changing social, economic and political environment in South Africa.

All of the proposals will be tabled and voted on at the December conference, making them official ANC policy. The ANC’s 2019 election manifesto will synthesise all the resolutions in a high-level election manifesto. There is a long road between June and December this year and then April 2019.

These processes have always led to uncertainty and concern among South Africans. This year’s Policy Conference was the most contested ever and the diverse messages emanating from it has increased perceptions of political risk. This is because of the leadership succession struggle deep within the ANC, with the different camps proposing different approaches to addressing the challenges the country faces.

Halfway through the conference, there were some positive developments with President Jacob Zuma announcing that land restitution will not be pursued through expropriation. Furthermore, the tabling of ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe’s warts and all report on state capture, corruption and leadership failure, indicated that the majority accept the need for corrective measures.

A negative was the statement from the ANC Women’s League wanting the reinstatement of the death penalty, which will require an amendment to the Constitution.

The most divisive and decisive arena of discussion was in the Economic Transformation Commission. Here the proponents of Radical Economic Transformation (RET) were attempting to shape future policy.

Their success was visible in the way politicians from both camps (Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, the seeming frontrunners to be elected ANC president in December) are now singing this chorus.

RET includes greater state involvement in the economy through diluting the mandate of the Reserve Bank, amending the Public Finance Management Act and amending the clause in the Constitution on property rights.

Furthermore, the intention is to drive the growth of black participation in the economy through allocating a greater percentage of government and State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) procurement to previously disadvantaged communities.

A differing interpretation of RET aims to grow the economy by abiding by the existing macro-economic framework, so as to calm markets and placate the rating agencies.

Through stability and sustainable interventions, this camp aims to grow the economy by managing inflation and higher interest payments on loans. This will ensure that households have more available income with the state being able to allocate more for socio-economic development.

It remains to be seen how these contesting views will be reconciled and then translated into resolutions for voting at the ANC’s December conference.

Perhaps the focus on policy and policy change, misses the point. Policy alone cannot fix complex societal challenges like the economy and development. What is clear is that the priority ought to be implementing existing policy effectively.

Examining the Auditor General and other oversight bodies’ reports since 1994, show that significant resources allocated to growth and development have not been used efficiently nor effectively. Instead of arguing over RET, the real debate should be on how to put in place technocratic capacity insulated from political interference, to get things done.

Nonetheless, it is urgent that the ANC reach a consensus on these issues and stabilise investor perceptions and markets, showing how policy and economic activity might be reconciled. This is the most desired output of the Policy Conference.

However, reaching consensus on this will not be easy and even if reached, will not be easily communicated as it feeds directly in the main fracture line dividing the ANC. The personalities involved in the succession struggle represent different policy options and the phrasing of options might just be too vague to achieve consensus, thereby exacerbating rather than combating, uncertainty.

As the fracture lines within the ANC were on display in the Policy Conference, the delegates had been insulated from the media, so as to manage the public statements through high level briefings.

This suggests that the public is not fully aware of the dynamics, but that the lobbyists of the contenders for future leadership of the ANC have fertile ground to work with. Their respective supporters and opponents were on display, indicating the regional and personality sources of support.

This information will probably inform a lobbying agenda extending beyond the conference itself.

Despite the contest of ideas and principles, especially on the economy, there is no backtracking on a range of existing positions relating to diversity and the rights of communities to practise their beliefs and culture.

Like other communities, Jews have no reason to be concerned about the Policy Conference’s outcomes. These settled issues had not even been on the agenda. 

Dr Ivor Sarakinsky (PhD) teaches at the Wits School of Governance.

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