Reflections on the ANC Policy Pond

by Dave Steward
Posted 7 July 2012

By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation

A week after the ANC’s Policy Conference, a few outlines are beginning to emerge from the murky depths of the ANC policy pond.

Firstly, the big fish, Jacob Zuma, has moved decisively in favour of the accelerated and radical implementation of the National Democratic Revolution. According to Julius Malema, speaking from the twilight zone of ANC exclusion, Zuma has stolen all his ideas. “We raised the issue of white males controlling the economy, but we were called racist. (Now) he is repeating it,” said a clearly peeved Malema.

Malema is right. Zuma’s closing statement was filled with radical and uncompromising rhetoric, much of it aimed directly or indirectly at white males. It was peppered with harsh references to “apartheid colonialism” and the “structural legacy of colonialism of a special type.”

According to Zuma, white males continue to dominate the economy; to control the wealth and to occupy most of the top jobs. The implication is that the triple crisis of unemployment, inequality and poverty has been caused by white males and the continuing impact of “apartheid colonialism”. President Zuma warned darkly that “unless we decisively deal with racialised and gendered inequality, poverty and unemployment, our collective democratic and constitutional achievements would be put at grave risk”.

The president believes that the balance of forces has shifted sufficiently - in South Africa and internationally - for the ANC to abandon compromises it made during the political transition. “We had to make certain compromises in the national interest... For example, we had to be cautious about restructuring the economy, in order to maintain economic stability and confidence at the time.” Such caution is apparently no longer necessary and the ANC can proceed with the elimination of “apartheid property relations” - as called for in its Strategy and Tactics documents.

The ANC plans to pursue this goal by:

  • increasing the role of government in the economy through the introduction of a “developmental state”;
  • greater state involvement in mining, falling short of outright nationalisation, but including the principle that, “minerals belong to the people as a whole, and should be governed by the democratic developmental state” and that “the state should also capture an equitable share of mineral resource rents”;
  • accelerated land reform that “must represent a radical and rapid break from the past, without significantly disrupting agricultural production and food security” and that would abandon the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”; and
  • the idea that the government should be able to use the assets of insurance and pension funds for state developmental projects.

The Conference also decided to appoint a Presidential Commission to consider the future of the provinces. Some members want the number of provinces to be reduced to four or five. Others are worried about the vested interests of provincial politicians and public servants.

The surface of the ANC pond is still disturbed by the fading ripples of the under-water tussle between those who favoured the Zuma-ite formulation of a “Second Transition” and others who preferred to call it a “Second Phase”. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe tossed a pebble into the pond before the conference by questioning the concept of the “Second Transition” and by referring to it as “a smattering of Marxist jargon”.

Clearly, many senior ANC leaders must be deeply concerned about President Zuma’s radical ideological line. They must wonder how it can be reconciled with the measured pragmatism of the National Development Plan. The altercation between the ‘transitionists’ and the ‘phasists’ was seen as a proxy leadership battle - which Zuma lost.  

Other life forms also inhabit the pond and every now and then break the surface to question this or that aspect of the policy agreements - particularly on nationalisation. They include Cosatu, the SACP and the chastened ANC Youth League. From their pronouncements it is clear that there is little unanimity on key issues.     

In the final analysis it is all about power, wealth, race and ideology - and above all about who - and what - will emerge victorious after the National Conference in Mangaung. Will it be a flutter of policy butterflies; another generation of bullfrogs - or a ravenous crocodile? All our futures depend on the outcome.

In the meantime the service delivery protests continue; school books are not delivered; the government convenes conferences and the mining sector shrinks (by 17% during the first quarter of 2012). From behind the bulrushes investors and ratings agencies survey the scene with growing anxiety. And the white males? They pretend that none of this is happening. They are unaware that they have been targeted as practitioners and beneficiaries of “apartheid colonialism”. They continue to produce much of the wealth, food and tax that makes all this possible - or go off to play another round of golf.