YANGA MALOTANA: ANC policy conference 2022: A festival of old ideas

OPINION

The sixth African National Congress (ANC) policy conference that occured over the weekend was the ruling party’s discussions on ideas that should aim to address South African problems. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s closing speech spoke of the overarching "renewal" mandate in which the party needs to carry itself moving forward. This renewal promises a renewal of ANC values, ethics and political culture, dealing decisively with corruption and unacceptable conduct, engaging and pursuing the aspirations of South Africans and taking responsibility to use state resources for the people as required by the constitution.

However, these are promises which the party echoed during 2017 after its 54th national conference, one which was supposed to mark a new era and chapter for the party. Over the last five years, South African living conditions have worsened and the party has clearly lost the trust of the public. Now that the conference is over, one is left with more questions than answers.

ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION

What was clear in this policy conference was the party prioritising economic challenges that the country faces. President Ramaphosa suggested that the reports of what was discussed in the various commissions and economic reforms were an urgent priority. There are major challenges which South Africa needs to overcome in order for the country to have economic progress. Some of these key challenges include: the lack of state capability to execute its mandate of basic service delivery, a very weak enforcement of rights, particularly safety and security rights, the inability to develop and execute urgent policy reforms, political dysfunction and internal party politics.

The prioritisation of economic ideas by the party produces a number of questions:

  1. What is the party’s actual economic path?

When one reads the policy papers, one will soon pick up that there is a clear distinction between ANC rhetoric and ANC economic policy. This is a party that has to accommodate often divergent policy approaches: some informed by the tripartite alliance and others informed by the private sector interests. In this year’s State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa said: “We all know the government does not create jobs. Business creates jobs.” This statement lamented discourse that asks the public to choose between a developmental state and a vibrant private sector. This is in fact a false dichotomy since the ANC’s 1992 ready to govern document "directs both growth and transformation through levers like competition policy, broad-based black economic empowerment provisions and employment equity laws, and by linking the award of various licences to universal service and empowerment obligations."

Whether or not ANC economic policies are still influenced by Keynesian economic ideas is not the focus of discussion here. What is important is that the ANC has to balance different ideas within its own faction of how to govern the economy. From the points of discussion in the Economic Commissions, ideas of nationalisation of banks and improving state-owned enterprises were brought up. Simultaneously, the encouragement of greater private sector involvement is needed for economic growth. Mixed economies often present the challenge of ensuring the balance of public and private sectors - the ANC is not immune to this challenge.

  1. What is the stance on energy security?

Earlier in the week, the president had also announced an energy plan to combat the energy crisis currently faced by South Africa. The plan proposed wide-ranging and urgent power reforms, including a temporary legislative regime that cuts red-tape. The plan outlined the encouragement of a renewables build programme owned by Eskom and emphasis on speeding up private investment and IPP roll-out. There were some delegates at the conference, particularly Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal secretaries, Thembinkosi Nciza and Bheki Mtolo, who raised concerns about the new energy plan. These included questions of South Africa’s movement away from coal along with its economic implications, particularly to the province of Mpumalanga. They pointed out the state is actually in the process of selling coal to America and countries like Germany, who are reverting back to coal supplies given the energy crisis spawned by the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Pravin Gordhan also came under fire from his delegates for his mismanagement of public enterprises, including Eskom and for allowing "private interests" to be of priority. However, the president in his speech argued for the emergence of the renewable energy sector and movement away from coal as a source of energy due to its harm to the environment. He even encouraged a greater involvement of the private sector in the energy crisis.

POLITICAL CULTURE TRANSFORMATION

Another key emphasis the ANC had for this conference was the importance of fixing the internal issues of the party. More importantly, the issues should not affect the people of South Africa. The party seemed committed to flushing out corruption and to holding its members accountable. A number of questions rise from this particular issue which the policy plan will hopefully answer:

  1. What is different about this accountability compared to that of the previous conference?

  2. How will the ANC work with the NPA to hold its members accountable?

  3. Should the cadre deployment system remain? How are we certain that those newly deployed will be leaders of integrity?

  4. Is the Integrity Commission enough to deal with the Phala Phala scandal in which the head of state is implicated?

  5. Are "internal" accountability methods enough justice for the whole South African population?

While it was projected that "step-aside" would be a hotly contested resolution for this conference, it appeared that the party wanted to focus on key policy issues and placing reservations regarding "step-aside" for the December elective conference. President Ramaphosa articulated in his speech that "step-aside" was here to stay and the best outcome, for now, was discussing processes around it, not the scrapping of it. Other issues were discussed at the conference, including gender equality and combatting the battle against gender-based violence, issues surrounding the quality of education and healthcare and digital communications.

What is clear from this conference is that the topics of discussion have not changed. Since the last policy conference, South Africans are facing worsened economic conditions, an even worse energy crisis and the standard of living has continued to drop. The biggest concern is that what was discussed at this conference was merely the same promises. Is it possible that the ANC will break its stagnant policy streak or will the resolution have tangible implementation plans? Additionally, will these policies even matter if the ANC loses the 2024 elections to a coalition-led state?

Yanga Malotana is a political analyst, Andrew Melon scholar and research assistant.