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Party’s policy conference was a missed opportunity

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By Professor Bheki Mngomezulu

As the ANC prepared for its policy conference which was held in Nasrec, Johannesburg, on July 28-31, there were high expectations about its outcome. When the conference concluded its business, the extent to which it succeeded in achieving its set goals became the subject for debate.

On the one hand, some painted a glossy picture – arguing that the conference brought hope about the future of the ANC and the country. Conversely, there was a divergent view that delegates failed to come up with something new but repeated old policy positions already articulated before.

For ease of reference, it is of cardinal importance to reflect on at least eight of the policy positions that were agreed to by the conference. This approach will make it easier to test the two conclusions outlined above.

Women empowerment and upliftment

The conference agreed that women should be empowered and uplifted. The focal areas that were emphasised included economic, political, social and cultural upliftment.

In principle, this was a progressive policy position. However, the fact that it is not the first time that this point has been made raises a question if this goal will ever be achieved. For example, with a few exceptions, the provincial ANC conferences have failed to include a sizeable number of women in the Top 5. Only Gauteng had three women and only KZN elected Nomagugu Simelane as Deputy Chairperson. This raises doubt if political upliftment will ever happen.

Nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB)

This sounds like a noble idea with national interest. However, what paints a pessimistic picture is the fact that in 2017 the National Conference resolved to place the SARB under state control. To this day, that resolution has not yet been implemented. It remains unclear as to what will make it work this time around.

Harsher penalties for sexual offenders

Chemical castration was proposed on sexual offenders. While this proposal acknowledged the scourge of sexual abuse of women and children, it is reactionary, not proactive. It is silent how this would work if the justice system remains weak and compromised. Some men serve time in jail for rape cases they never committed. The policy should talk to this reality too.

Crackdown on corruption and promotion of transparency

The Peace and Stability Commission proposed the strengthening of the Integrity Commission, the establishment of an internal anti-corruption agency as well as the strengthening of the State Security Agency (SSA). These are progressive proposals. However, a few questions arise. Does the ANC need the Integrity Commission? Is the party’s constitution not enough to deal with corrupt practices? Given financial challenges in the ANC, is it justifiable to retain this structure? How do other political parties deal with corruption within their ranks? Does the Integrity Commission have integrity (in other words, can it be insulated from factional politics)? These are some of the questions that need answers.

Ensuring improvement on the implementation of the step aside resolution

Delegates missed the opportunity to find one another on this 2017 conference resolution. It is clear that this resolution is divisive in the manner in which it is being implemented. If that is the case, why would the conference resolve to retain it? Former Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe averred that the constitution of the ANC could be used to address the issues meant to be addressed by this resolution. The fact that only KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo questioned this policy is a cause for concern.

Restoration of the ANC and membership criteria

The proposal to vet new members and to expect current ones to re-apply sounds good. But it remains unclear if corruption, nepotism and factionalism will not creep in as those who are tasked to vet members execute their mandate.

Carbon cut-down and renewable energy

The conference appreciated government’s decision to improve Eskom’s performance. The proposal for a diverse mix of energy source is a welcome plan. However, the issue of Eskom has been on the table for more than a decade. At one point the nation was promised that once Medupi and Kusile were completed, intermittent power cuts would be a thing of the past. With these these two plants close to completion, the situation got worse. Level 6 of load shedding is unprecedented! It would have been better to make concrete and practical proposals, not to repeat what has already been said before.

Land reform legislation

This issue is hard to resolve for three reasons. First, the ANC no longer has a two-thirds majority required to amend Section 25 of the constitution. Second, some politicians have no political will to amend this section. Third, political egos push national interests to the back seat. The Bill failed in parliament. It remains unclear how the ANC will do things differently this time around.

Bheki Mngomezulu is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Western Cape.