The ANC policy conference has come and gone! There was a justifiable deluge of media reports preceding, during and after the conference and thus as a result, certain ideas about the content and form of the conference have been popularised.
As a participant, I found my experiences of the conference to be quite divergent from the dominant line taken by the media and thus I feel compelled to share a different side of the story, focusing on history and the way forward.
These are in fact the issues that were at the heart of the conference, despite an over-reported and quite reductionist bias to matters of semantics.
First of all, this was a policy conference. I or we dreamt up this idea in 1992. I was then deputy head of the ANC Department of Economic Policy. Nobody seems to remember this! LOL!
Nevertheless, the basic thinking was that we should have a policy conference before an elective conference. Why? Simple, elective conferences are about strategy and election of the national executive committee. As such, delegates are more focused on elections than policy.
So, the thought went, let’s sort out policy issues beforehand. Very logical, I thought.
The leadership subsequently accepted this idea. So the first policy conference was held at Nasrec, Johannesburg in 1992. The outcomes of that conference are captured in the 1992 ANC document, titled “Ready to Govern”.
The BIG issue at that time was nationalisation. You might recall that Madiba was big on that issue then. You might also recall that Madiba had been to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in February that year.
He met with the heads of the Communist parties of Vietnam and China. They asked him the question: you are president of the ANC, a liberation movement, why do you want nationalisation? We are heads of Communist parties and we are privatising, so what is your issue?
Having accompanied Madiba on this trip, I was then privy to his ideological shift, which resulted in a move away from nationalisation to an emphasis on a strong government to “meet the basic needs of the people”. This is what today is called “decisive state intervention”. I supported that and I still do today.
At the Nasrec conference, it took eight to 10 hours to debate the issue of nationalisation. Key characters there were Madiba, oldman Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo, Alec Erwin from Cosatu, Trevor Manuel and myself.
The conclusion was that the democratic state must maintain a policy of “increasing or reducing the public’s ownership case by case”, the so-called balance of evidence approach. This exact conclusion was reached at last week’s conference, with an additional view that things must be speeded up – a perfectly legitimate stance given the sluggishness of the transformation process.
So what does this tell us? The ANC as a social democratic organisation has not changed. It is still committed to a mixed economy and both the empirical evidence and my own inclinations suggest that there’s nothing wrong with that.
The only emphasis is on decisive sate intervention. This is a good development, as the democratic state must be decisive!
Does the state have the capacity and capability to do that? Unfortunately, it does not seem to. But that can be developed if there is sufficient commitment to the desired outcomes and thus a corollary investment in human resource development.
“We make history not under conditions of our choosing,” said Marx and Engels!
This is so true. The ANC has to make policy in a highly globalised environment, but it can still play a role in influencing the direction and form of material change.
Frankly, it has to, if it still sees itself as a “revolutionary movement” – a movement for radical change for a “better life”. This is when the question of aligning itself with “progressive forces” comes in: share ideas, engage in solidarity work and continuously learn from global developments.
One such question requiring multifaceted thought is what the current European debt crisis means for the social democratic movement.
Moving on to the much talked about “second transition”, personally I think this was a storm in a teacup.
The reality is that 18 years into democracy, people in Alexandra, Diepsloot, Kliptown and so on have not seen much change in their objective lives. So something has to be done. Sandton is prospering, Fourways is happening, the 400 000 new members of the black middle class are having a good time, but the working class, black or white, are not seeing post-apartheid dividends.
It thus cannot alarm that calls for more “decisive state intervention” are being made. Those promulgating this view are rightly convinced that the government must do something “radical” to change the lives of our country’s poor majority.
Some take this line of reasoning and conclude that state ownership is the solution. While I agree with the evidence and argument, I do not share the view that state ownership is the solution, particularly when seen as a panacea to what is a vast amount of complex challenges.
However, it is important that we cultivate empathy towards apparently extreme perspectives. For many in our country, the ANC continues to constitute a significant asset and thus logically, the demand is that its political power must translate into a better social and economic situation for them. Nothing wrong with that.
Therefore, while the conceptual framework for a second transition might still require further development, I am convinced that no one can fault the detail and thus the evidence for a more decisive, efficient and accountable state – all radical moves towards development. Understanding this, I think the average South African would agree that there is no need for panic. But communication remains a challenge.
The markets must understand that change has to happen for the good of all. Otherwise we run the risk of the “lumpen proletariat” mobilising in a dangerous direction. I am not at all concerned about whether it is the second transition or the second phase of transition from apartheid to a secure national democratic society.
The fact that the ANC Youth League argues, although incoherently, must not detract from the real issues. The older generation of the ANC have been snoozing at the wheel. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in us.”
That is what the older ANC members must understand. We have not done our duty in educating the young ones. For example, most of the youth have no clue how these policy conferences came about and for what reason. They think that this offers them a platform for campaigning!
Finally, by way of offering a competing understanding of ANC culture, I must say there was robust discussion. For those of us schooled in the old ANC traditions, some of the behaviour might have been a bit unbecoming. But we must live with what we have sown. We have not educated the youth sufficiently about the traditions of the party. To be blunt, I believe that this is partly as we have taken advantage of their energy to use them as voting fodder.
As is said, “you reap what you have sown!” We must wake up and teach the youth about the movement. It takes time. It is a wake-up call.
All in all, I was most encouraged by the debates and off-the-floor discussions over lunch and in the corridors. I went home feeling that the fatigue and demobilisation I had felt for the past four years had been lifted from my shoulders. I now must spend more time with the youth. Trite though it may sound, the youth is our future and this reality grows more stark by the day.
Next week in London I will talk to investors interested in South Africa. I will be giving them this message. There is passion in this country to see South Africa succeed. I can see it in the eyes of the old and the energetic Youth! There is a good future here.
Tito Mboweni is the former governor of the SA Reserve Bank.