ANC indaba fails to provide direction

The dust has settled on the ANC policy conference, but it has left the nation even more confused about the direction in which the party is leading the country.

It doesn’t fill one’s heart with joy when one takes note of the current political elites who are in command of the 100-year-old organisation. It appears that long gone are the days of leaders with some stature, such as Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli and Sol Plaatje.

At the media briefings the key spokespeople were Tony Yengeni, Jackson Mthembu, Jeff Radebe, Enoch Godongwana and Gwede Mantashe. To his credit President Jacob Zuma actually made an appearance to brief the media at the start of the four-day affair. Whatever these leaders are famous for, it is not for tolerance and willingness to take criticism. The ability to give a simple and straight answer to difficult questions is also not a defining feature. One suspects many of them would not pass an integrity test worth its salt.

Quite frankly, there was a confusion of messages, with much sound and fury signalling, if not nothing, then very little of substance. There were appeals for “radical (economic) change” by the president but there is little evidence of it. There was, however, much evidence of a muddled mindset ringed by a thicket of mixed signals.

Clearly there is agreement that the current market-based model of land reform is not working. But the state has anyway enjoyed the power to expropriate with compensation, which was the agreed outcome of the conference discussions. The state has paid lots of money to buy commercial farms from white owners, but 90 percent of these farms have since failed. This was not acknowledged or any solutions provided.

Then there is the issue of declaring health and education as strategic sectors, which would have meant that strikes by nurses and teachers would have been proscribed or at least limited. Instead, money will be thrown at the problem of dysfunctional schools and free education will be given to the previously disadvantaged at tertiary level. Educators and health workers will still be able to strike at the drop of a union cap. South Africa already spends massive amounts on education and health, quite comparable to First World societies, but the outcomes are generally bleak.

The Limpopo textbook debacle is just one example of the education fallout. Yet there is little attempt at building the elements that would produce satisfactory educators. This would mean inspectorates with significant powers and better pay for maths, language and science teachers – something the National Planning Commission has proposed but wasn’t, as far as we know, discussed at the policy conference.

Then there was the utter confusion over a youth wage subsidy – reformulated as a grant, but boiling down to much the same thing as first appeared in last year’s national Budget: a tax rebate for companies that employ young people. It was declared dead as a “subsidy”, but it remains sort of “on the shelf” interminably awaiting application. Officials mutter that it is now up to the ANC elective conference in Mangaung December to sort out the chaff.

We haven’t even touched on whether there will be resource rent taxes on mining. It is anyone’s guess whether declarations that it was not considered are true. We may even revisit the tired nationalisation argument later in the year.

Amid all this confusion, a positive signal would be for all elected politicians to take a 10 percent pay cut. One could also slash the number of politicians in all the legislatures by about half. One wouldn’t miss those pensioned off prematurely.