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President Jacob Zuma has challenged delegates to the ANC policy conference in Midrand to ask themselves whether the economy “should remain in the hands of white males, as it has always been”.
This was after he had outlined how there had been little fundamental change in the economy since the end of apartheid.
At a subsequent media briefing, ANC deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise weighed in: “We want to spare the white male the stress of always being on top.”
She said it was time for women of all races to assert themselves.
“As women in the country, we must begin to agitate to have more women interested in the running of the economy. We must make sure we are not screaming from outside,” said Modise.
Zuma said that while the dominance of white males was not the only factor, it was significant as, 18 years into democracy, the economy was still racially skewed.
There was no way he could sleep at night when the squalor of the majority continued, and one could not say “wait for another day” in the face of protests.
People were rightfully angry and asked what freedom had done for them.
The challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality were visible no matter how democratic SA was, Zuma said.
“You may not feel it in Houghton, but somebody who lives in Diepsloot (a Midrand township) feels it every day.”
His opening message to the more than 3 500 delegates on the first day of the fourth ANC policy conference was that radical change and a giant leap were required to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality.
“Any revolution in two decades comes to a point where it must either go straight or take a turn,” he said.
“We therefore are calling for a dramatic shift, or giant leap, to socio-economic transformation so that we can deal with the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.”
Setting the tone for the policy indaba, Zuma said the negotiated transition to democracy had meant several compromises in the national interest, and those had been absolutely necessary.
However, the compromise on economic restructuring made to instil confidence also meant that “the economic power relations of the apartheid era have remained intact”.
It was time to go back to basics and to take “the different decisions we could not take in 1994”.
Poverty, unemployment and inequality persisted, affecting the majority – Africans – and women and young people in particular.
The president later elaborated during a 90-minute question-and-answer session with journalists at the Gallagher Convention Centre.
He said he wanted to provoke a deep consideration of the issue by delegates to the conference.
People had a right to be angry, Zuma said.
“There was apartheid, we negotiated and we got freedom. There was a transition from apartheid – we navigated that very well.” But poverty, unemployment and inequality were “staring you in the eyes”.
Zuma spoke to the media while delegates, split into 11 commissions behind closed doors, launched into intense discussion of two key documents that deal with the state of the ANC and the so-called second transition.
Declarations by ANC structures and Cosatu affiliates, both for and against the idea of a second transition – intended to bring about the shift to achieve the ANC’s mission of a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society – have been cast as a litmus test of support for Zuma’s chances of winning a second term at the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung in December.
Zuma distanced himself from the document, drawn up by national executive committee (NEC) political education chief Tony Yengeni and worked on by a committee, saying it had been endorsed by the entire NEC.
“What do you do with the conditions of these people? So part of the document is to deal with this reality… And if this conference does not come to any conclusion, it will be the ANC failing to take a decision… it will not be Zuma’s ideas being defeated.
“The ANC will be failing to take to conclusion its own issues it has raised. It will not reflect on an individual,” the president said.