Cape Town - South Africa is holding its collective breath over two crucial economic decisions the ANC has promised to finally make within the next week: whether to nationalise South Africa’s mines, and whether to force farmers to sell their land.
Speculation about Mangaung has centred on the leadership battle between the incumbent ANC president, Jacob Zuma, and the man three provinces want to replace him, current deputy Kgalema Motlanthe.
But ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, whose position may also be challenged, has announced that decisions around the people of South Africa’s “economic freedom” will be far more important.
Among these, he said, would be final decisions around two contested issues which have sown significant anger and anxiety over many years: ownership of the country’s mines and the so-called “willing buyer, willing seller” policy, as it pertains to the transformation of land ownership.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Mantashe said the ANC would ask itself: “What should be the role of the state in the economy?” And: “To what extent should we use the levers of state-owned enterprises to drive economic growth and create jobs?”
Either way, he promised: “The question of nationalisation of the mines will also finally be tabled for deliberation… The ANC commissioned thorough research… and now the time for a decision has come.”
Mantashe warned that “any further uncertainty on this matter will affect our ability to attract more investment to the country”.
“While investor sentiment cannot dictate economic policy, uncertainty is not to be encouraged if we are serious about partnering locally and globally to build the economy that will aid us to tackle the challenges we all know about,” Mantashe said.
Likewise, on the land issue, Mantashe said “the question of land redistribution will receive huge attention”.
The ANC would carefully interrogate whether the policy of “willing seller, willing buyer… has so far borne any desirable results”.
It is widely believed the ANC is firmly of the view that it has not.
“This conference has to tackle this issue head-on to avoid further impatience by our people… Our resolve to tackle this matter has to be fast-tracked,” Mantashe said.
These two issues are widely regarded to be among the issues foremost on investors’ and moneyed South Africans’ minds - insofar as they may impact on the stability of South Africa’s economy, specifically in mining and agriculture.
Mantashe warned that the conference would be a “watershed”.
“Our people have been hugely understanding so far… [but] the ANC is at a crossroads to make economic freedom palpable.
“We dare not fail,” he warned.
The outcome to these two questions is likely to be known late on December 19 or early on the 20th, when the conference ends.
On top of these dual issues, Mantashe said a full 16 commissions would be tasked with debating a wide range of economy-related issues, including tackling unemployment, inequality and poverty.
Specific attention would be paid to supporting small businesses, to “strengthening” black economic empowerment, improving weak financial management at municipalities, and addressing under-spending of budgets on social services.
An expert familiar with investment into South Africa, who asked not to be named, said of the two key decisions the ANC was due to make: “These are two of the biggest decisions the ANC will take - ever - on the economy and politically. The impact could be profound.”