Following the end of the ANC’s policy conference, the build-up to Mangaung and the party’s elective conference in December begins in earnest.
Despite the similarities that can be drawn with the build-up to the previous elective conference in Polokwane in 2007, the party has actually changed since then.
The ANC of 2007 under Thabo Mbeki was one of denialism. Denial of problems from HIV/Aids, to crime, corruption and xenophobia.
Without many people acknowledging the change, the ANC has started to accept the problems it faces as a governing party.
Acknowledging corruption and taking a tough stance on crime were some of the most refreshing aspects of President’s Jacob Zuma’s early days in office.
Since then Zuma’s government has also identified unemployment as the major source of poverty (and the social ills that accompany it), a significant improvement on Mbeki’s racially divisive Two Nations theory about black poverty and white wealth.
This acceptance and diagnosis of the problems is a significant improvement on the denialism that went before it, but none of it is any good without being able to do two things.
First, the ANC needs to move beyond simply diagnosing the problems, towards understanding the root causes of them.
To some extent it has done this with poverty by acknowledging that unemployment is the major culprit. Yet there has not yet been an acceptance of the structural causes of such high unemployment, which is why we have a lot of rhetoric about the need to create jobs with very little to show for it.
Similarly, the problem of the non-delivery of textbooks has been identified and acknowledged as a major obstacle to thousands of children receiving a decent education, but there does not yet seem to be a sufficient understanding of how it could be possible for such a thing to have gone on for so long.
There was clearly a combination of corruption, incompetence and dereliction of duty involved, but beyond identifying such factors the party needs to understand the environment in which these things can go on unchecked for so long.
This is an environment in which there is a lack of accountability, and in which the concept of being public servants there to serve the public seems to have been lost. As Jonathan Jansen wrote in a recent opinion piece: “At root, this is a values problem, not a delivery problem.”
This is one example, and there are many others from national level down to local government, where maladministration or plain corruption has hampered service delivery in severe ways. What the ANC needs to accept is that these are strongly related to the political culture within the party itself.
Even if the ANC were to acknowledge and understand the root causes of some of the problems facing it as a government, the second thing it would need would be to be able to react quickly and firmly with policies that can actually fix problems.
At the moment the party seems structurally unable to do so.
Not only are there different ideas and ideologies within the organisation, but it seems that the party is so factionalised that any idea that might solve a problem is instinctively shot down by another group.
The youth wage subsidy is a prime example.
The policy had been identified as one way to incentivise businesses to hire more young people as a means to address high youth unemployment.
Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary-general of Cosatu, has himself described youth unemployment as a ticking time bomb.
Yet, despite the policy reaching implementation stage, and being budgeted for, it has become the latest victim of the political stalemate between some governing members of the party and its alliance partners.
Similarly, Zuma has called for teachers to be in class and teaching for seven hours a day, and others in the party have called for teaching to be declared an essential service to prevent teachers from striking during term-time.
However, at the latest policy conference the teaching unions got their way, and despite their activities being identified as a major obstacle to improving standards of education in public schools, the grip the unions have on the education system seems unlikely to loosen.
Zuma and many others in the party have also acknowledged how bad corruption is among deployees from the party.
Some weeks ago, Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general of the ANC, described cadre deployment as being “like mice running a cheese factory”.
Yet there is no sign that those implicated in corrupt practices will be dealt with firmly by the party.
Humphrey Mmemezi, local government and housing MEC in Gauteng, has only just resigned after significant pressure from opposition parties and the public, after evidence of him using his government credit card for personal purchases was exposed in The Star.
Yet he will keep his position as a member of the provincial legislature and as a senior figure within the ANC in Gauteng.
Having identified the problem of corruption among its members, the ANC seems unwilling, or perhaps unable, because of its structure and political culture, to do anything about it.
Governing well therefore requires three things. First, accepting and diagnosing the problems. After a period of denialism, the ANC is now doing this.
Second, the structural and root causes need to be identified. In some cases the ANC seems to be doing this, although not all.
Third, the party needs to be able to implement swift and firm policies to address those root causes. This is the challenge that currently faces the party, and at the moment it is not meeting it.
Only the most courageous leader will be able to overcome the infighting and culture of greed that is crippling one of Africa’s oldest liberation movements.
l Lucy Holborn is research manager at the South African Institute of Race Relations