ANC walks radical tightrope

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Policy double-speak means expectations relating to poverty, inequality and joblessness are not in line with policy outcomes, writes Susan Booysen.

 

It is a perilous tightrope walk for the ANC to sing to the NDP score sheet of much economic moderation and conservatism, and at the same time preserve its rank as a radical movement.

The ANC speaks in many tongues when it comes to the “radical” in its policy statements and government plans. This week’s budget votes in Parliament, along with ongoing debates to out-radical the EFF and Numsa, brought colourful snapshots.

The speeches paraded “radical” like political fashion statements. The ministerial policy voices illustrated how to use “radical” repeatedly, yet often in meaningless adjective slots.

In delivering their departmental budget statements, a line-up of ministers assured the president of how they are following his inspirational lead by articulating the “radical” in their policies.

“Radical” in ANC parlance is nowadays far removed from the presumed ideological meaning of extreme left. In political terminology, socialism, for example, fits the bill of what radicalism means.

State intervention goes without saying. Nationalisation of land and mineral resources is par for the course. The assumption is that if it is left, the people will be beneficiaries and there profound egalitarianism will take shape in society.

In the ANC’s argument it is the radical party; no Julius-comes-lately will displace the authentically radical former liberation movement. In claiming the status it is silent about the leap of faith that is necessary to connect the ANC of today with the radicalism it proclaims.

It says it has entered the second phase of the transition to democratic society (the one that will bring economic emancipation).

The ANC mapped out the wording two years ago at its national policy conference. It announced that South Africa was entering the second phase.

In President Jacob Zuma’s inaugural address in June we were still entering it. It is going to be a long walk to radical.

The budget vote speeches and briefings this week brought more obfuscation of localised variations on the theme of radicalism.

Awkwardly for most of the ministers leading the parliamentary discussions, their speeches came before that of Zuma.

On Wednesday in his prepared remarks he only used “radical” once, in the inane sense of: “The journey towards prosperity and job-creation generally involves radical change in the manner in which we undertake planning, implementation and monitoring…”

Radical now meant far-reaching. There was no political-ideological orientation, except that effective government helps in the pursuit of any substantive policy content… or that managerialism is an ideology of sorts.

This same “radical”’ appeared in the NDP executive summary’s “radically improved government performance”.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa equally excels de-ideologising “radical”: “Black business must develop its own agenda for radically transforming… the way in which business is conducted.”

In contrast, Zuma, in explanation of his February 2014 State of the Nation address, had argued that South Africa would enter “a new radical phase in which we shall implement the second transition policies and programmes that will meaningfully address poverty, unemployment and inequality”.

Similarly, in the ANC’s January anniversary statement “radical” was linked to “the economic emancipation of our people”.

In his mid-year State of the Nation address it was the post-election, managerialist Zuma stressing that the country needs to embark on radical socio-economic transformation; little explanation added.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa this week delivered a radicalisation of environmental affairs. She spoke about a green economy and offered a few progressive environmental management ideas. Yet, when she talked about “radically transform” it was back to managerialism.

Enter Basic Education’s Minister Angie Motshekga.

She almost out-radicalised her president, albeit with the intent of praise-singing: “The time for radical transformation has come” and “as we embark on this radical transformation, both the NDP and the ANC manifesto will guide our programmes”.

Her educational plans were not radical… unless, of course, it will be “radical” for the department to get its ducks in a row.

When Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel ventured into the radicalism minefield he was explicit, albeit only “radical” in the sense of the government getting together a particular economic development act.

He will be prioritising six “i’s” as part of the government’s “radical economic transformation” agenda: infrastructure, industrialisation, investment and innovation, inclusion and integration.

The ANC’s act of either falling about inventing radicalism and/or socialism (in the ideological sense) where there is none runs counter to the Institute for Race Relations’ radical-under-the-bed hunt on ANC-driven 2014, pre-election legislative initiatives.

The institute refers to an increase in state interventionist power, and “redistribution of the economic pie before endeavours to expand it”.

It resents hints of radicalism in new rules for implementing equity and BEE, in legislation affecting land (reconsideration of the “willing buyer, willing seller”), and impacting on the mining, oil and the security industry.

The institute would have been the ANC’s best propagandist had it not been that it also argued the point that these legislative emphases run counter to the NDP. It is in this clash of radicalism-speak and the NDP that the ANC’s 2014 policy problems reveal themselves. The ANC government is caught between the need to appease the “amorphous” international investor community and business at home.

It wants them to believe that it is essentially liberal and stable in its economic policies, while able to bring in sufficient policy change to cater for an army of disgruntled citizens. It has to demonstrate that it can capture electoral audiences disillusioned with the ANC’s compromised radical identity, some of whom are now swimming in EFF waters.

The ANC thus suffers from the clashing needs to distance itself from radical policies (as it does in its NDP speak), but finds it electorally risky not to play the talk-left-walk-right game.

The problem for the ANC government is that at present times of pressure to show it can implement the NDP it needs to walk and talk relatively “right”.

Activist-players like Neil Coleman point out that the economic part of the NDP needs redrafting.

He reminds us that the ANC at its 2012 Mangaung conference endorsed the broad principles of the NDP, and promised to engage with the details at a later stage.

The Mangaung delegates were better prepared to play out factional politics and elect leaders than to deliberate the intricacies of economic policy. With their Mangaung ballots cast they either packed their bags for the return trips or lounged around on the lawns.

The leaders they had (re)elected acutely need policy direction… but the point of reconsideration has never arrived.

These same incongruities are also driving the Numsa dissent, which is threatening the sustainability of the tripartite alliance.

The Numsa socialist grouping is encouraging workers to break with the ANC in favour of implementation of the Freedom Charter “as historically understood by the working class”.

The ANC claims the charter is its lifeblood – and proclaims that it was never a socialist document.

This might mean that the ANC in its clamour to show that it has a coherent policy framework, the NDP, and that it is ready to implement it, is inevitably shooting itself in the foot.

Perhaps Land Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwinti (who sounds radical some days of the week) was honest (or frank) when he argued earlier this week that the ANC is actually a very conservative and conciliatory bunch… who would be loath to enter into land deals with the EFF.

Most citizens probably do not care whether the ANC professes to practise radicalism, and are unconcerned whether the ANC paints itself into liberal policy corners or not… Unless, of course, policy double-speak and double-act mean that expectations relating to poverty, unemployment and inequality grow (even more) disproportionate to policy outcomes.

 

* Booysen is professor at Wits School of Governance and author of The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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