Policy conference defied the prophets of doom

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si Ngoako Ramatlhodi INLSA Ngoako Ramatlhodi

The recent ANC policy conference was the subject of much debate, before and after it took place.

The public discourse before the conference sought to establish it as a barometer that would define the electability or otherwise of President Jacob Zuma in Mangaung later this year.

The instruments that would be used to arrive at such a determination would be twofold: the Malema issue and the debate on the nature of the transition, the reasoning went.

In this context, the ANC was portrayed as having two warring factions that were destined to consume one another as they engaged in a life and death struggle.

Whoever won this battle over positions at the conference was likely to win in Mangaung.

One cartoon went as far as to portray the ANC as a three-headed serpent caught in a whirlwind of self-immolation, such was the frenzy that preceded the conference.

In a nutshell, Armageddon was about to befall us.

Talking to a good friend, Dr Peter Matseke, on the eve of the conference, I said the media were in for a rude shock if they believed the ANC was about to dance to their tune and realise their predictions. I told him we were going to look at issues, dissect them, prescribe the remedy and then give the product a name.

The strength of that approach was that conference would not be bogged down by debates on concepts. Second, it would be much easier for delegates to own the resolutions collectively.

That’s precisely what manifested throughout the conference and we gave the product the name, “The second phase of the transition”.

What happened at the conference was a robust negation of the prophesies of doom, much to the apparent dismay of many false prophets.

The Malema issue died in a whimper. The strategy and tactics document was adopted with slight modifications, affirming the urgent need for the country to embark on the acceleration of transformation, especially with regard to the struggle to end white male domination of the economy.

The critical role of the masses in their own liberation was once more recognised and reaffirmed.

In this regard, the relationship of the masses to white capital was posited as that of unity and a struggle of opposites.

On the other hand, there was broad consensus that practices that reduced the masses to passive beneficiaries of state services were unsustainable.

These masses had to take centre stage in their own material lives.

The idea of a people at work for a better life was received with the utmost enthusiasm. When the people take over functions such as building their own houses, maintaining their own roads and the like, reliance on the tender system diminishes.

This approach could be one of the elements that assist with the elimination of corruption in the public sector.

The concept of the state as an instrument of social and economic change was expanded. It was acknowledged that the efficacy of the state as an agent of change was largely dependent on the active struggles of the masses themselves, and that the leadership of these struggles by the ANC was crucial.

Without mass pressure and activism the state was likely to slump into the routine of business as usual, or no business at all.

Without this activism, wonderful institutions of democracy created under our constitutions could easily be turned into instruments of retrogression by the omnipotent power of the residual system.

The conference resolved that the ANC as the leader of revolutionary change was not only obliged to lead the struggle against corruption, but had to do so and be seen to do so.

Accountability of public officials had to be strengthened at all levels and tough measures invoked against deviant members by the ANC and the state.

To accomplish these tasks successfully, it was imperative to reproduce the cadres of yesterday who gave their all for the common good.

This is to be done through vigorous political education programmes, reinforced by appropriate social and political acknowledgements informed by the slogan, “From each according to their ability and to each according to their contribution”.

The conference recognised the absolute need for a stable, professional and efficient civil service. While changes occur in the top echelons following a change in political leadership, that should be done in a manner that conserves experience and efficiency.

In this regard, there should be continuing engagement with alliance partners to explore the possibilities of the establishment of a single public service.

Agreement on this could provide possibilities for the mobility of skills between the various spheres of government. In this scenario local government might end up being a major beneficiary.

The conference further resolved to intensify the struggle against patriarchy and gender discrimination. This struggle was to be seen as the struggle of the people as a whole and not reduced to a women’s struggle.

It had to be waged on all fronts, including the family, the private sector and the public sector.

In this context, 50-50 representation in all public institutions was set as a strategic goal, with the ANC mobilising other political players to become part of the journey

Job creation has become a much more urgent battle cry, with the struggle to combat youth unemployment being intensified.

The proposed youth job seeker subsidy and its twin initiatives have to be pursued in the ongoing engagements. Parastatals and state departments will have to play a leading role as sites of apprenticeship for new entrants to the labour market.

The state must also use its leverage to pursue the private sector to make a meaningful contribution to the resolution of the crisis.

Education and training are seen as key to building the new society.

In conclusion, the conference may still be seen by posterity as a watershed moment in the struggle for equality in SA.

n Ramatlhodi is deputy minister of correctional services and an ANC NEC member


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