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Does the 4th Policy Conference’s rejection of the Second Transition proposal really amount to a personal snub of President Jacob Zuma?
The policy proposal was meant to form the basis of the authoritative Strategy and Tactics document earmarked for adoption at the 53rd National Conference in Mangaung.
Essentially, the Second Transition thesis implies that only after 2014 would the ANC earnestly seek to reconfigure the economic inequalities bequeathed us by our apartheid past.
Post-2014 would herald a radical moment in the life of the democratic Republic.
But delegates rejected the theoretical thrust of the thesis.
A cursory analysis suggests disapproval of a (second) presidential term for Zuma influenced popular rejection of the Second Transition thesis.
He had actively punted it leading up to the conference and at its opening at Gallagher Estate, Midrand.
Endorsement of a policy proposal that Zuma himself had championed would have placed him in pole- position for reconfigure-election in six months’ time.
His candidature would have been a natural choice to spearhead a radical moment he had himself initiated.
Its rejection is obviously a setback for the 12th president of the century-old organisation.
Personal disapproval alone, however, is inadequate to explain the rejection. Discussions are not quite swayed by a mere statement of personal resentment against proponents of a policy proposal. The Second Transition thesis was simply ideologically inconsistent.
The suggestion of a distinction between a political transition on the one hand and an economic transition on the other, is anathema in ANC theoretical convention.
The organisation’s theory of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) committed the post-apartheid state to a simultaneous pursuit of both democratisation and redress.
Nowhere does it compartmentalise the two imperatives into different moments.
What it did warn against though was lack of sensitivity to social context.
It understood that the depth and pace of economic emancipation, or any other policy, hinged on whether or not objective conditions were agreeable.
The inaugural Strategy and Tactics document, adopted at the historic 1969 Morogoro Conference, advised as follows: “The art of revolutionary leadership… consists of setting a pace which accords with objective conditions and the possibilities at hand.”
The revolutionary-sounding phrase does not always reflect revolutionary policy, and revolutionary-sounding policy is not always the springboard for revolutionary advance.
Indeed, what appears to be “militant” and “revolutionary” can often be counter-revolutionary.
It is surely a question of whether, in the given concrete situation, the course of policy advocated will aid or impede the prospects of the conquest of power.
In other words, prioritising economic transformation sounds radical, but it’s not original.
Morogoro was similarly concerned, insisting on “economic emancipation”, but alongside national liberation.
Nelson Mandela thought nationalisation would be the route towards economic emancipation.
By the time he was inaugurated president of the Republic, however, Mandela had not only begun cautioning against nationalisation but was impatient with popular clamour for state intervention, saying “the government is not an employment agency”.
The shift was necessitated by the realities of the moment.
Nationalisation had been rendered unpopular by the spectacular collapse of socialist countries in the late 1980s.
For a country seeking to reverse the disinvestment of the 1980s, for instance, proposing policies out of sync with the global reality would not have been smart. Mandela was simply adapting tactics to the objective realities of the moment.
Therefore, to assert that economic emancipation would only now gain priority attention is misleading. It suggests that the initial 18 years of freedom have paid scant attention to this problem.
Embedded in the economic transition declaration is also the assumption that post-2014 would invoke agreeable conditions into existence, to aid the realisation of economic emancipation.
It suggests that the outcome is inevitable. It is, really?
A “revolutionary-sounding phrase” cannot bring forth what objective conditions do not allow.
Economic emancipation would be an outcome of social processes. It cannot be divined into existence.
Polokwane’s promise of decent jobs, for instance, was quickly undone by the reality of a global recession.
The economy simply shed jobs.
Those who cared to remind the ANC leadership of the promise got a furious reply from the secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe: “A job is a job. Government is not a trade union.
“It can’t negotiate wages for workers. Unions should use the bargaining council to set their own wages.”
Revolutionary phrases speak to immediate concerns more than they set realistic targets.
Polokwane victors claimed the mantle of radicalism, but turned out to be moderates just like their predecessors.
It has been business as usual.
Their ardent supporters going towards Polokwane, Cosatu, summarised it as follows in September 2010: “On paper, Polokwane promised key advances, but progress has been very mixed, and on the whole disappointing”.
Similarly the Second Transition thesis seeks to appropriate the militant language of the ANC Youth League.
It is a long-worded explanation of the youth league’s slogan: “Economic Freedom Now.”
The proponents of the Second Transition also seek to claim the title of “freedom fighters”.
In the process, however, they not only revised the ANC’s 18 years of history in government, but also attempted to reconfigure-define its entire theoretical tradition.”
This is the basis of the popular objection against the Second Transition thesis. ANC delegates simply insisted on the integrity of their historical conception of the South African revolution.
A personality-obsessed analysis of political dynamics misinforms more than it enlightens.
Institutions are propelled by their own traditions and logic. And they can be quite stubborn to individual influence.
That’s why ANC diehards liken the organisation to indlovu (an elephant), which takes ages to turn around. Institutional changes happen over time, as an accumulative result of previous experiences.
Thus the ANC sees any new policy as an embodiment of both continuity and change. It breaks new ground, but guided by previous experience.
Take the renewed emphasis on State Owned Entreprises (SOEs) assuming a greater role in the economy. Conventional analysis ascribes the impetus to the supposedly radical Polokwane Conference.
Yet the resolutions of the 52nd Conference paid marginal attention to SOEs, not that Polokwane didn’t consider the role of SOEs worth pondering. It didn’t have to, for the Stellenbosch conference had already taken that resolution.
Polokwane, in a few lines, simply reaffirmed and built on what had been resolved five years earlier.
That said, the ANC does have to strike a radical pose now and then.
To some degree, authors of the Second Transition document are not far off the mark.
Part of the organisation’s appeal rests on its credentials in respect to socio-economic redress, however limited.
That’s what enables it to maintain the rhetoric that it is a “disciplined force of the Left”.
In the face of grinding poverty, rising inequality and persistent unemployment, however, the organisation runs the risk of losing its allure.
The Second Transition proposal is thus impelled by that fear.
And, although its opponents may dismiss it as bad theory, they are similarly fearful of potential consequences of not attending to the country’s social ills.
It is that fear of social implosion that got the 4th Policy Conference to endorse proposals on state intervention in the mineral sector.
Although still ambivalent on outright nationalisation, uncertain of its feasibility, the conference was determined to afford the state influence to create linkages within the economy.
One such linkage is turning mineral products into manufactured goods. Processing mineral resources, instead of exporting them, will expand South Africa’s manufacturing industry, thereby creating further employment and generating more revenue.
Hence the proposal that the state buys a stake in companies that produce strategic minerals.
Hesitancy over nationalisation is revealing of its limited appeal. Its proponents want it to the extent that it enables the government to steer state-owned assets towards benefiting the national economy.
The policy itself doesn’t have an inherent value.
Rather, its value lies in what it enables the state to achieve.
And the state may not even have an appetite to own a mine if the private company can show that it can deliver similar results as intended by state-ownership.
Private sector delivering on national priorities is a worthy investment. Most are resistant to such appeals from the state, insisting on laissez faire instead, especially when profits are good.
They invoke patriotism when it gets tough in order to get a bailout.
Who says the state will respond to a request for a bailout in future when the private sector is unresponsive to its pleas now?
n Ndletyana is head of the political economy faculty of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra).