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It was no surprise that foreign policy did not feature very prominently at the ANC’s national policy conference last week. It seldom does at any policy conference anywhere.
But the conference’s decisions or indecisions on domestic policy will surely have far-reaching international repercussions.
There is broad agreement that policy uncertainty is deterring foreign and domestic entrepreneurs from the huge investment SA needs to grow fast and wipe out unemployment.
What must those hesitant investors be thinking now after ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa reassured them that the party’s policy against nationalisation had not changed, but Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi immediately rejoined that nationalisation had been agreed to?
Even reading Phosa’s reassurances, you can see how the ambiguity arises. Nationalisation would be permitted “if there is sufficient evidence that indicates you should do it”, he said. “If you want to nationalise ArcelorMittal, you can do it.” Yet this “does not mean that nationalisation is policy”.
The most significant explicit foreign policy decision, however, was a good one. President Jacob Zuma’s foreign policy adviser, Lindiwe Zulu, briefed journalists at the conference that the ANC had resolved to “push forward” for the unbanning of political parties in Swaziland. This move to democracy by the absolute monarchy remained a condition for the R2.4 billion loan which SA offered Swaziland in August to tide the country over its liquidity crisis, she said.
Zulu’s statement clarified some earlier confusion when the SA Treasury said SA and Swaziland had signed a memorandum of understanding on the loan a few weeks ago. But that was evidently more like an agreement to negotiate the terms, not an agreement on the terms themselves.
The Treasury statement had created the impression among some members of the Swazi opposition that SA had folded on its conditions and was ready to lend the R2.4bn without democratic reforms by Swaziland. So they were delighted when Zulu announced on Friday after the policy conference that the ANC was firmly committed to seeing democracy prevail in Swaziland.
The Swaziland Democracy Campaign, based in SA, hailed the ANC’s decision to stand by the Swazi people and said it believed the ANC would now support its Global Week of Action on Swaziland in September. This seemed to be a reference to Zulu’s statement that the ANC would henceforth work with its alliance partner, Cosatu, to help Swaziland. Cosatu has for many years actively supported the Swazi opposition, including through joint efforts to blockade the landlocked country.
These efforts were rather half-hearted, however. But was Zulu’s remark a hint that that might now change? Will the ANC now throw itself wholeheartedly into rolling mass action against King Mswati III’s government? We will have to wait to see. If it does, it will also be interesting to observe how the ANC conceptually distinguishes itself from the SA government as an actor.
Certainly the Swazi government will not make the distinction and will complain bitterly to Pretoria that it is trying to topple the government of a fellow-SADC member country etc. Perhaps it will remind Zuma that when then ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema vowed to unseat the Botswana government, he was expelled from the ANC.
In Zimbabwe the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is unlikely to see the clear distinction between government and party which the ANC policy conference made in a decision on that country. The ANC resolved to continue its fellow-liberation movement friendship with Zanu-PF but the government would remain neutral as the mediator in Zanu-PF’s negotiations with the MDC.
Zulu herself has been studiously fair as Zuma’s chief negotiator in Zimbabwe. Yet the ANC has put no real pressure on Zanu-PF to stop wilfully obstructing SA’s efforts to level the political playing field to enable free and fair elections.
Remaining friends with a party that systematically uses violence, intimidation and a monopoly of state resources to cling to power does not reflect well on the ANC – nor does it inspire confidence that it would not resort to the same tactics.