(President Zuma greets Bheki Cele at the start of the Policy Conference) President Jacob Zuma addressed delegates at the ANC 4th National Policy Conference held at the Gallagher Estate in Midrand

Donwald Pressly

Nationalisation of swathes of the economy appeared to be a non-issue at the start of the ANC’s four-day policy conference yesterday, but President Jacob Zuma reiterated the party’s intention to radically transform the economy.

It is unlikely that the SACP and its trade union allies, including the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), will have the clout to push for their vision of altering the landscape of the financial services sector by introducing prescribed assets, but the battle lines have been drawn.

SACP leader and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on the sidelines of the conference that “trillions of rand” was locked up in the financial sector, including “your pension and provident funds”.

That money needed to be invested “in such a way that (it) creates jobs in a manner that does not compromise the returns to those who have invested… especially pension and provident funds”.

The SACP has routinely supported the idea of driving socio-economic upliftment and black empowerment projects with private investment funds.

While the ANC president ended his address with the singing of the Struggle song Umshini wami, on the other hand he was careful not to send tremors through the markets by focusing on a radical transformation of the financial services sector.

Zuma expressed support for the National Health Insurance plan to forge ahead. He backed Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s call for the scrapping of the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle, allowing for expropriation of farmland – probably at a market related rather than inflated compensation – to fast-track land reform.

But he pleaded for delegates not to focus on the nationalisation issue, which has been under discussion since the Polokwane conference in 2007. In a put-down of the nationalisation lobby led by Numsa leader Irvin Jim, whose union has called for nationalisation without compensation and land transfers, Zuma said of the debate about state intervention in the mining sector: “We must go deeper than nationalise or not to nationalise…”

Zuma argued that the Freedom Charter did indeed state that the people “shall share in the country’s wealth”. Legislation, notably the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, already entrenched the principle that mineral and petroleum resources were in the hands of the state. It affirmed that mineral wealth was a national asset, “a common heritage that belongs to all South Africans”.

The state had sovereignty over the entire minerals and petroleum resources sector, he said. While he did not support a super-profit tax – as proposed in the state intervention in the minerals sector document put before conference – he has said that “difficult decisions” on how to transform the economy needed to be taken.

In another example of the president taking on the unions, he gave public backing to the proposal for a wage subsidy to promote the employment of young people, which was first proposed by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his Budget last year. “We propose a job seeker grant,” he said, noting that this was up for discussion but that it was linked to skills development programmes.

Cosatu specifically opposed the youth subsidy, arguing it could lead to the replacement of older workers by less expensive, state-subsidised workers.