An ANC supporter holds a flag of the ANC while the President Jacob Zuma addresses ANC Gauteng Cadre Assembly in Pretoria. Picture: Phill Magakoe

The ANC's policy discussion documents on the economy ignore vital areas, economist Stephen Gelb said on Wednesday.

“There's a very long list of topics which are either entirely missing from these documents or hardly mentioned at all... “ Gelb said in a debate at Wits University, Johannesburg on the policy documents.

He was referring to the ANC's discussion documents on economic transformation, state intervention in the minerals sector and state-owned entities and developmental finance institutions.

The documents ignored the idea of providing decent work.

“This is identified as the main objective of economic policy, but there is no discussion on what it means.”

There was no discussion of the youth wage subsidy or social grants system. Black economic empowerment was given one paragraph, while reducing inequality was referred to as an objective but not mentioned again in the documents.

Gelb said only one sector of the economy Ä mining Ä was looked at in any detail. Agriculture, land and services did not even get a mention.

The documents did focus on skills development and education.

“The focus is primarily on the supply of labour... but there's very little focus on demand.”

Gelb said the documents appeared to expect that growth in South Africa would be driven almost entirely by the government's infrastructure programme. But the private sector's role was ignored.

The documents' focus on a single priority - infrastructure - was positive, Gelb said.

Overall he was disappointed with the quality of the documents and found they made no distinction between the ANC and the state.

Earlier speakers found the introductory document on South Africa's second transition to contain many tensions.

“There are a lot of tensions in the documents; there are a lot of issues that are unresolved,” Wits academic Achille Mbembe said.

He said after 18 years of “relative complacency and self-congratulatory gestures” the African National Congress was realising South Africa was an ordinary country and not a miracle.

South Africa's miracle of the 90s “can now be better categorised as a stalemate”, Mbembe said.

Although the policy documents hinted at this they did not deal with it.

One of the main tensions in South African politics today was that its constitutional democracy did not erase the apartheid landscape.

Mbembe said the current debates on the Constitution, the judiciary and nationalisation, among others, were evidence of an attempt to end the stalemate and usher in what the ANC was terming the second transition.

Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes also spoke of the tensions within the documents.

There was some sense of openness while other areas indicated fear.

Indications of fear in the ANC were evident in calls for more control of the economy, the media and the judiciary as well as various bills like the Protection of State Information Bill.

Dawes gave the example how home affairs was positioned squarely as a “security department”.

“Immigration particularly is framed as a security problem,” he said.

But the document then takes a very humane approach to economic migrants, concluding that they should be allowed in the country.

Where the main strategy document drew on the work of the National Planning Commission, it called for a more open and competitive economy.

Dawes said this jarred with the ANC's ambitions to create a developmental state.

The ANC holds a policy conference every five years before an elective conference, with the next one in Mangaung in December.

ANC branch members and alliance representatives debate policy, and any policy changes decided at the policy conference need to be ratified by the elective conference.

The next policy conference will be held in Midrand next month. - Sapa