Failures are the staple diet of ANC policy discussions

Jacob Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th ANC National Conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg, in 2017. Other than continued factional bickering and purging of members, the party has not shown any appetite for implementing its conference resolutions to transform the economy towards ‘a better life for all’, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African New agency (ANA) Archives

Jacob Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th ANC National Conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg, in 2017. Other than continued factional bickering and purging of members, the party has not shown any appetite for implementing its conference resolutions to transform the economy towards ‘a better life for all’, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African New agency (ANA) Archives

Published May 29, 2022


The ANC's policy discussion paper opens with a sombre note from its president, Cyril Ramaphosa, pointing out that the upcoming elective conference will be held “against the background of a challenging period”.

True, the ANC is rudderless. It has been lurching from one crisis to another. Despite designating 2022 as the year of unity and renewal, the party has never been more divided. On the economic front, the administration is accused of being responsible for the reversal of democratic gains.

There is a general despondency across the board. Ramaphosa also acknowledges that the ANC is facing “enormous challenges in this period, as witnessed by the decline in support with the 2021 local government elections. This mirrors the declining level of trust in us as leadership and cadres”.

The president proceeds to tell members that their focus should be on “improvement of the quality of lives of people, rather than an often narrow, internal party focus”. This is just talk.

Narrow party politics is all that Luthuli House has been busy with. Interestingly so, with many challenges and changes that have taken place, the discussion paper argues that the “Strategy and Tactics of the ANC adopted at the 54th National Conference in 2017 remains largely current in its analysis of the balance of forces”.

That much shouldn’t come as a surprise. Other than the continued bickering and purging of members by a triumphalist faction, the party has nothing to show for itself since its elective conference in 2017. It has not shown any appetite for implementing its conference resolutions.

The only resolution that it has focused on is the step-aside rule. Despite consuming a lot of time and energy, this focus has had little effect in the “improvement of the quality of lives of people”. “A better life for all”, routinely dished out by the party, was the last thing to preoccupy ANC delegates of the party’s Eastern Cape provincial conference.

A boy sells vegetables on the highway next to Orlando in Soweto. In its discussion documents for its upcoming policy conference, the ANC notes that ‘far too many still go to bed hungry’ and that inequality will prevail unless the state puts in place sustainable interventions to restructure the economy, says the writer. Picture: Paballo Thekiso/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

While Ramaphosa gleefully welcomed the conference outcomes, this does not bode well for the ordinary people of the province. Writer and analyst Eusebius McKaiser is spot-on in his observation: “Lunch was served at midnight at the ANC’s Eastern Cape elective conference on Sunday evening. That is more than can be said for tens of thousands of residents of the Eastern Cape who go to bed on an empty stomach every single day, an inhumane reality worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While ANC comrades sang and danced, in off-key factional stand-offs, vying to get into positions of power to be able to eat at the provincial trough perpetually, governance in the Eastern Cape remains ruinous.”

It bears pointing out that conference resolutions – let alone policy discussion papers – that would make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people have been placed on the back burner.

The ANC has prevaricated in implementing its own resolutions, including that of “addressing the historical injustice of land dispossessions” and the pursuit of “land expropriation without compensation as a matter of policy”.

Always seeking an alibi for evident state failure, the discussion documents shockingly suggest that the “orchestrators of the 2021 acts of subversion were unambiguous in their intention to remove a democratically established government by extra-constitutional means.

They agitated for the dissolution of Parliament. They also aimed at intimidating law-enforcement services and to assault the judiciary in order to collapse the authority of the courts.” This is hogwash and alarmist. It is siege mentality reminiscent of the apartheid era.

Without attempting to stretch the analogy, history imposes an obligation to those that have gone through trauma to raise an alarm whenever the public discourse veers towards the language that seeks to justify repression.

This kind of language is also dangerous because it detracts us from addressing the real cause of the country’s challenges. The New York Times provides a more convincing explanation. In its article, “South Africa Is Falling Apart” (July 28), the paper argues, for instance, that the “deep rot of South Africa’s social and political order – rife with racial tension, communal mistrust, injustice and corruption – is now on full display. The rainbow nation, supposed beacon of reconciliation, is falling apart”. The Washington Post (July 19, 2021) echoed the same observations: “The celebrated ‘rainbow nation’ is the global poster child of economic inequality, where deep poverty sits in the shadow of astronomical wealth. What happened in South Africa is what happens when the gross inequality that shapes a whole society boils over.”

Ramaphosa’s administration can deceive itself all it wants – nobody is buying it. The ANC should instead focus on addressing the deepening of poverty, hunger, inequality, empty promises, landlessness, desperation, lack of leadership, lack of trust in the judiciary and irrational lockdowns.

For a party that has been in power (not in office) for almost three decades, its situational economic analysis is very depressing. The discussion documents note that “far too many still go to bed hungry, and far too many are experiencing service delivery backlogs.

“Low rates of economic growth over the past decade have made it harder to reduce inequality, but growth in itself will not diminish inequality unless the democratic state is able to put in place effective, sustainable interventions to change the underlying structures of the economy.”

This begs the question: What has prevented the party from doing so? If anything, the ANC has continued to reproduce apartheid’s spatial and economic pattern. The party acknowledges as much when it notes that “we have not yet transformed the economy for the benefit of the majority of our people, and have regressed, to an extent, over the past decade”.

This story of failure is repeated ad nauseam throughout the document.

This articulation of problems is then followed by a wish list which is rarely implemented. Somehow the ANC seems to believe that mere acknowledgement of problems is itself reassuring. But this is no comfort since these failures have become the staple diet of ANC discussion documents every year.

Most worrying is the seeming abandoning of radical socio-economic transformation by the triumphalist faction in the ANC. Radical Economic Transformation has since been bastardised and branded as licence to steal, thanks to Johann Rupert. If the recent surveys are anything to go by, voters are not buying it anymore.

As I referred in the past, the 2021 Afrobarometer survey, for instance, says many South Africans think corruption has worsened under the Ramaphosa administration, with 64% saying it increased in the past year.

More damning is that 53% of those surveyed think his office is also implicated. Ramaphosa’s attempts to hide behind state capture and coronavirus clearly does not cut it for voters. Policy implementation requires principled leadership which seems to be in short supply in the ANC. This starts at the top.

This is, however, not encouraging. Speaking recently on Power FM (May 23) businessman and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki has only harsh words: “Cyril is not a leader, really. He was never a leader. He is an apparatchik or an agent of the party but he presents himself as a leader… he is not a leader because he does not believe in anything. He goes with the flow. He wakes up in the morning and says: ‘Which way is the wind blowing, and I am going go that way.’”

With this background, the policy discussions are likely to be much ado about nothing.

* Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.