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Policy conference ‘should be characterised by self-introspection’

It is pleasing to note that the ANC has invited individuals, the academia, and other organisations, to make input on its policy documents, says the writer. Picture: Phill Magakoe/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

It is pleasing to note that the ANC has invited individuals, the academia, and other organisations, to make input on its policy documents, says the writer. Picture: Phill Magakoe/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published May 22, 2022


By Bheki Mngomezulu

The year 2022 is an important one for the ANC. In December, the party will elect its new leadership, which will take the party to the 2024 elections. As a build-up to the elective conference, regional and provincial conferences are being held across the country.

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One remarkable observation is that political positions take centre stage compared to delegates deliberating on the policies on which the ANC’s campaign will be anchored. This is concerning. As a norm, policy conferences are meant to achieve specific goals.

They provide the party with an opportunity to reflect on how far it has come in implementing the policies adopted at the previous policy conference. In case adopted policies prove to be impractical or difficult to implement, they are amended or discarded on the grounds that they would have failed to produce the intended results.

Policy conferences also afford the party the opportunity to introduce new policies that respond to the current situation. Against this backdrop, the key question becomes: What should be expected at the ANC’s 2022 policy conference? An embedded question could be phrased as follows: Is there anything new that the ANC needs to do this year? In addressing these two questions, I will take stock of what has been happening in the ANC to date.

This reflection will assist in making projections on what to expect at the July policy conference. Unlike in previous years, the ANC’s national general council (NGC) could not sit in 2020. This was due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The issues that would have been discussed at the NGC could not be ventilated. The party’s leadership had to devise other mechanisms to attend to those issues. This means that the 2022 policy conference will be slightly different from the previous ones because not all preliminary processes have happened.

Another important issue relates to the tough decisions that have been taken by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), which is the highest decision-making body between conferences.

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One of these decisions was the disbandment of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA). This was an unpopular decision, which left some members of the organisation disgruntled. There was speculation that such a decision may have been taken in order to weaken the radical economic transformation (RET) faction in the ANC.

The MKMVA openly supported former president Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule and Zandile Gumede, among others. While many people were ruminating about the factors that might have triggered the decision to disband the MKMVA, the NEC took another decision to disband the NEC of the Women’s League.

Here, too, the motivating factor(s) behind such a decision could not be immediately established. This left many guessing. Given the challenges that the ANC is facing, it would be prudent for the party to reflect on these issues at its policy conference. The renewal and repositioning of the ANC stand to benefit from frank discussions – not shielding certain leaders.

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Among the key policies from the 2017 conference, that the ANC needs to reflect on, is the “step aside resolution”. What is clear is that this resolution was not carefully thought through, nor was it cogently implemented.

This view is given credence by the fact that the ANC NEC recently amended this controversial resolution. This was done after leaders like Mandla Msibi in Mpumalanga and Zandile Gumede in KwaZulu-Natal had already been elected. While the amendment somewhat brought clarity by stating that anyone accused of wrongdoing must not stand for office, it did not end differences of opinion over the manner in which this resolution has been implemented.

Therefore, the policy conference will have to revisit this resolution and check if it works in the interest of the organisation, or in the interest of a particular faction. Other policies on job creation and economic growth will need particular attention.

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It is pleasing to note that the ANC has invited individuals, the academia, and other organisations, to make input on its policy documents. However, what will be even more important will be for the ANC to take constructive criticism seriously if it wants to reposition itself and avert what happened during the 2021 local government election, where the ANC lost several municipalities.

Mindful of the challenges at hand, the party has decided to beef up its national dispute resolution committee by appointing Noxolo Kiviet and Sindi Chikunga. This is meant to ensure that the policy conference is devoid of conflict of interest.

Therefore, the 2022 ANC policy conference should be characterised by honest self-introspection and an acknowledgement of the fact that the party is losing its popularity.

If current policies are to blame, they should be amended or discarded altogether. Progressive policies will have to be crafted if the ANC truly wants to redeem itself.

* Mngomezulu is a professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape