Policies must trump personalities at ANC conference

No matter who emerges as the leader, ANC policies must be the winner at this conference, writes WESLEY SEALE

Personalities and policies are probably fundamentals in any democracy. The run-up to the ANC’s National Policy Conference, NPC, earlier in the year as well as its soon to be held National Conference has been dogged by the emphasis on personalities rather than policies in mainstream media. Reports have been solely dedicated to engaging individuals, misunderstanding once again the ANC’s institutional culture as an organisation which always acts as a collective.

Alas, branches have not only concentrated on personalities. While again the media have sought to highlight the results and outcomes of branch nominations with very few opinion pieces or editorials being dedicated to the substance of the policy and national conferences, branches have spent time engaging in discussion documents and pointing out the needs and concerns of their communities. This is part of the reason why the ANC’s Constitution insists that 90% of delegates to any ANC conference must be delegates elected from and by the branches.

As delegates pack their bags for the five days at Nasrec and as Luthuli House prepares their conference packs, there will be a myriad of issues that branches have mandated their delegates to address in the commissions of the conference. Unlike the portrayal that conference will be primarily about elections, the reality is that the majority of time will be spent finalising and deciding on policy proposals made at the NPC held earlier in the year.

As one eagle’s eye scans the challenges and concerns of the communities in which ANC branches find themselves in, there seems to be four critical areas in which conference must give leadership. While never wanting to downplay the importance of other issues raised by delegates, it is helpful to point out which are critical, confront them and then decide on solutions on these issues.

The state of the economy must be the first and foremost focus of ANC delegates. The opening lines of the discussion document for the NPC state that it is incumbent on the branches of the ANC, and collectively as conference, to understand and analyse the local and global conditions of the economy. Yet this analysis must be made in order to ensure an appraisal of the national democratic revolution and how far we, as a movement endowed with this historic task, are in bringing about a national democratic society.

In the pursuit of this appraisal, on where we are in achieving a non-racist, non-sexist, free and prosperous South Africa where all share in the wealth of the country, the ANC believes that it needs to set about on a program of radical socio-economic transformation. Sadly, RET has been thrown about as a term in the media and often misunderstood but what it ultimately means is that no matter what macroeconomic policy we adopt, the South African economy must be restructured. Even if we do choose the route of ‘inclusive-growth’, the economy has proven hitherto to be in need of this restructuring in order for this growth to benefit more people.

What RET also means is ensuring that the economy is transformed from one which is an exploitative exporter of raw materials to one where all benefit from these raw materials. Even more so, we must prioritise that processing of these raw materials takes place here within the country by our people. As a result, manufacturing will take the leading role in guaranteeing that the potential of our resources is fully realised which will make us competitive globally. At the same time, the greater participation of the majority of our people, who are black, in the formal economy must be realised while they should also be the main beneficiaries of this economy. Anything else, meaning the status quo, is grossly unsustainable and therefore untenable.

The second focus of conference is linked to the first but addresses a much more historical mandate and that is the question of land and developing the rural economy. The return of land to our people remains paramount. In fact, one may suggest that the cornerstone of RET is the return of land to our people. The ANC’s policy proposals continue to note and foresee adhering to the Constitution of the Republic’s directive to a ‘just and equitable’ compensation for the acquisition of land for the purposes of land redistribution and restitution.

Yet the ANC has also noted the landmark ruling of the Constitutional Court that agreement on the quantum of fair compensation should not be a premium in the purchase of land for land reform nor should it be a pre-condition for land redistribution to take place. In this respect, the ANC must ensure that its deployees in government accelerate the necessary interventions both for land reform as well as for rural development. Measures must also be put in place to hold ANC public representatives accountable to ensure that they give the necessary oversight to these programs.

Again, the third focus of conference delegates is closely connected to the economy and that is to ensure that our young population is economically active. More than half of South Africa’s population is considered youth while unemployment among young people is highest than any other age category. Statistics South Africa has indicated that the chances of unemployed young people remain slim if they do not obtain employment soon. Some young people will never work in their lives, unless a serious intervention is not made.

The ANC believes that unemployment among the youth will be massively dented by vocational training and skills development. Apprenticeship programs, public service youth brigades, internships, youth cooperatives and enterprises, among others, must be advanced and expanded in order to give effect to young people implementing the skills that they have acquired.

With the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the growth of skills for our young people becomes even more imperative. Whether young people have already been to university or whether they simply want to start out as entrepreneurs, investment in the STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, need to be done. In this respect, state-owned enterprises must not only provide employment opportunities but should also facilitate the necessary training possibilities.

Finally, another concern that should be uppermost in the minds of delegates is the violence perpetrated against women and children. Indirectly, this too has a direct social impact on our economy. Women who are often the backbone of households as well as the initiators of startups, small enterprises and cooperatives suffer grievously at the hands of abusers.

In 2014, the ANC Women’s League released a document giving an analytical framework for policy influence towards radical transformation of women’s socio-economic empowerment and rights. In particular, in respect of gender based violence, the document highlights the loopholes with some of the legislation already promulgated to fight this scourge.

For example, the Domestic Violence Act, the Women’s League suggested, had the absence of built-in measures, in the Act itself, to address the underlying causes of and influencing factors in domestic violence situations. Victims continue to endure abuse despite having taken out protection orders against their abusers. Often cases involving women abuse mention that an interdict or restraining order had already been taken out. Often a sad result is that despite these protection orders these situations often progress to “intimate femicide”. The document also lauds the reintroduction of sexual offenses courts.

Despite the monumental achievements of the ANC since 1994, there remains monumental challenges for South Africa. ANC delegates are aware of these challenges and these will be on their minds as they decide the future of our beloved country. ANC delegates dare not fail in their duty.

Seale teaches politics at Rhodes University and is a PhD Candidate at Beijing University in China 


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