President Jacob Zuma delivers his final political report as ANC president, at the party's 54th national elective conference at Nasrec, on December 16 2017. Picture: MASI LOSI
President Jacob Zuma delivers his final political report as ANC president, at the party's 54th national elective conference at Nasrec, on December 16 2017. Picture: MASI LOSI

If nothing is done to transform the economy, it is guaranteed that there will be no progress - but acting recklessly would also push SA into deep economic stress, President Jacob Zuma told the ANC's 54th national conference on Saturday. 

"We must tread carefully but act because of the serious economic challenges facing our country currently.

"The economy remains fragile... Improved policy implementation, which must be a key focus area in this conference, will improve the employment and investment outcome," he said.

Zuma was delivering his final political report to the conference.

These comments on the economy come at a time when Zuma, a few hours before delivering his report, announced free higher education for the poor and working class - which the National Treasury has previously deemed affordable.

It also comes after a self-made economic crisis in SA stemming from his removal of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in 2015 and replacing him with backbencher Des van Rooyen.

Earlier this year he again sent the rand into freefall when he removed the finance minister again, this time Pravin Gordhan, who had been outspoken about state capture in which Zuma, his son Duduzane and the controversial Gupta family have been implicated.

Since this, credit rating agencies have downgraded SA to junk status.

Zuma referred back to the ANC's 2007 Polokwane conference, when the party called for a mixed economy where the state, private capital, co-operative and other forms of social ownership complemented each other in an integrated way to eliminate poverty and foster shared economic growth.

"The ANC government has indeed been directed to utilise to the maximum the strategic levers available to the state to achieve transformation... Conference will doubt reflect on these and other instruments as we discuss implementation," he said at Nasrec on Saturday.

Corruption in the private sector

Zuma said the private sector was just as corrupt as government institutions.

He told delegates at the conference that the only difference was that private corporations were being handled with “kid gloves”.

He called on law enforcement agencies to deal with theft and corruption in the private sector, as the Competition Commission uncovers more and more cases of collusion or cartel conduct in businesses.

He mentioned some of the industries that had been fined for colluding, such as construction, steel and the financial markets. 

“As these are uncovered, serious concern has been raised [about] corruption in the private sector, which is treated with kid gloves and is referred to in softer terms such as collusion, accounting irregularities or lapses in corporate governance,” he said.

The ANC government had made progress on the issue of land, he said, describing it as a “fundamental issue the ANC needs to resolve” and “a key factor in the transformation programme”.

He said doing away with the willing buyer, willing seller model of land restitution and replacing it with a just and equitable policy was one of the progressive steps taken by the ruling party in dealing with the issue.

“The office of the valuer-general has been set up, which has begun to change the manner in which the calculation of fair compensation is done.

“A new bill has been developed to amend the expropriation act – two land audits have been carried out to build a fact planning purpose.

Zuma said negative tendencies that had crept into the ANC since the dawn of democracy had come to a head and were threatening its survival

“With regards to human settlements, we have to move with speed to roll back the legacy of apartheid spatial planning,” he said

Zuma also addressed the contentious issue of the Mining Charter, saying the government was committed to ensuring that it addressed the challenges facing the mining industry and the need for policy certainty.

“We also need to protect jobs in a difficult economic environment in the mining sector,” he said.

Crossroads

Zuma said negative tendencies that had crept into the ANC since the dawn of democracy had come to a head and were threatening its survival.

“The 54th national conference is taking place at a time when our movement is at a crossroads. While we identify corporate greed as posing a serious threat to the ANC, we also need to look at internal dynamics within our organisations which makes it possible for external influences to pose a threat to the organisation,” he told delegates at the conference.

Reflecting on the 2016 local government elections, Zuma said the stark decline in support for the ANC showed that people were not happy with the state of the party, as many traditional voters stayed at home.

The ANC lost three metros - Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay - to the DA.

“The NEC meeting in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the results attributed our loss of support to perceptions in society that we are soft on corruption, self-serving and arrogant,” he said.

“It is clear that our failure to confront problems head-on had begun to take their toll on the movement.”

Support for the ANC has declined in every national and local government election since Zuma took the reins of the party in 2007.

Zuma said the ANC was still dealing with issues of factionalism, gatekeeping, ill-discipline, membership buying and infighting.

He said the party had to spend a lot of time visiting provinces to attend to these problems instead of focusing on the building the ANC and leading the country.

Zuma said “petty squabbles” took the movement nowhere and needed to take a backseat.  

“Our people are frustrated when we spend more time fighting among ourselves than solving day-to-day challenges they experience.”

Factionalism had become the biggest threat to the ANC and it was because of this that splinter groups emerged, he said.

Under Zuma the party has undergone three splits - the Congress of the People, the Economic Freedom Fighters and most recently Makhosi Khoza’s African Democratic Change.

Zuma said slate politics was another manifestation of factionalism that had cost the ANC many good members. 

Speaking about ill-discipline, Zuma took a veiled swipe at those in the ANC who had voted against him in Parliament’s vote of no confidence.

“Members work with opposition parties and other formations that are hostile to the ANC against positions adopted by the movement.

“We need to reaffirm the authority of the organisation over its individual members. There should be consequences for any member [who] acts and speaks contrary to values, views and principles [of the ANC],” Zuma said.

ANC members taking the party to court was gradually "eroding the authority of the ANC," Zuma said. 

The party was taken to court by several of its members in the provinces in the lead-up to the national conference. 

Three judgments delivered on Friday led to delegates from structures nullified by the courts not being allowed to vote at the conference this weekend. 

These structures include the provincial executive committees of KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, as well as branches in the Bojanala region in North West. 

"At a drop of a hat members are in court. It is gradually eroding the authority of the ANC. We can't begin to believe that courts are a solution to the ANC's problems," Zuma said. 

He added that courts should only be used when the party had failed in its internal structures to resolve an issue. 

Zuma said it was time for "serious decisions" to be taken on the issue.

He said there was previous resolutions taken on the matter, and that it would have curbed the litigation had they been implemented. 

"We did say whoever takes the ANC to court must understand that they have taken themselves out of the ANC," Zuma said.

ANC election outcome 

Zuma called on delegates to accept the outcome of the elections at the conference. 

"Support the one the majority have supported finish and klaar," he said. 

He said the fact that there were seven presidential hopefuls showed that the ANC was not short of leaders. 

Zuma said they were all good people who he had worked with. 

"I'm waiting for one leader to emerge who I am going to be able to call my president," he said. 

"We must all unite behind the leadership collective elected here despite preferences. At the end of the conference the movement must be the winner and not individuals."

The ANC has an obligation to teach people democracy and this is an important event to dish out this lesson free of charge, Zuma added. 

ANC veterans

Zuma once again took aim at the ANC Veterans' League, which had called for him to be removed.

He said this league could be a “vehicle used to cause more problems” in the ANC.

The veterans' league has thrown it's support behind Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma said he was at the door of retirement and would be joining the ranks of the veterans' league, but added that the league needed to remember what its role was.

Media and civil society

Zuma also lashed out at the media and civil society institutions.

On the fourth estate, Zuma said reporters were being used by ANC members to pursue personal interests and fight internal party battles, while they also had vested interests.  

“The media have a vested interest in the ANC rather than being impartial and fair observers of ANC matters,” he said, adding that the mobilisation of the media against the ANC had gained momentum the world over. 

Zuma has also cast aspersions about the role of mushrooming civil society organisations in the country, saying some were founded to fight the ANC and the government it led. 

“They appear to be well resourced and constantly take government to court,” he said.

These organisations, which Zuma did not call out by name, also existed to protect white privilege and ensure the status quo in the structural makeup of the economy.

He berated how business had also joined the bandwagon, saying they even took the extraordinary step of giving workers time off to protest against the government, while the same workers were subjected to the “no-work, no-pay policy” when striking for better wages and working conditions. ​

Marikana

The government has received claims totalling more than R1bn in relation to the 2012 Marikana shooting where 34 mineworkers were killed by police, Zuma said.

The claims related to loss of support and injuries while others related to wrongful arrest, he said. 

“This was a shocking and devastating episode in our young democracy. Negotiations are ongoing between government lawyers and those of the affected families and workers,” Zuma said.

Esidimeni 

The country had suffered a serious setback in healthcare due to the tragic deaths of over 100 mentally ill patients who died after being moved from the Esidimeni healthcare centre to different NGOs in Gauteng, Zuma said. 

Zuma described the deaths, which were now under investigation at an inquiry launched by the government, as a  "monumental and painful tragedy". 

"We look to the alternative dispute resolution arbitration process that is being presided over by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke to assist in reaching a final resolution to this tragic episode in our country," he said. 

He has however praised government efforts in providing care to people living with HIV and Aids which has resulted in prolonged life spans. 

"South Africa has the largest HIV treatment programme in the world with four point two million people on treatment. As a result, people are living longer. Life expectancy was fifty four years in 2008 and it is now sixty four years," he said. 

Grudges

Zuma said he bore no grudges against those who had asked him to step down as ANC president.

Zuma has faced many scandals in his term, and has faced increasing pressure to step down from within the broader South African public, but also from within his own party.

"I bear no grudge. I prefer those who express their views instead of those who do not express their view, Zuma said.

He then officially declared the conference open before once more singing his trademark song Yinde Lendlela.

Delegates were on their feet, seeing with him, before a group chanted Zuma, Zuma, Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma delivered his last political report at the ANC elective conference in Nasrec on Saturday. Here are the top 8 quotes from his lengthy speech, which predominantly covered internal issues facing the organisation. Subscribe to TimesLIVE here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TimesLive

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