Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Enoch Godongwana: Expect a ‘robust’ policy conference. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Enoch Godongwana: Expect a ‘robust’ policy conference. Picture: GALLO IMAGES


A hotly contested ANC policy conference is on the cards in June after criticism that the party’s discussion documents were tame compared with the rhetoric from its dominant faction on ushering in "radical economic transformation".

President Jacob Zuma and his backers sound like Julius Malema in their new-found radicalism, while those who penned the
party’s policy papers appear not to have got the memo.

ANC head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana on Sunday conceded that the policy meeting on June 30 will likely be fiery. "Obviously, this is going to be highly contested in the policy conference," he said. "It’s not something new — ANC conferences are robust."

The first real indication of the so-called "balance of forces" in the ANC — in terms of who will emerge as its next president in December — will be the debates and outcomes of the policy conference.

Zuma and his backers have adopted a populist stance to regain ground over their political opponents, both inside and outside the ANC

Each candidate contesting — so far the serious contenders are deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and former African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — will be cloaked in the policy position of his or her backers, and these will become inseparable. In some cases, then, policy positions will be rejected or accepted on the basis of which "faction" or "slate" is pushing for it.

Already there have been reports that Zuma complained during the drafting of the documents that proposals on the economy in particular were not "radical" enough.

Faced with the ANC’s declining electoral support and rapid erosion of the party as the "leader of society", Zuma and his backers have adopted a populist stance to regain ground over their political opponents, both inside and outside the ANC.

This is by no means a new tactic for Zuma: it was populism that helped him ride the crest of a tsunami that landed him in the Union Buildings in the first place. His placatory stance towards the Left and the disaffected in the ANC and its alliance partners bolstered his position ahead of the 2007 Polokwane conference at which he was elected party president — a conference at which the ANC’s policy positions shifted visibly from those of the Thabo Mbeki era.

Both Cosatu and the SACP now recognise that perceived shift for what it was: a facade.

And here we are again. Addressing the opening of the national house of traditional leaders on March 3, Zuma said the constitution would have to be changed to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

He added that such a move would require the unity of black parties in parliament, as amending the constitution would require a two-thirds majority.

ANC insiders — some opposed to Zuma, but even some of his supporters — were shocked by his statement.

The call by Zuma came just days after ANC MPs in parliament rejected an offer by the EFF to hand the party its 6% to effect this amendment to the constitution.

In the same week, the ANC Women’s League, Zuma’s mouthpiece, issued a stern statement against the party’s own MPs for failing to take the EFF up on its offer.

Then, on Sunday, the ANC officially released policy documents that did not include a word about land expropriation without compensation.

Party policy is clear when it comes to land expropriation without compensation: it should only be done when land is "acquired through unlawful means or used for illegal purposes", but with "due regard for section 25 of the constitution". It says nothing about amending the constitution.

Section 25, dealing with property rights, states that no-one may be deprived of property "except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property".

On Sunday, Godongwana effectively told journalists that ANC policy was sufficient, barring a few tweaks, to bring about land reform. "We dusted off ‘Ready to Govern’ [and] put some perfume [on it] ... If you look at ‘Ready to Govern’ there is a whole series of measures on what we should do about the land question," he said.

Now, "Ready to Govern" is an ANC policy document penned pre-1994. It has this to say about land: "The state will play a key role in the acquisition and allocation of land and should therefore have the power to acquire land in a variety of ways, including expropriation in accordance with the provisions set out in the bill of rights."

Godongwana said the reference to the bill of rights has now been replaced with a reference to section 25 of the constitution.

"In addition, the state will use policy instruments, such as land taxes which, if correctly applied, could have the effect of land being freed for redistribution." the "Ready to Govern" policy document says.

The document, said Godongwana, suggests a legislative framework — the Expropriation Bill that Zuma sent back to parliament last month — and a second instrument, which would involve taxing those "sitting on that land and speculating on that land" in order to force them to sell.

The same would apply to unused land and hopelessly indebted land.

This is a far cry from the stance of Zuma and his backers.

Education and health subcommittee head Naledi Pandor said that people are wrong to assume that the land question can be solved with a constitutional amendment. She said the structure of the constitution is such that it would not be as simple as changing one clause. The constitution was is structured as a "package".

Economic policy is another area in which the president and his backers’ public utterances and views are completely out of kilter with the party’s discussion documents.

The section on economic transformation is anchored in the National Development Plan, the three-pronged blueprint for the country’s development until 2030. Zuma has paid lip-service to the plan since 2012, but has been largely silent on it of late.

"Today we are starting a new chapter of radical economic transformation. We are moving beyond words," Zuma said in his February state of the nation address, implying a huge shift.

However, the ANC’s economic policy documents show little evidence of such a shift.

Party structures will now discuss the documents. Whether the views of Zuma and his faction gain traction in the branches will be a key indicator of the direction in which the leadership battle will swing.

It is a battle of the old against the new. The old ANC, which shuns populism and quick fixes, believes the party’s policies are sufficient if they are implemented effectively. The new ANC is that part of the party that the SACP has described as "largely rhetorical" and "almost entirely focused on advancing narrow black elite accumulation".

That the country requires an extensive economic overhaul is not in dispute — but the SACP argues that the "Gupta family clearly lurks in the background" behind those calling for radical reform. It says economic transformation should not be about "me and mine" but about improving the lives of the masses. This view comes across strongly in the ANC policy documents.

The coming months and the policy debates taking place in party structures before and at the June 30 policy conference will be a strong indicator of the direction of the ANC and, by extension, that of the country.

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