The ANC NPC & the attempt to find a winning formula

Charles Simkins explores the assets and liabilities of the conference


In this brief Charles Simkins explores the 'assets' and 'liabilities' of the ANC policy conference.

Charles Simkins

Jul 07, 2017


The ANC currently has two problems: how to minimize damaging public internecine conflict until the elective conference, and how to avoid a split after it. In order to realize these goals, the ANC must aim to defuse internal conflicts and keep them out of the public eye, and it must prevent elements within it from losing so badly that they decide that life outside the tent is preferable to staying within it. It is the light of these imperatives that the outcomes of the Policy Conference should be assessed.

What are the ANC’s assets and liabilities in this enterprise? 

Start with the assets:

1. The policy conference itself was an asset in two respects. First, the debates enabled the shrewder minds at senior levels to observe where the balance of sentiment on major issues lay, helping them to find the formula. Secondly, it enabled the delegates themselves to have a fuller appreciation of the constellations around which they have to manoeuvre to advance their interests. 

2. The identification of low hanging fruit, both in a positive and negative sense, helped. We can all agree on the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank. We can all indulge in a two minute hate of Derek Hanekom. 

3. Display of symbols helped. Our people are economically marginalised, the struggle for inclusion continues, black economic empowerment is crucial, the land must be returned to the people, we agree with the targets of the mining charter, we must combat monopolies. The old-time religion to keep the tent happy.

4. In a conference in which delegates are not policy experts, the strategy of kicking for touch is always available when debate gets tricky. Saying that this issue needs more discussion in branches, it needs more research, the issue is one of implementation are all means of defusing immediate conflict. Land distribution and a wealth tax, for example, received this form of treatment.

5. Clever offers of accommodation were suggested, notably the two deputy president idea. Of course, it is by no means certain that there will ever be two deputy presidents, either of the ANC or within the government. Even if there are, presidential power might be enhanced. The deputy presidents could be played off against each other and accommodation might be more symbolic than real.

Now for the liabilities:

1. Some things, it appeared, cannot be said. In particular, there was no direct public mention of the fact that, according to IMF estimate, real per capita incomes have been falling since 2014 and are not expected to recover even by 2022. At most, it was alluded to indirectly in references to youth unemployment, for example. The inability to deal with the growth issue is the most important liability.

2. Some things can barely be said. In his report on the economic commission, Enoch Godongwana got through the issues of governance and corruption in state owned enterprises in about five seconds, mentioning no programme of action at all.Effectively ignoring a gaping wound is dangerous, and will cost the ANC support. 

3. Cyril Ramaphosa, Joel Netshitenze and Enoch Godongwana know perfectly well that co-operation with business and improvement of confidence in the economy are essential, particularly at present. Netshitenze was the boldest. In his comments on ‘white monopoly capital’, he stated that relations between the ANC and ‘monopoly capital’ should be both co-operative and confrontational, depending on the issue. But he was sailing close to the wind, and calls emerged for an apology, which he declined to give, saying that his comments were accurate. But they all left it to Investec’s Stephen Koseff to warn against populist economic policies at an ANC Policy Breakfast on 4 July. Interestingly, too, Godongwana’s mention of a massive effort on NEETs (young people not in education, employment and training) has to be interpreted in the light of Koseff’s mention of the Youth Employment Service programme being developed by business, with the impending launch of a pilot with large corporates. The programme intends to provide internships to one million youngsters over three years.

4. A mercantilist mentality is pervasive. Import substitution? Yes. Beneficiation? Yes. Export promotion? Not a word. Keep the money circulating within the country, among our people. Gains from trade? Neo-colonialism of a special type – one of the formulations found by Netshitenze not be theoretically correct.

5. The attempts to keep the fights within the family will certainly fail. Even though journalists were kept rigidly separate from delegates during the policy conference, part from a few stage managed events, it was possible for the Daily Maverick to publish a detailed account of what was going on in the central Economic Transformation Commission.[1] The wall down and the succession battle on, much will find its way into the public domain. One endearing feature of our politics and governance is their leakiness.

Put aside boilerplate PR on ‘unity’. Put aside haruspication: the attempt to read off the relative strengths of the Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa camps from the use of ‘socio-economic’ rather than ‘economic’ transformation or from the loudness of singing. Put aside theological disputations on the ‘correctness’ of concepts. Put aside verbal formulas which smooth over problems or kick them down the road. And, as the fog disperses, what comes into a view is a ship in high seas, without an engine, with a divided crew, most of whose instincts are to do things which make the situation worse rather than better.

Charles Simkins
Head of Research
Helen Suzman Foundation

[1] Daily Maverick, Trainspotter: Deep inside the war at the ANC policy conference’s Economic Transformation Commission, 5 July 2017

This article first appeared as an HSF Brief.