Understanding the ANC's policy formulation process
1 June 2017
The African National Congress (ANC) has released its 2017 discussion documents for its fifth National Policy Conference (NPC) which is scheduled to take place in June 2017. The NPC is held at least six months before the National Conference (NC). It conducts a strategic review of ANC policies across a range of thematic areas and recommends new policies and amendments of present policies for consideration by the NC. The 54th National Conference will be held in December 2017.
The objective of releasing the nine discussion documents to the public is to provide ANC members, alliance partners (COSATU, SACP and SANCO), and the general public an opportunity to debate ANC policies, make recommendations to the party and to ultimately enhance the organisation’s participatory democracy.
The NPC’s resolutions will only be binding once adopted at the NC. The NC is the highest decision-making body of the ANC. It is where the top six leaders and the National Executive Committee (NEC) are elected. It also has final say on policy positions for the next government. Nonetheless, the NPC will give a strong signal of the policy positions that are most likely to be adopted.
At the heart of the ANC are branches which make up the majority of attendees to the NPC and 90% at the NC, the remaining 10% being Provincial Executive Committees, the African National Congress Youth League, the African National Congress Women’s League, Military Veterans and alliance partners.
Policy Formulation Process
In accordance with the ANC’s Constitution, the NEC is responsible for convening the NPC and delegating attendees to the Conference. The policy formation process starts with NEC sub-committees drafting discussion documents which are released to branches and the public following approval and adoption by the NEC.
The discussion documents are:
- Strategy and Tactics: outlines the organisation’s analysis of the global and domestic balance of forces, and how this facilitates or hinders the attainment of the ANC’s ultimate objectives. Arising from this are the medium- and long-term tasks facing the organisation and society at large.
- Organisational Renewal: intends to provoke robust debates within ANC structures and alliances partners on the issues of organisational renewal and organisational design. This deals with the political context of the ANC, the evolution of the movement, and organisational ebbs and flows.
- Communications and the Battle of Ideas: covers the following areas: the battles of ideas, information and communication technology, broadcasting and content, print media transformation and accountability, government communication and internal organisational communication. It focuses on how the ANC can maintain hegemony in the current media environment and effectively participate in the battle of ideas. This document also highlights the role the ANC must play as the country as it prepares for the impact of the 4th Industrial revolution.
- Economic Transformation: deals with how the ANC needs to adjust and re-position itself to the changing regional and global economic conditions. This document emphasises the need to assess progress made against the ANC’s historical and revolutionary mandate to transform South Africa. It reiterates the ANC’s commitment to fundamentally changing the structure South Africa’s racialised and unequal economy.
- Education, Health, Science and Technology: covers four areas: science, technology and innovation; basic education; higher education; and health. The document aims to stimulate debate, encourages continuity in planning, analysing and structuring ANC policy, and provides an implementation assessment of all resolutions.
- Legislature and Governance: at the centre of this discussion document is the assertion that the people have entrusted the ANC with political power to advance their needs and therefore the ANC’s conduct in state institutions must always be reflective of the will of the people.
- Social Transformation: acknowledges that in order to give effect to the goals of the Freedom Charter more needs to be done to advance children’s rights, the creation of a national identity as well as the creation of an inclusive South Africa.
- International Relations: seeks to reflect on the ANC’s historical mandate of progressive internationalism and calls for renewed campaigns to promote continental and international solidarity. It confirms Africa’s centrality in ANC foreign policy and commits to continue pursuing a peaceful and prosperous Africa. It further reaffirms the ANC’s belief in a holistic economic diplomacy strategy guided by the NDP.
- Peace and Stability: touches on South Africa’s state of peace and stability, reviews the resolutions of the 53rd National Conference and aims to identify areas where policy needs to be improved.
In theory, these documents should be discussed thoroughly by branches and alliance partners. Following the public consultation process, final documents are prepared and made available for delegates at the NPC. The final documents are discussed by ANC structures and alliance partners in commissions set up by the NEC sub-committees.
The commissions agree on draft resolutions which are then referred to the plenary where they are either adopted or amended. Once adopted by the plenary at the NPC they await final adoption or rejection at the NC.
The NC’s policy resolutions will then be taken to the NEC Lekgotla in January 2018, and then to the Cabinet Lekgotla with the aim of translating them into government policy.
Political and Policy Reality
Although branches ought to be at the heart of the ANC’s policy and elective decision making, considerable power is exerted over them by political elites who, through a mix of procedural manipulation, patronage, co-option and invented tradition, have reduced internal democracy into a farce. There is limited or no space for ideological and policy deliberations and the key driving force is patronage politics, rent seeking and the pursuit of resources.
Theoretically, the ANC policy-drafting machine is carried out in three institutions: the NEC’s sub-committees, the ANC’s parliamentary study groups, and departments at Luthuli House. In reality, Cabinet members, their deputies, director-generals, certain ANC caucus study groups and portfolio committee chairs develop policy proposals.
The reality is that the ANC’s mass membership ability to influence policy making has been severely curtailed. This has been evident through the most recent developments notably the issues around developing energy policies, economic transformation, including land, and health policy. The whole process is directed from the top down; power no longer lies with the people or with Luthuli House but in government and state capturers.
Anele Mtwesi is a Researcher at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
This article first appeared as an HSF Brief.