The ANC has lost its way

George Palmer and Stanley Uys on the implications of the party's policy conference

George Palmer writes:

You have only to ponder the underlying implications of the ANC's pre-Mangaung speeches and discussion papers, presented at the Mid-Rand policy conference in June, to conclude the ANC leadership has lost its way. South Africa continues to pay a high price for the betrayal by Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma of Nelson Mandela's inspiring vision of Black-White reconciliation. The ANC elite has pushed it aside in favour of blatant ethnic entitlement that is destroying racial harmony and undermining economic growth.

Why? Because it delivers both votes and personal enrichment. "Whites owe us. And they'll go on owing us as long as it pays off. And to hell with the impoverishment of the rest of the nation".

How else can one explain the constant harping back to the country's apartheid past? To what the ANC now labels "Colonialism of a Special Kind". (How's that for loaded language? Talk about living life through the rear-view mirror!).

Unfortunately racial entitlement promotes a culture of "taking" rather than "contributing". Of "appropriating" rather than "serving". Of "grabbing" rather than "nurturing". Of snatching the economy's low-hanging fruit instead of patiently cultivating the seed-corn South Africa desperately needs if it is to have a sustainable future. Of "contempt" rather than "respect" for the Constitution.

Here are three examples of radical policy proposals put forward for discussion by the ANC that may, or may not, survive the vicious infighting going on behind the scenes. Each proposal comes at a heavy cost in terms of the damage it would do to economic growth at a time when that should be the paramount consideration. All come with unforeseen consequences for the well-being of the nation.

Robbing retirees

Retirees (once predominantly White, but increasingly multi-racial) depend on their pensions to see them through their twilight years. Many have scrimped and saved during their working lives. Yet because the economy is stagnating and tax revenues are falling short ANC leaders are proposing to force investment managers at pension funds and life insurance companies to invest some of policy holders' assets in public sector enterprises.

A portion of those assets "should be invested into areas such as education, healthcare, public transport, the green economy and basic services that are crying out for more investment". ANC Alliance-partner Cosatu enthusiastically supports such a move.

Does anyone have faith in the public sector's ability to earn comparable dividends and interest and eventually repay these appropriated assets? Given the appalling record of waste, mismanagement and corruption that has characterised South Africa's public sector under the Zuma government, this proposal is tantamount to stealing from society's most vulnerable age group. So pensioners better brace themselves for a less comfortable retirement while they watch their life savings disappear down a rat-hole.

Farm land for the asking?

Although the ANC-Cosatu-SACP Alliance has dropped the idea of outright nationalisation of land ownership, it is still searching for an alternative way of redistributing privately-owned (i.e. White-owned) farm land to "dispossessed" Africans i.e. without the present owners getting fair market-price related compensation (i.e. the process of a willing buyer/willing seller negotiation). Or will taxpayers have to finance the acquisition program? And how likely is it that land taken from commercial White farmers would be as productively farmed by inexperienced Black ones? Would crop yields and costs be comparable so that South Africa's consumers would not have to pay more for food? And would South Africa's agricultural exports still be as competitive on world markets? If not would the new "farmers" also be subsidised by tax payers?

Forced land redistribution is one of the reasons why Rhodesia's once thriving farm lands have become Zimbabwean wastelands and the previously employed are now destitute. Hardly the sort of model South Africa wants the ANC to follow.

Killing the golden goose

Then there's South Africa's rich endowment of minerals, the economy's main source of export earnings. The ANC has again wisely rejected outright nationalisation. However the government's State Intervention in the Minerals Sector (SIMS) committee recommends:

-- Establishing a state mining company with preferential rights to explore and develop strategic minerals.

-- Increasing the minimum equity of "historically disadvantaged " South Africans from 26% to 30%.

-- Increasing the state's ownership in mining companies and consolidating it with that of BBEE companies and trade union pension funds into "special purpose vehicles" (SPVs) that would seek to shift mining companies' decision-making from profitability to what is called "developmental outcomes." 

-- Introducing a 50% resource rent tax on all mining profits above a 15% return on capital.

-- Reducing royalties to 1% of revenue.

-- Imposing export duties and infrastructure tariffs and

-- Prohibiting scrap metal exports, among other "reforms" to incentivise local beneficiation.

Peter Leon, head of Webber Wentzel's mining and energy projects, warns that "South Africa cannot achieve development and genuine transformation without economic growth. It is thus illogical to seek to promote these ends by adding any measures that will increase costs and jeopardise the growth of the mining industry".

Stanley Uys writes:

The SA Institute of Race Relations has raised the level of political analysis in SA with a new publication: a report by its Unit for Risk Analysis, led by Dr.Frans Cronje (SAIRR Deputy CEO). Called Research and Policy Brief: South Africa After the ANC, the Unit's paper states: "Few analysts are prepared to make bold forecasts about South Africa's future political landscape. This paper breaks from that pattern and argues that the ANC is dying and will lose its parliamentary majority at or before the 2024 national election. We do not make this forecast recklessly but rather because the evidence points overwhelmingly in this direction."

The pace at which the ANC is disintegrating, or coming under siege, may be revealed at the Mangaung conference in December when Jacob Zuma is either re-elected as ANC president (and SA's) or deposed.

Can the ANC get rid of Zuma if this is its wish? Weakened after five years of internal strife, lacking in traditional identity and authority, the ANC handled last month's policy conference so ineptly as to indicate that an eruption caused by Zuma's expulsion would not be within its control.

Four millionaire (Indian) brothers, the Guptas, ensure Zuma's financial security; he has a praetorian guard of Zulus and others at the upper levels of government; and a huge Zulu base to turn to in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN has 24% of the ANC's electoral support). What would happen if he played the tribal card?

Whether Zuma wins at Manguang or not, disintegration will take its toll. But here is a critical problem. Uncontrolled collapse of the ANC would reverberate throughout the country. Over the past 18 years of rule, the ANC has appointed thousands of favoured cadres. An incoming black government would reverse them, from the cabinet down. There would be turmoil.

Also, particularly over the past five years, many ANC members have been radicalised by "pro-poor" support (spurious though it is) and a surge into the pre-Mangaung terrain by the ANCYL, Cosatu, wildcat trade unions like Numsa (National Union of Metalworkers of SA), and various others. The infighting that swirls around Zuma has generated new currents in black politics, and unleashed fierce political and financial ambitions.

A disintegrating ANC, compromised by its own constant evocation of "revolution," would not be able to handle a rush into radicalism. The SA Communist Party particularly is in a perfect position to influence this radicalism. Holding 80 of the ANC's 264 seats in the 400-member National Assembly, it perches parasitically on its back, never risking to contest an election in its own name.

Eventually, possibly within the time span predicted by the SAIRR, and before succumbing finally to disintegration, the ANC may yield to a coalition structure. The SAIRR Unit claims that a growing number of South Africans are choosing not to vote in elections. In 1994, 54% of people who could have voted, voted for the ANC. By 2009 that percentage had fallen to just 39%. "This means," says the Unit, "that while more than 5 out of 10 South Africans turned out to vote for the ANC in 1994 that figure had fallen to less than 4 out of 10 in the 2009 election. In a sense the ANC, for all its pretention as the ‘will of the people', is now a minority government".

Disintegration remains the reason why a particular question is never answered: Where does power lie in the ANC?

The ANC has a six-member top leadership, but it is split down the middle, three for Zuma (sort of), three against. Predictably, the contest between the pro-Zuma camp and the anti-Zuma one has transferred itself to another level of authority: the ANC's 99-member National Executive Committee (81 members and 18 ex-officio ones). But it, too, is split. Some of its heavyweights confronted Zuma recently in private, apparently without success.

It's the vagueness of relationships and allegiances in the ANC that seems to keep the show on the road. For example, there is no need for NEC members to declare themselves openly as pro-Zuma; it is sufficient to indicate that they dislike Zuma's enemies more than they dislike Zuma. Power, like love, can be a many splendored thing. 

Has the ANC asked itself the question why is there is no challenger of stature to contest the presidency, no saviour waiting in the wings (with the possible - but not exciting - exception of Vice-President Kgalema Motlanthe and the lesser-level exception of Tokyo Sexwale)? Is it because the body politic is so battle-scarred and barren that it no longer attracts gifted candidates? Or is it that there is fear in the ranks of choosing the wrong side and forever blighting a career?

Perhaps would-be challengers have read the ANC rule book and reminded themselves that Mangaung will not be won by those who shout loudest, but by some 3,000-4,000 accredited delegates: conference voters, sifted at Luthuli House, 90% of them coming from ANC branches which, by the ANC's own admission, have long been in disrepair. Many branches have been wide open for manipulation - and who is the master manipulator if not the ever-chuckling Jacob himself?

Those who still favour Zuma as president suggest that if he becomes secure in the presidency, and is under no compulsion to rush around placating in turns the circling, predatory factions with overlapping and contradictory policies and appointments, he could become less of a ditherer, his government less dysfunctional.

Many though scoff at the idea of a reborn ANC, saying the rot has set in too far. They point to the hair-raising proposals that already clog the legislative calendar and are unlikely to be undone.

The past five bruising years have radicalised the ANC. The more it has failed to scale down poverty and unemployment, the more Cosatu and the ANCYL have demanded succour for the poor, and the more the ANC has been dragged behind this powerful emotional force. During the 30 years (1960-1990) that the ANC and others were in exile, many in the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, Cosatu, SACP) were radicalised and sovietised when they found themselves in Moscow's embrace.

As William Gumede wrote: "Prior to 1994, the majority of Tripartite Alliance members believed that an ANC government's economic policy would be based on those of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe or Cuba."

Is this what SA is seeing now: the revenge of the exiles? Except that their aims cannot be elevated even to a Moscow-style ideology. Their mission is just unimpeded plunder of South Africa's assets.

The ANC, now readying policies for Mangaung, has not only lost its way. It has lost its moral compass too.

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