By Mandla Nkomfe

The African National Congress held its much-awaited National Policy Conference from 28 to 31 July.
The mandate of the conference was to take stock of the implementation of the policies adopted at its 2017 national conference, as well as discuss new policy proposals emanating from its members and structures. Having done so, the conference had the task to recommend policy changes to its 55th National Conference in December.
The policy conference took place against the backdrop of a fast-changing global reality, sluggish economic growth, energy crisis (load-shedding), the devastating effects of the Covid-19, rising cost of living, uncertain political developments and the chilling revelations of state capture and corruption by the Zondo Commission.
The ANC is confronted with the challenge of a trust deficit among its key constituencies. This has been shown by the decline in electoral support in the last municipal elections. Of the eight metropolitan municipalities, four are governed by the opposition; two are run by coalitions led by the ANC and only two by the ANC.
For some time, the ANC has been losing momentum. Was the policy conference significant in stopping the decline and signal an emergence of a new ANC and chart a way forward?
The ANC has two inter-related tasks that are fundamental to its continuous existence.
One of the policy documents pointed out an existential crisis. It needs to accelerate a genuine organisational renewal process. This must result in the restoration of its core values, mission and vision.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has conceded that the ANC has been weakened on a number of fronts. Again, the question remains, should the sixth national policy conference be seen as a turning point in the ANC’s renewal and innovation process? Are we to see an organisation that is at peace and aligned with the 21st century realities?
One delegate pointed out that the world is changing and that the ANC itself is changing.
This means understanding the profile of its membership. Who are these members? What is their social base? What are their expectations of the organisation and how do they connect with the legacy and tradition of the ANC?
The second task is to win the support of the electorate in the 2024 national and provincial elections. The key question is how does the ANC regain the trust of most South Africans? What can the ANC and its government do to reverse its electoral decline?
The success or failure of the national policy conference’s propositions should be measured by the extent to which it will address these tasks.
The ANC’s commitment to renewal and making the country work for all citizens is challenged by its own internal weaknesses. These range from a weak membership system, distance between leadership and the membership and the broader community, corruption and inability to discipline wayward members.
In recent years, measures have been put in place to preserve organisational integrity and reputation. These measures have been extraordinary in that they would not be necessary if there was adherence to its values and practices by members in the first place.
Ramaphosa has called for unity against corruption, patronage and factionalism. The conference stood firm on the step-aside provisions and other proxy wars that demonstrated residual stamina to fight back threats to its existence.
The road to the 55th national conference is still fraught with risks such as delegitimising the national conference as a sounding board, external challenges and other social tensions that could be weaponised by different groupings to secure advantage at conference.
The build-up to the conference is characterised by the narrative of the non-delivery of the 54th national conference resolutions. Key among these were matters of the nationalisation of the reserve bank, land expropriation, state bank, state-owned enterprises and the emotive issue of the step-aside clause for those who have been charged to appear in court.
This narrative can best be described as euphemistic arguments that hide the real issues at play. In Ramaphosa’s words, divisions within the ANC are not about policies or ideology, but driven by competition for positions, contestation of structures and the pursuit of access to public resources.
Most resolutions adopted at the 54th National Conference were reaffirmed with emphasis on speed in implementation. Government got the support to undertake extraordinary and urgent measures to accelerate inclusive growth; create employment and alleviate poverty.
This will depend on how fast government is able to conclude a social compact with business and labour. The reality of unemployment, rising fuel and food prices requires that social partners act fast to address the plight of South Africans.
While understanding the short and medium interests of the key social partners such as government, business and labour, there is a need to re-imagine and address issues of national interest. In other words, each one should work out what could be in interest of the nation.
The resolution of the unreliable electricity supply is a necessary condition for the restoration of economic growth. The Energy Action Plan recently announced by Ramaphosa was discussed and endorsed.
Crucial to the plan is to achieve energy security. This hinges on two objectives: improving the performance of Eskom’s existing power stations and creating new generation capacity.

The Zondo Commission
The litmus test for the ANC leadership, membership and government will be how it responds to the Zondo Commission findings and its recommendations.
For starters, the conference has affirmed the ANC framework and approach to the processing of the findings and recommendations by the Commission. It is also expected that branches and society at large will have conversations about the findings and recommendations. These will help the 55th National Conference to deliberate on state capture and corruption.
To this extent, a discussion document on state capture and corruption has been released for discussion by the branches of the ANC, its allies and society at large.
The test will be whether the ANC will stay true to what the document says, “We may find some of the observations and findings unsettling, and there may be some assessments that we disagree with, but we must engage honestly and openly with all aspects of the commission’s report.”
This will require courage, wisdom, and talent to manage the contradictions that will arise from acting on the recommendations.
The step-aside provision was overwhelmingly endorsed by conference with the noting of concerns on its perceived lack of consistency on how it is applied and implemented.
The renewal and rebuilding of the ANC will require courage and the determination from leaders and ordinary members. A leadership that will not flinch in the face of corruption and those who, by their actions, seek to undermine a better life for all South Africans.
National and provincial elections will take place in just more than 20 months. Will the ANC regain the trust of the people or will it let the rot find a permanent home in its ranks?
In truth, the ANC faces an extraordinary task of renewing itself and remaining alive to the concerns of South Africans.
It can be done!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *