Interesting ideas in the details

2012-03-09 00:00

READING all 400 pages of the 11 ANC policy discussion documents at one go leaves one with a serious case of information overload. The documents are packed with ideas. Yet, taking a step back and reviewing the overall package, not much is new. The really interesting bits are not in the big proposals about changing the economy or land reform but in the many little ideas that pop up throughout. Some of these are good, others impractical, while many will require massive funding to implement, money we already know that the state does not have.

The discussion documents show that the ruling party is on a path to modernise itself. Planning is big, no doubt a lesson from the frequent trips senior ANC members made to China where planning is at the heart of governance in that country. China's influence is also evident in the many proposals that revolve around more state control.

The ANC is still intent on being all things to everyone. While many of the documents boldly assert proposals to enhance the lot of the poor and the working class, there are concessions to other constituencies. The result is a mixed bag of offerings that will be seen by some as not going far enough and by others as going too far. Take the land issue, where expectations of proposals for a radical overhaul have not been met. Instead the document rehashes the old idea of a review of the willing seller willing buyer system and proposals for yet more bodies to be involved in this sector, such as a land rights management board.

Still, we need to remember that for now all of this is within the realm of ideas and open, as ANC Policy head Jeff Radebe has stated, to vigorous national debate. These are the proposals of the ruling party and they will be discussed in branch and broader ANC structures. What will matter is which proposals will dominate the debate and what will fall away.

Here is a brief review of the documents. They are well worth reading in full, if only to understand where the country is heading and what the thinking is within the ruling party.

THE SECOND TRANSITION

This document sets the scene by stating the problem that the biggest hindrance to progress within the country is the large gap between the rich and the poor.

There is an awareness of the growing restlessness of citizens, as manifest in service-delivery protests and worker protests. The paper says that the strong sense of injustice in society is a warning that the ANC ignores at its peril, hence the need "to pay single-minded and undivided attention toward overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality. This is what our second transition is about."

The paper calls for creative and bold solutions. It criticises the black elite for its selfishness and laments the slow change from the country's colonial past. It says there has to be a renewal of values in our society.

SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION

Key to this paper is an evaluation of the ANC's social transformation programme. The paper recognises that grants are a short-term solution and unsustainable in the long run. Proposals here include nation-building and doing more to get communities to care about each other, such as improving community care of babies and early childhood development in poor communities. ANC branches are called to be more proactive in this domain. Attention is paid to addressing the social ills of our society such as the growing scourge of substance and alcohol abuse. There are suggestions for housing projects that enhance a sense of community and for municipalities to be more vigorous about preserving and creating adequate open spaces.

Arts, culture and heritage form part of the social transformation discussion. There is a proposal for indigenous knowledge systems to be researched and taught at schools and for resources to be found for this. Similarly, more must be done towards saving herbs used in traditional medicines from extinction. The Department of Health must establish a Traditional Medicines Control Council and the Witchcraft Suppression Act must be repealed, for certain sections impede the promotion of traditional health practices. A welcome proposal is for cultural practices that violate human rights and oppress women and children to be outlawed. So, too, is an idea for more community libraries to be built.

Good news on the sports front is a call for the urgent need for a national sport and recreation plan. One of the proposals is for school sport to become the bedrock of a South African sports strategy. Municipalities must be compelled to use an allocated budget for sport and recreation and for the development of facilities. ANC branches and alliance partners should embark on a campaign to establish and strengthen local sport and recreation councils.

This document is worth reading for the range and the scope of the proposals on offer. There is a comprehensive section on the environment. A part that stood out asked the question: "Are we really serious about a transition to a low-carbon economy" and then listed various coal and gas projects that are being invested in and under construction.

THE MINERALS SECTOR

This document has already caused wide controversy. While it debunks the idea of the nationalisation of mines, it proposes a resource rental tax. According to economists this is another name for a super-profits tax on mineral resource exploitation and will have the effect of driving investors away. The document proposes a number of models for ownership and control of mines and looks at what happens in other countries. It also recognises and proposes skills development ideas within the mining sector.

ECONOMIC

TRANSFORMATION

The hand of state intervention and more regulation is strongly advocated in this document. It proposes the need to amplify the role of Development Finance Institutions and state-owned enterprises. The poor performance of many state-owned enterprises like Eskom and the SABC is hardly a recommendation that these institutions can be central to transformation. A proposal that may cause discomfort states: "Emphasis will need to be placed on mobilising national savings (such as pension funds) in order to support the strategic and long-term investment programmes."

ECONOMIC GROWTH

There is very little new in this document that has not already been covered in the President's State of the Nation address (Sona). The ideas revolve around skills development, infrastructure building and industrialisation. A key theme running through once more is that of the state being the kingpin in the quest for economic growth and transformation. It is worth reading for the detail it provides.

PEACE AND STABILITY

There is a bigger role for Home Affairs. Its national identification system should be more widely linked to other institutions such as banks as a means of controlling fraud and corruption. There is also a proposal for control of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Municipalities are proposed as an agent of control in the tightening and enforcement of bylaws on the ownership and running of spaza shops.

The judiciary is dealt with in proposals on new legislation in the control and running of the justice sector. Herein lies the nub of the debate on the separation of powers within the different arms of government and it is worth a careful read.

EDUCATION AND HEALTH

Of all the documents, this is the most disappointing and contains little new information. It refloats the idea of making HIV/Aids a notifiable disease, a proposal made a while back that was not accepted.

The theme of more state control emerges as well with a proposal for the establishment of a state-owned pharmaceutical company. In education there is a proposal for a state-owned publishing enterprise for the production and distribution of text books.

COMMUNICATIONS

For the techno-savvy this will prove interesting as there are a number of ideas on enhancing information and communication technology. Government's communication and information system is found wanting, a media tribunal is still on the cards and newspaper ownership is scrutinised. There is a proposal for a special black economic empowerment charter for print media.

GOVERNANCE

Scrapping of the provinces is off the agenda but there are proposals to modify the number of district councils. There are a range of ideas on strengthening municipalities and an important concern is the need for qualified and competent staff. The document also recognises the need for integrated planning in cities and towns. There are good ideas for broadening the scope of public participation in local government. There is a proposal that the number of ward committee members be extended from the current 10 to 30, with a suggestion that school governing bodies, community policing forums and other organisations also have representation on ward committees.

GENDER

The key suggestion here is for the ANC to make a policy commitment to have a 50-50 representation of women in its top structures. This should be extended from the party and government to the private sector and in the awarding of tenders and black economic empowerment deals.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

South Africa should have a more robust engagement with Africa and get involved in the revitalisation of the continent.

• The ANC discussion documents are available on the ANC website: www.anc.org.za

• nalini@witness.co.za

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