Smokescreen

2009-09-22 00:00

THE war of words between the African National Congress and its alliance partners that has followed Trevor Manuel’s release of the Green Paper on Strategic Planning shifts focus from pertinent issues to power struggles. Both sides understand this. It is just the media and we observers who seem to miss the point, giving it more importance than it deserves.

In the process, as the ANC points out, the content of the Green Paper is ignored, a tendency that may undermine the country and its people a lot more than if Manuel pursues the 1996 Class Project — that is if it is to be believed that Manuel’s outlook is out of tune with that of the ANC government. Manuel may be an easy target, but this economic transformation is much broader and Jeremy Cronin and Blade Nzimande are the latest to join the club. This paper was released along with the Green Paper on Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation by Collins Chabane, the second minister in the Presidency. Together, these papers present proposals that promise to fundamentally change the way in which the government works.

As discussion documents, the green papers provide a precious opportunity for civil society, business and the state to shape how the government translates the shared vision of a better South Africa, better Africa and a better world into reality.

Of course, the government has, as bound by the Constitution, provided similar platforms for the citizenry to influence its direction and often civil society and others have missed these opportunities. Fear that this was again going to be the case haunted me in the days after the papers were released.

We at the Institute for Global Dialogue, quickly started mulling over how we would go about making considered opinions on what exactly the responsibilities and impact of the Planning Commission should be, how it should interface with its provincial counterparts, what role we envisage for research NGOs and think-tanks like ourselves, and what performance indicators would be most suitable for the area of international relations.

Then came media statements quoting excerpts from the Congress of South African Trade Union’s position on Manuel’s paper only. Pleased that civil society was responding quickly to the invitation by the government to come to the party, I listened carefully to Cosatu’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, and general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

The point they made is that Manuel, who the federation has advised should not return to cabinet, is using his position to ele­vate himself to the level of a prime minister lording over other ministries. The second gripe, which Cosatu shares with the South African Communist Party (SACP), is that there is no indication in the paper that Manuel’s ministry will collaborate almost equally with Ibrahim Patel’s Economic Development ministry. The third is that Manuel is on a mission to revive the capitalist project of 1996.

Of course, they do not offer a logical reason as to why there should be twin super ministries. They do not care if this will perpetuate problems of turf wars and lack of coherence in government operations. Their considerations have to do with the politics of power and positioning at the centre of the Jacob Zuma administration. They are hoping for an equal balance between the left and centrists in major portfolios, honestly believing there are still non-capitalists left in the alliance.

Cosatu is a trade union steeped in political unionism, while the SACP is a political party. It is understandable that they put across positions designed to adjust the centre of power in the ANC. Consequently, the ANC through its secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who happens to be the SACP chairman, has tried to sidestep the power game by asking alliance partners to concentrate their inputs on the substance of the green papers. We just can’t understand why Cosatu and the SACP cannot see this simple logic. But that’s because we don’t understand that theirs is an attempt to use the green papers as an opportunity to draw more concessions for the left in the ANC’s power distribution.

The sooner we distinguish this squabble from the discussions on the green papers the better. If we don’t, we can’t make considered inputs on the substance of what Manuel and Chabane are proposing. Yet, these proposals will have a direct bearing on whether the people of Kwa-Bester, Ngagane or Ntunjambili will realise the dream of a better life in the coming five to 10 years. It will influence the pace of business development. It will determine whether the government will function efficiently in the future. For this reason, the green papers­ ought to worry every citizen. While the ANC partners’ real concerns are about power games, ours must be about whether the proposals will resolve all major constraints to efficiency and effectiveness.

The ability of the ANC to rein in the left’s momentum to focus the debate on the substance of the proposal will be a welcome outcome of the debate. This is not to say the ANC must muzzle its partners, far from it; that would be undemocratic. But it does have a responsibility as the leading party to prevent the reduction of fundamental and wide-ranging issues of planning, performance, monitoring and evaluation to pre-Polokwane squabbles over whether the holders of portfolios are communists or anti-communists. They should be judged on their commitment to the agenda for change and renewal.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the dir­ector: Southern Africa at the Institute for Global dialogue.

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