Guest Column

Policy as proxy for change

2017-06-25 06:04
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

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ANC policy conference will be music, slogans and dance, says Phosa

2017-06-23 09:37

Former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa has expressed some concern over the party's upcoming policy conference. WatchWATCH

Setumo Stone

As the curtains came down on the last ANC national policy conference in 2012, the policy discussion document on the ANC’s “second transition” had been battered so much that its sponsors only just lived to fight back another day at a national conference later that year in Mangaung.

Next week another chapter of the party’s policy conference will be written, with the contentious concept of “radical economic transformation” set to take centre stage.

So far, many South Africans and ANC members know mainly two things that are definite about the idea.

Firstly, it is intended to be a declaration of war against “white monopoly capital” and, secondly, it is a proxy campaign for former African Union Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed her ex-husband, President Jacob Zuma.

Just like the second transition, radical economic transformation is about to face its acid test in front of a diverse group of ANC conference delegates from all corners of South Africa.

At its heart, the comical debate on the second transition was also a proxy campaign for Zuma’s second term as ANC president in Mangaung.

And when he was asked whether it was not factional for his supporters to tie the debate to his Mangaung campaign – referring to a then popular anthem that had “Zuma” and “second transition” as refrains – Zuma said ANC members were creative and dynamic like that.

“You say something now and they turn it into a song,” Zuma said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that these songs were a central part of the campaigns for leadership contests – and which, in fact, led the ANC at the time to caution that members should stop singing about individual leaders and instead sing about the party and its policies.

Policy debates as proxy campaigns

Presenting the resolution on the outcome of the debate, Fikile Mbalula, now minister of police, could not help but laugh at the clumsy formulation of the concept.

The ultimate consensus was to rename it “the second phase of the first transition”, which Mbalula deliberately scrambled for effect.

He was then being touted as the next ANC secretary-general with some support from two slates, “Forces of Change” and “Anything But Zuma” – widely known as ABZ.

Proponents of ABZ wanted Tokyo Sexwale to become deputy president under Kgalema Motlanthe, while Forces of Change preferred Mathews Phosa for the same post.

Despite the minor difference, they both successfully argued that the second transition misrepresented the ANC’s longstanding theory of the national democratic revolution as the majority of delegates agreed.

Another important feature of the 2012 conference had been that the nationalisation debate was carried through, which may have given then axed ANC Youth League president Julius Malema a glimmer of hope that the December conference could overturn his sanction.

He had wanted commitment towards nationalisation policy to become a determining factor in the leadership succession race, so Zuma did not qualify.

But Malema’s last-minute appeal to conference crashed on technical grounds – his letter had been received when the agenda had already been set.

Legend has it that the economic transformation resolution that ministers Malusi Gigaba and Nathi Mthethwa later presented to the public was “personally” given to them by Zuma and it was a different product from the nationalisation-friendly rhetoric in the commissions.

In the end, the “n-word”, which had then made “white monopoly capital” uncomfortable, had been expunged – and Malema was gone for good.

So, using policy debates as proxy campaigns in leadership contests is indeed a part of the ANC’s fibre.

Former president Thabo Mbeki had also been labelled the face of the “1996 class project”, a term coined by the SA Communist Party to support their view that the ANC had turned towards neoliberal policies.

Zuma rode the wave of the campaign when he toppled Mbeki in Polokwane in 2007.

Others who have also had their names tied to big policy changes include former trade union federation Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who championed the much-vaunted “Lula moment” – a reference to how Brazil’s past president, Lula da Silva, championed the interests of the poor and unemployed during his term.

The slogan would seemingly have become a key part of Vavi’s rise to higher power as some of his backers quietly, we heard, lobbied Zuma to consider him for the position of ANC deputy president in Mangaung in 2012.

But the Lula moment got relegated to Cosatu’s dustbin, together with Vavi’s eventual downfall – even though he was “standing” during those few seconds of erotic pleasure that triggered his early exit from Cosatu.

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Read more on:    anc  |  nkosazana ­dlamini zuma  |  jacob zuma
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