Road to Mangaung: ANC policy debate set to kick off

2012-06-25 22:27
Delegates will wrestle over the ANC's soul at the party's policy conference in Midrand, in preparation for the organisation's national elective conference to be held in Mangaung in December. (File, Sapa)

Delegates will wrestle over the ANC's soul at the party's policy conference in Midrand, in preparation for the organisation's national elective conference to be held in Mangaung in December. (File, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - The ANC's four-day policy conference is set to start at Gallagher Estate in Midrand, Johannesburg, on Tuesday, in what party secretary general Gwede Mantashe says is a "preparatory conference" for the ANC's national elective conference to be held in Mangaung in December.

The 3 500 delegates attending, consisting of branch delegates, national executive committee members, the ANC leagues, its alliance partners, deployees and business representatives, are expected to fiercely debate how the country can create jobs, attract foreign investment and stave off social unrest in a global recession.

Over the next four days, populists and fiscal conservatives will be wrestling over the ANC's soul at the conference.

But the ANC is confident the will produce outstanding outcomes, secretary general Mantashe said.

"There have been very robust debates within our branches, regions, provinces [and] alliance structures, and [among] the public, on the policy he told reporters in Johannesburg.

"We are very confident that the policy conference... will bring together all those discussions and produce outstanding policy outcomes."

Tuesday's session would start with an address by President Jacob Zuma, who is also president of the ANC.

Though the conference would not focus on the succession debate, observers will be watching Zuma closely this week to see whether he can maintain discipline among the gathered delegates.

They'll also be assessing his efforts to push his vision, which some say is fuzzy on details such as how he will pay for planned infrastructure development and the national health programme, the national health insurance, while labour says he's not moving far or fast enough to the left.

Impatient

Thami Mazwai, who oversees a university programme designed to give some of South Africa's poorest citizens the skills to run their own businesses, said he worries that ANC policymakers aren't getting beyond academic debates.

"Right now, we're not having a lot of acting. We really don't understand that we are in crisis mode," said Mazwai, director of the University of Johannesburg's Soweto-based Centre for Small Business Development.

The ANC will this week, for example, debate whether the government should offer private companies subsidies to encourage them to hire and train young workers.

A section of the ANC that includes the finance minister is pushing for the youth wage subsidy, but unions say it will encourage employers to replace existing workers with younger employees.

Mazwai says that it will get young people into the workforce, and that the ANC should stand up to labour.

South Africa's unemployment rate has been stuck at 25% for years. This country of 50 million has not seen the political turmoil or wide-scale strikes and protests that have occasionally erupted into violence in Europe as economies there melt down.

But scattered protests over the government's failure to deliver enough after 18 years in power have broken out in some of South Africa's poorest communities.

Mazwai said the risk of broader upheaval can't be ignored, particularly because so many of South Africa's unemployed are young and impatient.

"That is the ticking time bomb that a lot of us are worried about," Mazwai said.

Tensions

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said that among the tough questions to be confronted this week is why, a generation after apartheid's end brought democracy to the black majority, ANC members don't face consequences when they fail in government posts.

Going after ANC members seen as under-performing, whether in the Cabinet or the civil service, could raise already high tensions within the party.

Among the dozen policy documents ANC leaders have circulated to prepare members for the conference is one warning against letting "factional battles over power and resources define the political life of the movement".

Top ANC policy makers can show decisiveness. Despite calls by unions and the ANC Youth League to nationalise mines, seen as a key area in which jobs can be created, the documents that make up the conference agenda portray nationalisation as politically and financially impractical.

They instead propose using taxes and other means to ensure the nation gets the most from its mineral wealth.

Last week at a Group of 20 meeting in Mexico, Zuma pledged to contribute $2bn to a fund the IMF can use to help ailing economies.

Some within the ANC who are sceptical of globalisation said the money would have been better spent at home, illustrating the kind of bickering among moderate and more radical ANC members that can worry foreign investors.

Zuma, head of the only African country in the group of the world's 20 top economies, stood firm, saying he was acting to head off deepening a global crisis that could see more jobs lost in South Africa.

Leading businessman Brett Dawson wants policymakers to concentrate on competitiveness, in part by improving education and infrastructure.

Dawson's Dimension Data, which provides IT technology and support to major South African financial services, mining and other companies, employs thousands.

It could employ more if the nation's communications infrastructure and costs allowed entrepreneurs to compete with Indian and other companies for international contracts.

"It is about nations making sure that they can compete. It's the only way we can create jobs," Dawson said.

Dawson is hopeful. South Africans, he said, showed they were capable of innovative thinking and decisiveness when they defeated apartheid.

"The challenge we're facing here is a lot smaller than that kind of challenge," Dawson said.

- AP

Read more on:    dimension data  |  anc  |  gwede mantashe  |  jackson mthembu  |  jacob zuma  |  johannesburg  |  politics
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