Clarity, we think

2010-09-28 00:00

LAST week clearly belonged to Jacob Zuma and his colleagues in the ANC leadership. But the view that Zuma won victory over Julius Malema is both an exaggeration and over-simplification of power dynamics in this old political movement.

For Zuma it was the victory of the branches which expressed the disapproval­ of ill-discipline and public spats. The smooth conclusion of the national general council (NGC) may also be a victory for all those concerned to see smooth governance, undivided attention on the provision of public goods and a stable government.

In his much-lauded opening address last Monday, Zuma set a strong tone for the NGC by focusing it on major policy questions that need to be resolved and major organisational concerns about which he needed a clear mandate from the branches. When the meeting closed on Friday, he laced his renewed authority with song and dance, ANC-style. But make no mistake, he had a headache going into this meeting.

Various interest groups were pleased with the firm hand that the Zuma leadership showed last week. Everyone, from members and supporters to political enemies of the ANC, seemed relieved that Zuma showed the steady hand that this country needs from him during this season of turbulence and madness in our body politic.

The ugly scenes that have come to characterise ANC provincial and Youth League conferences were not repeated. Factions were not conspicuous and leadership succession was not brought up. Media reports suggest that there was a robust, heated but mature debate on even contentious issues such as the proposed nationalisation of strategic national assets, the national health insurance and media appeal tribunal proposal. Consensus points were presented by a carefully selected mix of old hands and emerging leaders in daily press briefings.

When Zuma and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, decided not to attend the much-vaunted UN General Assembly discussion in New York on the Millennium Development Goals, it seemed that this was in fear that the NGC would be derailed and their positions would be usurped.

But it turns out that they pulled out to signal their commitment to engaging with the rank and file and to demonstrate that they regarded the NGC and the ANC more highly than any other forum, internationally.

A meeting that puts together the left and centre-right interest groups, the radical young people and the calm elders, must of necessity produce compromise outcomes. If resolutions create a sense that one constituency is projected as having won the continuous battle for the soul of the ANC, then a fierce counterbattle is started. It seems that the ANC is always careful not to tilt the internal balance of power. This is clearly reflected in the tone and content of resolutions that are taken in commissions that debate specific thematic­ issues.

For instance, on economic transformation the resolutions are a mixture of concessions to the Congress of South African Trade Unions’s (Cosatu) call for a new growth path and a reaffirmation of the current policy emphases.

On social transformation, the resolutions reiterate the Polokwane­ call for the government to get the basics right in both health and education services; a new impetus­ for skills development through re-energising the Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta); and the creation of a higher education and training ministry.

The resolutions on media diversity sought to assuage concerns that the ANC wants to muzzle the media, without disengaging from dealing with the violation of human­ dignity by reckless media reports.

The resolutions expanded the debate beyond the issue of media accountability to include improving diversity in media control and ownership, which signals the intention to break the monopoly of four companies over the South African media and promoting the electronic media.

Matters of member discipline that loomed large at council may seem irrelevant for the general public, these being internal ANC matters, but the decision to enforce strict discipline is of interest to all and sundry as well.

A sense that the omnipresent governing party is in a permanent state of flux and that its president is severely weakened affects the country’s stability and performance and, therefore, all of us.

Power struggles in ANC provinces and municipalities disrupt the provision of essential services and can in the long run dent public confidence in the government and our democratic system broadly.

The fact that the governing party­ debated and reached consensus on all contentious issues, consensus that ensures that the interests of various constituencies internally and externally are taken­ on board, is good for all us.

It is also good that peripheral issues­ that helped poison the public­ debate and create commotion may soon give way to the business of building a better South Africa­.

If Zuma maintains the firm leadership that he demonstrated at the NGC, he will lead South Africa through a stable period to his party’s centenary and to the next national elections in 2014.

If he does not, the forces of anarchy­ will push us deeper into a state of uncertainty and negativity­.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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