Ralph Mathekga

#ANCPolicy17 a missed opportunity

2017-07-06 08:53
President Jacob Zuma waves during the ANC policy conference in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

President Jacob Zuma waves during the ANC policy conference in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

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Something that continues to fascinate me to this day is the manner in which the Greek philosopher Socrates handled debates, according to Plato.

In those dialogues, Socrates would demand the highest form of reasoning as he engaged the other person. Known for painstakingly taking his debating partner through the process of presenting an argument, Socrates would from time to time request acknowledgement from his debating partner as the discussion developed.

At times Socrates would say to his debating partner: “Now that you have acknowledged that everything you know is from your father, you cannot therefore claim to be more knowledgeable than your father.”

If the debating partner agreed to the first part of the statement and yet insisted however that he was more knowledgeable than his father, Socrates would not give up. He would politely continue: “Can you at this stage agree that you are contradicting yourself?”

At this stage, the debating partner would be embarrassed and have no choice but to agree to have contradicted herself. From that point, the discussion would focus on the source of contradiction and how it could be resolved.

I think that this approach to discussions could have helped over 4000 delegates that gathered at the ANC policy conference in Nasrec over the last few days.

What the delegates lacked is some agreement about the rules of engagement in their discussions. ANC members entered the policy conference discussions with a clear commitment not to be persuaded; not even by a carefully outlined and compelling argument.

For example, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal insisted that the main hurdle towards transformation in the country is ‘white monopoly capital’. The other faction would then respond by asking the KZN ANC to explain the difference between white monopoly capital and monopoly capital in practice. No sound explanation emerged.

The truth is that white monopoly capital is a chapter within monopoly capital; a specific and localised version of a bigger global phenomenon. It is interesting that both camps within the ANC agree about the negative impact of monopoly capital on transformation.

The factions further agreed that monopoly capital can take various forms, including white monopoly or even black monopoly. By resolving monopoly capital, members agreed, that would at the same time eradicate white monopoly capital.

The big disagreement however emerged when it came to identifying the ‘strategic enemy’ of transformation. For the ANC Youth League and President Zuma’s allies, white monopoly capital is the strategic enemy, as Zuma stated in his closing address yesterday.

The other camp within the ANC, the Cyril Ramaphosa camp, have always been convinced that the problem is monopoly capital.

The problem is that while the two camps are bickering regarding what is the strategic enemy of the ANC’s fading transformation agenda, no one is trying to find a strategic solution to the problems the country is confronted with.

This is how the policy conference failed to identify the much needed solutions. By focusing on the blame game and redefining problems that were known to exist all along, the conference is a missed opportunity for the ANC to show South Africans that the party can occasionally prioritise the nation and forfeit the exercise of rhetorical self-indulgence which is devoid of logical reasoning.

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

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