An ANC policy review conference in Durban next week is expected to be a “window” into what might happen at the party’s elective congress in 2012, as pressure mounts on President Jacob Zuma to speed up services to the poor and adopt more radical policies, such as nationalising mines.
Centre for Policy Studies political analyst Thabo Rapoo, says the four-day national general council (NGC) will give a clear signal of where Zuma stands in the party, as the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the ANC Youth League push the ANC to move quicker on promises made at the 2007 Polokwane conference.
“At the NGC in 2005, former president Thabo Mbeki was given a rough ride by the ANC delegates,” Rapoo says.
“It was a window into what was to come in 2007 when he was defeated for the party’s leadership by Zuma.
“We have seen Zuma’s support waning in the past months. This NGC could very well give a window into what is to come in 2012.”
Cosatu and the youth league helped propel Zuma to power in Polokwane, but in the past months both groups have accused him of stalling on delivering on policies adopted there.
In August, Zuma was at the receiving end of a string of vicious insults over his polygamy and an illegitimate child he fathered, during a strike by around 1.3 million Cosatu-backed public service workers.
Questions have also been raised about suspect multibillion-rand mining deals involving his son, while youth league leader Julius Malema has urged his members not to follow the example of leaders who take more than one wife.
This week, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the ANC had neglected the poor since coming to power in 1994.
The federation would push the NGC to adopt more left-leaning economic policies, which included creating a state-owned bank to cater for the poor, nationalising vital sectors, such as mining, metals and petrochemicals, a more progressive tax system, and abolishing inflation targeting, he said.
But, says Rapoo, “We can expect radical statements from the leadership of the ANC as a way of calming activists baying for blood.”
The NGC is intended to review how far the current ANC leadership has gone in implementing its Polokwane mandate, but Rapoo says ambitious members of the ANC will use the gathering as a lobbying ground to garner support and test the popularity of certain policies ahead of 2012.
“The meeting will also be where the battleground is laid out in preparation for 2012,” he says.
“It will be a testing ground, an opportunity midway from the 2007 conference in Polokwane, for the party’s ambitious future leaders to test their support among the ANC’s key constituencies and to start the party’s next leadership contest.”
One of the key policies due to be trumpeted by Cosatu and the youth league at the NGC will be nationalising mines.
Government, they say, has been too soft on the mining sector for failing to reach its transformation targets.
The 2004 mining charter requires companies to have sold 15% of their South African assets to black investors by the end of 2009, and 26% by 2014, but currently only 8.9% of mining assets are black-owned.
Economists have warned that government does not have the capacity to run a new state-owned entity to oversee nationalised sectors, and that dropping inflation targeting will push inflation higher and cause workers to suffer even more.
Adopting Cosatu’s radical proposals would also frighten off investors who already see South Africa’s strict labour laws as making the country a less lucrative place for direct investment.
Economist Dawie Roodt, says nationalisation does not make “any sense” from a business point of view.
The mining sector pays around R32 billion in direct taxes and a large portion of indirect taxes, accounting for 17.3% of total company tax.
The industry also directly contributes 31%, or about R219 billion, in merchandise exports.
“Between 50% and 60% of what a mine earns is already paid to the government, not only in direct tax, but also salary taxes, VAT and so on,” Roodt says.
“If the government takes control of the mines, they will take on 100% risk.
“If I am guaranteed to earn between 50% and 60% on zero risk, I will most definitely go for the 50%. It’s a no-brainer.”
Government leaders, such as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, have reassured business that nationalisation is not government policy, but Roodt says business has not realised how serious the threat of nationalisation is.
“What is clear is that recently there has been a marked swing in favour of nationalisation within the ANC,” he says.
“But the business community seems to think it is nothing to worry about.”
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi, says the reason for tensions in the alliance is due to the perception that the Zuma administration has fallen short on policy expectations.
“Yes, Zuma will come under increasing pressure at the NGC, from the left in particular, to effect radical content in economic policy,” he says.
It is however, “highly unlikely” that the ANC will adopt nationalisation as one of its policies at the NGC.
“We must keep in mind that the SACP is not with Cosatu and the youth league on this issue,” he says.
“The SACP see it at a ploy to bail out elements of the BEE club who are in trouble with their mining assets.
“The ANC will probably adopt a non-resolution on nationalisation and seek to postpone debate to after the NGC,” he says.