by Stef Terblanche

Mixed results for Zuma at policy conference

For incumbent Jacob Zuma the results were mixed.

Jacob Zuma
Policy change main.jpg
As predicted last week, the ANC’s national policy conference this past week was little more than a precursor for the ANC’s elective national conference in December. As such, it was something of an election platform for those believed to be candidates for the presidency of both the ANC and the country. For incumbent Jacob Zuma the results were mixed.

The conference was highly divided and represented something of a setback for Zuma’s re-election bid and a boost for those who favour his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe. Election fever also seems to have brought key policy deliberations to inconclusive policy statements. (South African Scene)

President Zuma and his close lieutenants tried hard to paint the outcome of the policy conference as something of an endorsement of Zuma’s leadership and his views on various policy positions. They also tried to present a façade of unity.

However, quite the opposite transpired on both scores. Zuma appears to have been defeated on almost all the policy positions he championed. In addition, factions sang songs favouring opposing policy positions perceived to either represent Zuma or Motlanthe.

Zuma and Motlanthe are now apparently the only candidates for the presidency. The other rumoured candidate, Human Settlements Minister, Tokyo Sexwale, did not seem to feature anywhere. Motlanthe is favoured by the ANC Youth League, a number of ANC provinces, and many others in the ANC to replace Zuma as president.

Delegates from different provinces also adopted policy positions that were seen to be in line with the provinces’ known support for, or rejection, of Zuma. Support for Zuma came from Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State, while the remainder adopted positions that are opposed, in varying degrees, to Zuma and his policy positions.

Policies on which he was defeated at the conference include the so-called “second transition” focused on radical economic interventions, the revived Traditional Courts Bill, and the youth wage subsidy. Deliberations on the role of the judiciary within the framework of the separation of powers also probably did not go to his satisfaction.

Second transition

In what was probably the most serious setback for Zuma’s re-election bid, the key policy concept of a “second transition” contained in the Strategy and Tactics proposal – championed by him and considered by many to be his re-election manifesto – was rejected. In what was, perhaps, a mere exercise in semantics, the proposal was redrafted as ‘the second phase’ .

The format finally adopted is more in line with the criticism of the ‘second transition’ Motlanthe expressed before the policy conference but remained vague on detail.


A key aspect of the economic policy proposals concerns the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines. It is also this issue that set tempers flaring in the closed plenary session on the final day of the policy conference.

A proposal calling for partial nationalisation of mines whereby the state would acquire an unspecified share in all future mining operations was introduced by Zuma’s ally, secretary general Gwede Mantashe and was later adopted as a resolution, but not before some delegates came to blows over it. Outright nationalisation as an option was only narrowly defeated.

Radical versus moderate

While the policy conference did map out more radical future policy directions in some respects, the outcome was nowhere near as radical as some had hoped. Controversial concepts such as outright nationalisation of economic assets, seizure of land without compensation, or state regulation of the media through a tribunal did not make it into the final policy drafts.

However, on a more radical note the policy conference, under pressure from the ANC’s labour ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), rejected the youth wage subsidy to boost youth employment which was favoured by Zuma and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The conference also resolved to look at reducing the number of provinces in South Africa in a way that will probably amount to gerrymandering – if carried out – and will deny the opposition DA its continued control of the Western Cape.

Other policy resolutions of a more radical bent include merging the various metro police services with the South African Police Service into a single national police force, and reintroducing the infamous ‘street committees’ of the pre-1994 era. While these street committees should ostensibly be established to help fight crime, the delegates ominously resolved that they should be controlled by the ANC.

This evokes memories of the violent jungle justice meted out by such ANC street committees during the political turmoil in townships in the 1980s and also reminds of the so-called Zanufication that happened in Zimbabwe

In a statement over the weekend, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi also warned the ruling party is steadily rewriting history to its own advantage.

Youth plans

Another policy resolution that may prove to be controversial, concerns introducing a minimum of one year’s community service, or internships, to be served by all tertiary graduates, similar to that already served by medical graduates. This will apparently be run in conjunction with a non-compulsory National Youth Service Programme that will aim to develop skills and may include military service.

Details are sketchy and ambiguous at best, but Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile gave some insight into the thinking that may be behind it when he said: "We don't want too many young people just loitering – or doing nothing”. This may well be an attempt to defuse the ‘ticking time bomb’ of youth unemployment and thus prevent an ‘Arab spring’ from occurring in South Africa.

Separation of power

In his closing speech to the conference, President Zuma emphasised the principle of the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, but added that “the branches of the state are equal parties entrusted with distinct constitutional powers” and that “no branch is superior to others." Zuma is strongly opposed to the judiciary frequently overturning controversial government decisions and policies that have been found to be unconstitutional or legally flawed.

Land reform

Farmers and other land owners will be pleased with the final policy statement that emerged on land reform. It rejected the seizure of land without compensation and reaffirmed the current constitutional position on property rights. The policy resolution held that land should not be confiscated without compensation unless it had been acquired illegally.

However, it also somewhat ambiguously threw out the concept of ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ while at the same time retaining the legal status quo which holds that if the state and a private owner cannot reach agreement on compensation for land, a court must determine a reasonable price.

Incompetent & corrupt cadres

Delegates were concerned about the harm done to the image of the ANC by incompetent and corrupt cadres deployed in government and the civil service, including ministers and provincial premiers.

They sent a strong message that they would no longer be protected and proposed that an ANC integrity committee be established that should be able to recall such cadres. It was also proposed that ANC cadres that are on trial for corruption and be forced to vacate their positions during their trial.

Not policy yet

While the policy conference debated and redrafted key policy concepts before adopting them, none of them are official policy yet. They will now be taken back to the ANC branches for further discussions that could result in proposals for changes to be made.

Final drafts emerging from the branches through the regional and provincial structures will be taken to the national conference in Mangaung. There, delegates will adopt, adapt or reject them. Only then, will they become official ANC policy that may influence and guide government policy and decisions.

The only certain thing, so far, is that the remainder of the year will see the leadership race in the ANC intensifying significantly – especially now that Zuma has tested the waters and saw his support not being what he had hoped for. This intensified leadership race will inform further development and articulation of ANC policies.

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