ANC 6th National Policy Conference - Inclusive Society Institute Insights




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the Inclusive Society Institute or its Board or Council members.


Author: Inclusive Society Institute Research Team


SEPTEMBER 2022


Content


Overview

  • Background

  • President Ramaphosa sets the scene at the NPC

Macro-situation for consideration

  • The global environment

  • Domestic landscape

National Policy Conference deliberations

  • Organisational renewal

  • Political party modernisation and reform

  • Electoral Reform

  • State/local government

  • Economic Transformation

  • Universal Basic Income Grant (BIG)

  • Social Transformation

  • Peace and stability

  • Fight against corruption and State capture

Conclusion

  • Projections of where South Africa is currently situated

  • ISI views: The way forward

Appendix

  • Snapshot of academics’/analysts’/journalists’ Comments

  • Prof Richard Calland (Public Law, UCT)(2022)

  • Duma Gqubule (economist)(2022)

  • Rebecca Davis (journalist, Daily Maverick)(2022)

  • Prof Susan Booysen (political scientist, author and analyst)(2022)

  • Anton Harber (2022)

References


Cover page photograph source: https://mg.co.za/opinion/2022-07-28-anc-policy-conference-the-iceberg-moment-is-upon-us/


Overview


Background

The 6th National Policy Conference (NPC) took place from 29-31 July 2022 at NASREC, Johannesburg, in the year that has been declared by the ANC as ‘The Year of Unity and Renewal to Defend and Advance South Africa’s Democratic Gains’. The NPC was truncated from five to three days, with one of the reasons for this being a lack of resources.


The Conference is held in compliance with the ANC Constitution, which states that “the NEC may convene a Policy Conference, as a recommendation-making body on any matter of policy, whenever it deems it necessary, but the NEC shall convene a National Policy Conference at least six months before the National Conference to review policies of the ANC and to recommend any new or to amend any present policy for consideration by the National Conference”. The ANC Constitution provides that the Policy Conference should be preceded by the National General Council (NGC). This would have taken place in 2020 but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


President Ramaphosa, in his opening address, said that the NPC “in many ways is a defining moment for the ANC and for our country”. President Ramaphosa also stated that the delegates “carry the responsibility to shape policy proposals that will deepen the renewal of our movement and hasten the transformation of our society”. Many liken this moment to the “consultative conferences” of Mogorogoro (1969) and Kabwe (1985) when the ANC faced deep crises in its ranks.


There were calls to hybridise the NGC and NPC, where an “organisational review” would be presented. This would allow a review of the performance of the NEC and officials, including that of the President. It has been suggested that political motives prompted these calls for a hybrid conference.


Historically, the 2005 NGC is legendary for the revolt against then ANC President Mbeki and the recall of Jacob Zuma after his dismissal as deputy president of the country. In December 2007, the Jacob Zuma slate triumphed against the Thabo Mbeki slate by a 60-40% margin.


On the eve of the NPC, the National Working Committee (NWC) turned down the request for hybridisation. Some delegates tried to re-raise these issues at the NPC but could not muster sufficient support.


President Ramaphosa sets the scene at the NPC


In his opening address, President Ramaphosa set the tone for the NPC, when he said that “our deliberations over the next few days, the resolutions we will adopt at our 55th National Conference, and the actions that we then take, will determine the fate of our movement and indeed the direction of our country. This Policy Conference should be seen as a festival of ideas, where the ANC lives up to its role as the leader of society by developing policies that relate to the lived experience of our people where they live to shape the trajectory of our country. We have exhibited discipline in our discussions and our exchanges at branch, regional and provincial level in preparation for this conference. This should underpin our approach to discussions and exchanges at this conference. Many in the media expect this to be a conference where we will fight amongst ourselves and differ widely on a variety of matters of politics and ideology. We will demonstrate, in accordance with ANC tradition, that where we might have different views and approaches on various matters, we are always able to build consensus and emerge with coherent policy positions.”


The President, in his political overview, noted that the ANC was at its weakest ever. He also outlined the myriad of challenges the ANC faces and that need to be addressed in order for our society to flourish.


Macro-situation for consideration


South Africa has been afflicted by poor economic growth since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. This has not improved the country’s socio-economic conditions, which are characterised by anaemic economic growth, unacceptably high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, corruption and malfeasance, gender violence, rising insecurity, and low trust and social cohesion in society. Policy proposals need to address these challenges and unlock cooperation amongst social partners to improve matters.


The question needing to be answered is: How is it that South Africa, which has one of the highest spending budgets for education and health, suffers from such poor outcomes in those areas? Our social safety framework is globally lauded as one of the most comprehensive in the world. However, our development must be shifted so that it can become more inclusive and sustainable.


The global environment


If we thought 2020 was a momentous year, with the outbreak of the novel Covid-19 virus, 2022 appears to be equally so. The global public health crisis triggered by the pandemic quickly turned into the largest global economic crisis in more than a century, resulting in major setbacks to growth, increased poverty rates, and widened inequality. The economic slowdown – equivalent to a mini-recession – induced by Covid-19, is now coupled with the rise in inflation, increases in energy, food, fertiliser, etc. There has been a tightening of interest rates to counter rising inflation, deeply impacting real incomes and consumer spending. Particularly, there is concern about rising food prices, given its disproportionate impact on the poor. The world faces a volatile situation, unprecedented in recent history.


In May, England’s Central Bank Governor, Andrew Bailey, warned that the catastrophic food prices could have a disastrous impact on the world’s poor for a long time. He went on to say that “this is the biggest test of the monetary policy framework in 25 years. There is no question about that” (Elliot, 2022a).


Also in May, the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, António Guterres, cautioned that a potential global food crisis could last years if it goes unchecked, as the World Bank announced an additional $12 billion in funding to mitigate its “devastating effects”. Guterres said shortages of grain and fertiliser caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, warming temperatures, and pandemic-driven supply problems threaten to “tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity”, as financial markets saw share prices fall heavily again on fears of inflation and a worldwide recession (Guterres, 2002).


Speaking at a UN meeting in New York on global food security, Guterres said that what could follow is “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years”, as he and others urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain exports. He said he was in “intense contact” with Russia and other countries to try to find a solution. Guterres further stated that “the complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides for a package deal to be reached”.


Together, Russia and Ukraine produce 30% of the world’s wheat. Before the invasion in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s breadbasket, exporting 4.5m tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports – 12% of the planet’s wheat, 15% of its corn, and half of its sunflower oil. Prices have skyrocketed. The UN’s food and agricultural price index reached an all-time high of almost 160 points in March before falling 1.2 or 0.8% in April. In the words of UNSG Guterres: “Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production”. World Food Programme Head David Beasley said at the summit: “The world is on fire. We have solutions. We need to act, and we need to act now” (Farrer, 2022).


Countries such as Egypt and Tunisia rely heavily on exports of Ukraine’s wheat and cooking oil. Sri Lankans have suffered months of severe shortages of food, fuel, and medicine – as well as long power cuts – after the country burnt through foreign currency reserves needed to pay for vital imports. This led to mass protests and the forced resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet. Subsequently, then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to resign and was replaced by former six-time Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe (with one seat in Parliament). There have been warnings that this could create a domino effect globally, and protests in many other countries, particularly around high food and energy prices (Elliot, 2022b).


Prof Carmen Reinhart, Chief Economist of the World Bank, says in the 2022 World Development Report, “It’s time to prioritise early, tailored action to support a healthy financial system that can provide the credit growth needed to fuel recovery. If we don’t, it is the most vulnerable that would be hit hardest” (World Bank, 2022).


The outbreak of hostilities between Ukraine and Russia has made the world more crisis-prone and unpredictable. The most recent sabre-rattling in the Taiwan Straits around Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s visit, has accelerated tensions between the USA and China. This event is as momentous as the dissolution of the Eastern Block, which signified the end of the Cold War. This ushered in the era of globalisation and ostensible good growth prospects for the globe. A new Cold War appears in the offing and will reshape the global political and economic environment for the foreseeable future.


In the intervening period, the world has witnessed events that have altered global affairs drastically, from the dissolution of the USSR, the rise of globalisation – predicated on an international liberal world order – to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus and various wars over the years. The much-trumpeted globalisation process has been weakened by the effects of increased levels of inequality, the rise of nationalism/illiberalism, the hollowing out of democracy, trade conflicts, climate change induced disasters, the coronavirus pandemic, and now, the Russia-Ukraine conflict.


The world has also witnessed the rise of Asia in general – and China in particular. With its large, populous countries, Asia has seen the centre of gravity of economic activity shifting from West to East, thereby challenging the US-EU global dominance. Its economic development is regarded as unprecedented and hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty in record time. The “pivot to the East” of the USA was in the main to prevent the rise of a rival to its pre-dominant global super-power position. This has been the stated position of the US, from the 1990s onwards, with the release of its revised 1992 national security paradigm.


The world has also witnessed the waning in influence of multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The United Nations has been dysfunctional in resolving global flashpoints as events showed in Libya, Yemen, and now, the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This dysfunctionality of the UN has resulted in a move away from multilateralism towards unilateralism and a focus on regional blocs, which has led to further polarisation globally. It is the view of the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) that this strengthens the need for UN reform, inclusive of its Charter and especially the security council mechanism. All the multilateral bodies do not reflect the world as of 2022, but still, by and large, the post-WWII geo-political balance of power. This needs to change sooner rather than later, and not merely incrementally.


On the BRICS front, its character has changed since its inception. The BRICs concept was coined in November 2021 by then-Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs, Jim O’Neill. It was premised on the idea that the “world would be shaped over the coming decades not by Europe and America, but by growth in Asia and the emergent markets” (Tooze, 2021). The intention behind BRICS was to open up policy space for governments, especially in the developing world, to pursue more independent paths to sustainable economic development. However, the reactions to the initial four BRICS members varied: “There was delight in Russia, bafflement in China, cynicism in Brazil and indifference in India” (Tett, 2010).


The economic progress of BRICS has been impressive; between 2000 and 2011, they more than doubled their share of the global economy from 8% to 19%. Several countries – including Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Argentina – are engaged in the BRICS membership process. And overtures have been made to Indonesia, UAE, Nigeria, Senegal, Thailand, and Kazakhstan to attend development meetings. It should be borne in mind that BRICS brought “together a mix of democratic and authoritarian regimes, with very different societal structures, resource bases, developmental trajectories, and historical traditions” (Narlikar, 2020). The addition of more countries, most not known for their democratic credentials, might exacerbate these divisions. Already, the Covid-19 pandemic has illuminated the fault lines in BRICS and ongoing global realignments.


In conclusion, we agree with Prof Jim O’Neill’s (2021) view that “what the world really needs is what we called for back in 2001: genuinely representative global (economic) governance”. This raises the question of what South Africa’s position will be on these vexing issues.

Africa has witnessed increasing instability and conflict over the last period. It also needs to simultaneously diversify its economies, lessen its dependence on commodities that are prone to cyclical movements, and re-industrialise. These developments play out against the backdrop of a weakened AU and coup d’états in 2021, mainly in West Africa, ongoing tensions in Libya, Chad, CAR, the DRC Sudan and Ethiopia, rooted principally in a challenge to manage diversity. The Sahel region, Nigeria, Somalia, and Mozambique experienced conflicts flowing from jihadist’s actions. These are worrying trends that require urgent attention and resolution. Africa does not appear to feature on the global agenda of formations like the G7, etc.


We should guard against Africa becoming the playground of superpowers again, as was the case during the Cold War; this time more as a scramble for resources and spheres of influence by the “great powers”. Africa should resist being pulled into one, exclusive sphere of influence. The continent should focus on trade and investment opportunities that foster its sustainable development. The new frontier of extractive industries will be for raw materials for renewable energy, of which Africa has in abundance. As Europe accelerates its renewable energy, weaning itself off Russian gas and oil, the appetite for raw materials will explode.


Africa should engage the West and the East on its terms and what is in its interests, what the Inclusive Society Institute refers to as “triangular engagement”.


With reference to the NPC’s International Relations paper; the paper is long, but short on specifics and the strategic position of South Africa vis-à-vis the continent and the globe. The following paragraph is illustrative of this non-specificity. “Our commitment to the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 as an expression of the aspirations of Africans, is central to the view that the silencing of guns on the continent is as much a security matter as it is a governance and development imperative. In this context, the full operationalisation of the AfCFTA; the further strengthening of NEPAD and the operationalisation of the tripartite free trade area between SADC, COMESA and EAC remain of great importance.”


Domestic landscape


The situation at home has been equally challenging following the onset of Covid-19 in 2020. The ANC’s electoral fortunes have been on a downward trajectory over the last few elections, with the exception of the 2017 national election. The ANC also suffers from a significant trust deficit amongst the populace. The poor turnout at the pre-NPC gala dinner was illustrative of how the ANC’s standing has decreased. This is in addition to the financial crisis that the party suffers presently.


During the 2019 provincial elections, the ANC declined by 10%, depreciating its majority to a precarious 54.21% of the vote. In the 2021 local government elections, the ANC’s support declined to 47.21%. If this trajectory continues, the ANC could slip below 50% in the 2024 general election, necessitating a coalition arrangement. The ANC is also at risk in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Northern Cape, and Nort West. It is already in opposition in the Gauteng metros, even though it garnered the highest percentage. Most opposition parties appear determined to unite against the ANC and keep it out of power; this trend is likely to remain.


The latest Ipsos poll (published in August 2022) confirms the decline. Whilst the ISI’s interpretation of the poll does not share the view that the ANC support could decline to as low as 42%, nor that it can be removed from government, it does suggest that it is currently hovering around the 50% mark. In a medium voter turnout scenario, the ISI is of the opinion that the ANC would garner between 48-50% of the national vote should an election be held now.


Therefore, given that ANC support is hovering at around the 50% mark, they would most probably be able to form a government on their own. But if not, there are several potential coalition partners, with similar policy orientations, that could push them over the 50% mark that is required to form a government.


In the Institute’s view, no opposition party will be able to form a coalition government without the inclusion or support of the EFF, whose support is currently in the region of 12-13%. Therefore, any coalition government that is formed to oust the ANC will likely suffer from policy incoherence. This will result in governance instability and/or unpredictability. Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Nelson Mandela are all undergoing permutations of these failures. Although unlikely, should such a coalition be formed, similar failures are sure to be repeated at the national level (and provincial level, where applicable).


Accordingly, the ISI does not see an election that offers two coherent policy options. There appears to be a choice between, on the one hand, unpredictability and instability, and on the other, continuity and predictability. Both, it could be argued in the current environment, have downsides. South Africa is far from where it needs to be. So, should the ANC wish to retain its lead position, it is incumbent on them to prove their commitment to real renewal and sensible growth-centred policies. This commitment to build the necessary trust capable of convincing the electorate that it will not be business as usual, or the lack thereof, will become evident during the ANC National Conference scheduled for later this year.


Despite significant progress over the years, the ANC is faced with a number of critical challenges, which have led to the erosion of electoral support and confidence in the ANC as a leader of society. The policy documents note some the following factors:


  • Low economic growth and a parlous fiscal situation

  • Unacceptably high levels of inequality, unemployment, and poverty

  • Widespread corruption, malfeasance, and underperformance

  • A lack of planning, coordination, implementation, and accountability for the work in government and the achievement of policy goals

  • Poor political will and leadership, and failure to implement the ANC’s policies and programmes

  • Failure to respect the values of the organization; serving the community and addressing their concerns is subordinated to factional interests

  • Violent protests and assassinations fueled by rival factions, some of which are institutionalised

  • Lack of accountability, accessibility, and transparency by ANC deployees, including poor communication with communities, lack of transparency, weak or ineffective ward committees

  • Declining service delivery and poor municipal financial management

  • Declining support for the ANC in elections across all spheres of government

  • July 2021 unrest and looting, mainly in KZN and Gauteng.


National Policy Conference deliberations


Discussions at the Policy Conference were based on discussion papers contained in the Special Edition Umrabulo, published in May 2022, and three discussion papers on State Capture and Corruption, Migration, and Gender and Women’s Emancipation (Vol II). The last revision of Through the Eye of the Needle, published in the Special Edition Umrabulo for the proposed 2020 NGC, was circulated on 30 July 2022 at the Conference.


Presentations were made on the following four overarching topics to assist discussions in the commissions: Strategy and Tactics, and Balance of Forces; Organisational Renewal; State Capture and Combatting Corruption; Gender Equity and the Emancipation of Women. These are regarded as transversal issues and the first two as scene setting. They were discussed simultaneously in all eight commissions and encapsulated in one report back. The other eight papers were discussed separately on the day in each of the eight commissions, with a separate report back:


Commission 1: Peace and Stability

Commission 2: Social Transformation

Commission 3: Education, Health Science and Tech

Commission 4: Culture and Heritage

Commission 5: International Relations

Commission 6: Legislature and Governance

Commission 7: Communications and Battle of Ideas

Commission 8: Economic Transformation


What follows is a critique of a number of these papers.


Organisational renewal

Organisational renewal of the ANC is pivotal for its future and the country’s. The 54th ANC National Conference in 2017 resolved that: “Organisational renewal therefore is an absolute and urgent priority, and we may go as far as to say, to the survival of our great movement.”


Moving from being a liberation movement to “moving into the seats of power” of government has attracted all kinds of careerists, many of whom are there for their own selfish interests and are ANC in name only, if that. Being in government has brought many negative elements, ranging from gatekeeping; influence of money politics in elections; swelling of ranks by careerists and opportunists; putting the interests of individuals ahead of the organisation and society; growing levels of malfeasance and corruption; poor service delivery; a distant, out of touch, inward-looking ANC unable to be effective agents of change and connect with communities; decreasing levels of trust and credibility in the ANC. This has resulted in the ANC losing support, most deeply illustrated in the recent November 2021 local government elections, where ANC support dropped below 50% in a number of metros.


This is a huge warning signal for the coming 2024 national elections. At the NPC, the ANC vowed that the behaviour of members and leadership would be ethical and that unsavoury elements would be removed from its ranks. It further committed to the renewal, re-engineering, and revitalisation of the ANC, so it can remain true to its principles and objectives. Stricter requirements for the membership application have been suggested, which could see members reapplying and vetted before joining the party.


The latest Ipsos poll (August 2022), previously alluded to, confirmed a further decline in support for the ANC. Respondents articulated being despondent about the state of affairs, largely driven by the increasing “cost of living”, occasioned by high prices. That said, Ipsos Director Mari Harris notes that the ANC’s downward spiral is not any other party’s gain. This suggests that new [coalition] councils have not made a difference. Harris said that she would be surprised if the ANC gets more than 50% in the 2024 national election. She remarked that the party achieved 47% of the vote in the local government elections and appears to have subsequently further lost support. “The slide is going in the wrong direction,” she said (Haffajee, 2022).


In 2021, the ANC introduced the “step-aside clause” (SAC) and continues to strengthen these measures. The SAC was the most observed issue by journalists and analysts as a bellwether of the ANC’s commitment to renewal and change. It was further viewed by many as a personal test of the President’s standing in the party. It was also seen as a proxy battle for divergent views/groupings in the ANC.


In the end, there was overwhelming support for the SAC by the delegates, with minority dissension. One of the main critiques from these ranks is that the policy is not being consistently and fairly applied; that some are selectively targeted in the ANC. Another critique of the SAC is that those implicated can wait for years, in a sort of no man's land – neither guilty nor exonerated – before they are tried and convicted or acquitted in a court of law. An example is that of Danny Msiza and Florence Radzilani (the VBS issue) in Limpopo, who have still not been charged more than three years after the initial allegations. This points to weaknesses in the justice system. President Ramaphosa, in his closing address, stated that they are cognisant of this criticism and will address it.


Political party modernisation and reform


It is recognised that the modernisation of the ANC is necessary, but that it will not be easy to accomplish. The ANC describes itself as a “liberation movement” with the aim to achieve the liberation of South Africa from it previously undemocratic, unjust, and unequal history. It has continued to couch itself as a “broad church” catering for many different ideological and class positions, underpinned by variegated ideas on its raison d’être, ethos, and philosophical outlook. At election time, all potential voters are targeted, not sections of the population, irrespective of the result.


However, since 1994, the party now exists in a constitutional democracy. And despite some of the negative pre-1994 societal features stubbornly prevailing today, the question has been posed: Why is the ANC so reluctant to make the transition to a modern, flexible, more streamlined political party? After all, its character displays all the elements of hierarchy, participation, and consensual decision-making.


Given the travails that the party is experiencing, it is inevitable that the ANC will have to adapt and transform into a more modern version of its traditional form; this will be an inescapable process, despite ongoing resistance and reluctance.


Electoral Reform

On 11 June 2020, the Constitutional Court declared that the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 is unconstitutional to the extent that it states that adult citizens may be elected to the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures only through their membership of political parties. Parliament was given 24 months from the order to remedy the defect giving rise to the unconstitutionality.


To date, the defect has not been remedied and 2024 is not far away with regard to election preparation. It is recognised that there is not enough time to bring in the directly elected element for the 2024 national and provincial elections, as there would still need to be constituency delimitation, inclusive of consultation, etc. It is therefore acknowledged that the 2024 poll will have to be conducted according to the existing system, with the proviso that changes will occur for the 2029 election. The debate in Parliament on this matter has shown that the majority party intends to adopt a “minimalist” position with reference to changes to the Act.


The Inclusive Society Institute has a research paper out on remedial proposals and has been engaging role-players in civil society, Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs, amongst others. Moving forward, some of the proposals mooted in the 2003 Slabbert Electoral Reform Task Team with reference to a mixed system, will be beneficial for this electoral reform aspect. It is our view that the following two views should be heeded with reference to the envisaged electoral changes: “changing electoral systems is dauntingly complex” (Butler, 2022) and “long-term decisions should not be made under such time pressure” (Grootes, 2022).


Therefore, given the current realities, the ISI supports a two-step approach.


The first being the proposed minimalist approach, aimed at simply accommodating the Constitutional Court judgement requiring that the Electoral Act be amended to allow for independent candidates to contest national and provincial elections. This should be in place for the 2024 general election but should also expire at the time of the 2029 general election.


The second step should be more comprehensive electoral reform in time for the 2029 general election, which should allow for a form of constituency-based elections. The ISI has proposed a Multi-Member Constituency model.


State/local government


The ANC has achieved substantial improvement in state transformation since 1994, with the establishment of strong democratic electoral systems, regular elections, and the ongoing transformation of the state into a people-centred organ. However, state capacity and delivery leave a lot to be desired, particularly at local level. Local government structures are dysfunctional – many towns have potholes, leaking taps (many towns losing up to half of their water this way), piles of rubbish on streets, weak lighting, to name a few.


In fact, in his opening address, the President noted that in June 2017, eight municipalities were under administration. By June 2021, 23 municipalities were under administration, and by February 2022, this number had further increased to 33 municipalities. The finance ministry foresees that even more municipalities will require intervention.


The President noted that many of these challenges arise from poor management of the political-administrative interface, weak oversight, poor accountability, and inadequate consequence management systems. There is also a shortage of skilled leadership and management, and widespread fraud and corruption. The NPC stated that a national framework on the professionalisation of the public sector will be finalised soon. This framework proposes a stronger emphasis on merit-based recruitment and appointments.


Some good news is that significant progress has been made in achieving the country’s developmental goals. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targeted to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic services”, an accomplishment that South Africa managed to attain by 2011, four years ahead of the global target (United Nations, 2015).


A disquieting development, however, is that the ANC has fallen behind on the SDG scorecard. The Afrobarometer Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) scorecard in September 2021 showed that there has been regression in certain policy areas. It shows that South Africa has made progress on climate action, but lost ground on poverty, hunger, and perceived corruption in institutions. These citizen assessments can be compared to official UN tracking indicators. The Afrobarometer SDG Scorecard, which provides citizens’ assessments of South Africa’s progress over a recent five-year period on important aspects of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, also reveals that the country is doing worse on access to health care, clean water and electricity, unemployment, economic inequalities, and trust in state institutions. The country has made no progress on gender equality, increasing access to education, and reducing payment of bribes for public services.


Economic Transformation


The NPC document states that the ANC’s strategic approach to economic transformation is guided by the Freedom Charter’s injunction that “The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth”. The Commission acknowledged the hardships caused by the current economic challenges of stagnating growth, falling investment, rising prices and unemployment.

The economic document states that the key pillars for turning the economy around involve accelerating the implementation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to increase infrastructure investment, improve energy security, and provide wider access to improved data services; strengthening industrial policy to support the growth of the manufacturing and services sectors; prioritising youth employment, with an emphasis on public employment programmes; accelerating land redistribution; and expanding trade with Africa countries.


Fiscal policy should target our rising national debt and ensure better alignment with the broader industrial development objectives. Industrial policy should prioritise the modernisation of industrial tooling and skills development to ensure the competitiveness of local industrialisation. The industrial base should be re-built and broadened to turn around the de-industrialisation of our economy. A call was made for the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to implement monetary policy in a balanced manner. It must not merely target inflation, but should consider growth, employment, and exchange rate factors in its modelling forecasts.


And then there is Eskom, which represents the biggest policy challenge for government to resolve, as it impacts on the economy and society as a whole. Things have deteriorated, instead of improving over the last few years. Restoring energy security will be critical for lifting confidence, investment, and job creation. The Commission supported the recent interventions announced by the President to stabilise Eskom. The two primary objectives of this energy action plan are to improve the performance of Eskom’s existing power stations and to add new generation capacity to the grid as quickly as possible. Eskom’s unsustainable debt problem must also be resolved. The need for a diverse mix of energy sources and a just transition to a low-carbon economy that ensures energy security, protects jobs and livelihoods, and does not compromise South Africa’s industrial development, was highlighted.


On the whole though, it is known that there is an excess of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in South Africa – in fact, there are over 700. SOEs should play a vital role in terms of the direct services they provide, but many are mired in serious difficulties with regard to finances, governance, delivery, and so on. It is generally recognised that a consolidation of SOEs is necessary and only those that fulfil a useful function of the economy and society should be maintained.


Furthermore, many SOEs will struggle to continue existing in a dynamic and efficient environment. The Auditor-General has highlighted this parlous state of affairs: “The ongoing financial and operational crises faced by a number of major state-owned enterprises (SOEs) casts doubt on their practicality and survival. Total SOE debt stands at a staggering R692.9 billion. The most recent budget review indicated that SOEs have reported poor growth, high costs and elevated debt servicing costs, and several appear to be at risk of defaulting on their debts. Prospective reforms and increasing private-sector participation provide some hope for South Africa's SOEs” (AGSA, 2021). Eskom alone owes more than R400 billion.


The unsustainable fiscal position of many SOEs cannot continue, given our strained economic position. Government has acknowledged that a consolidated structure and funding model is urgent for the health of most SOEs. Improving corporate governance, clarifying and tightening the mandate, shareholder structure and reporting lines, and general restructuring of SOEs are some of the essential reforms required to turn these entities around. Many of these reforms are contained in recommendations by the Presidential SOE Council as highlighted in the 2022 SONA. The NPC proposed that perhaps the time has come for SOEs to migrate from the Department of Public Enterprises to relevant line function ministries. It is the view of the Inclusive Society Institute to also consider whether the Public Works Department (DPW) is still fit for purpose. It may be more efficient to also transfer infrastructure development and maintenance from the DPW to the line departments.


Regarding South Africa’s energy policy, there was not much discussion on the “Just Transition” required to move us away from our coal dependence and towards cleaner energy to assist in the global fight against the climate crisis. Post COP26, the governments of South Africa, Germany, France, the UK, USA, and the EU announced a new, ambitious, long-term Just Energy Transition (JET) Partnership to support our country’s decarbonisation efforts. The JET Partnership aims to accelerate the decarbonisation of South Africa's economy, with a focus on the electricity system, to help it achieve the goals set out in the updated Nationally Determined Contribution emissions goals. It will mobilise an initial commitment of $8.5 billion for the first phase of financing, including mobilising the private sector.


On another key point, the NPC reaffirmed the policy of land expropriation without compensation. Although the ANC has not managed to get the Bill passed over the last five years, as it requires a two-thirds majority, President Ramaphosa endorsed it in his closing address, saying, “We must use available means, including the new Expropriation Bill, to accelerate land redistribution.”


The ANC also reaffirmed its position that the South African Reserve Bank should be nationalised. The 54th ANC Conference in 2017 resolved that the SARB should be fully publicly owned, but this has not come to fruition. In the view of the Inclusive Society Institute, the call for the SARB to be fully publicly owned and the effect thereof is, in itself, neither here nor there. Rather, the ISI believes the mandate, more than the ownership of the SARB, is the key element with regard to effective monetary policy. Some have also asked whether the costs are feasible and whether the debate serves any useful purpose at this juncture and given the state of our economy.


Furthermore, the Policy Conference strongly confirmed previous resolutions on the fundamental imperative and urgency for the establishment of a State Bank. In light of the feasibility study already done in this regard, government was urged to move with speed in implementing the ANC’s resolution by finding a way of capitalising the bank.


The Inclusive Society Institute is currently undertaking research into the applicability and feasibility of a State Bank for South Africa. If the objective is to address failings in financing emerging black businesses, factors that need to be considered in the policy discussions, apart from how it can be capitalised, and risks mitigated, are:


  • Since a State Bank may not be exempted from the Financial and Fiscal Commission’s rules and procedures, nor the international banking regulatory authorities, what is it that will differentiate the State Bank from the other retail banks? For example, what room is there for deviating from the current lending criteria of the commercial banks?

  • Could the ruling party’s objectives regarding the implementation of a State Bank be satisfied via other avenues, for example, in partnership with commercial banks, through government guarantees?


In the 2022 February SONA, the President committed to developing – within a hundred days – a Social Compact between the key social partners. To date, that has not happened. Feedback from social partners indicates that progress has been slow at NEDLAC and that there is no imminent breakthrough to seal the deal. Cosatu, for example, is totally against the “wage moderation” motion in the proposed Social Accord document. Business is sceptical about government’s commitment to stick to agreements, as evidenced by past experiences. They also want to have assurances that funds will reach the intended targets. A lot of work still needs to be done behind the scenes to make the Social Accord a reality. The recent social sector dialogue was a disappointment, as it was seen by most as a mere tick-box exercise by government, rather than a meaningful interchange.


The view of the Inclusive Society Institute is that the current socio-economic crisis demands much deeper consultation. The current dialogue should be considered no more than a process aimed at identifying the issues and themes requiring comprehensive negotiation. The Institute is of the opinion that, given the critical situation the country finds itself in, a CODESA-type process needs to be embarked upon.


There has been criticism that the economic proposals make scant reference to fiscal and monetary policy, and that many of the proposals are not very specific or time-bound. They have been presented as a re-hash of old proposals and not containing new, innovative ideas to launch the economy onto a higher and more sustainable growth trajectory. This is the key to turning the fortunes of the country around, ushering in greater prosperity and equality, lowering crime and corruption, and forging greater social cohesion. The very same faults have also been spotlighted in relation to most of the other policy documents.


Universal Basic Income Grant (BIG)


The NPC came out in support of the introduction of the universal Basic Income Grant (BIG) to meet basic needs and reduce income inequality, based on the principle of universalism and indexed to the Food Poverty Line. Currently, there do not seem to be many dissenting voices on the need for additional income support – and those few who are objecting, especially from business, have homed in on the issue of cost (affordability).


The deteriorating socio-economic situation, higher inflation coupled with a tightening monetary policy cycle, and the very real prospect of unrest, is concentrating minds on the necessity for more comprehensive social protection measures. The finance ministry has referenced a “jobseeker’s grant”, while the Department of Social Development has punted a wider basic income transfer measure supported by many civil society groupings. The Presidency is also seized with this matter.


The detrimental economic effects induced by the Covid-19 pandemic have been particularly severe on the lower-income groups in South Africa and unemployed persons, many of whom are dependent on other household members for their subsistence. As a result, the debate on the feasibility of a basic income grant has received new impetus, especially in the wake of the implementation of the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRDG), commonly known as the Covid-grant, which has proven to be fiscally affordable, despite the need to keep a watchful eye on the stability of the country’s public finances.


Several studies have been undertaken in recent years to gauge the likely poverty-reducing impact of a permanent extension of South Africa’s welfare grant system, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the most effective in the developing world. Over the past decade, few developing countries in the upper-middle income group have matched South Africa in the quest to reduce the prevalence of poverty, whilst the country also ranks in the top-four regarding the indicator for per capita job creation via public works programmes.


Impact studies have nevertheless mostly been restricted to the areas of poverty reduction and lowering the level of income inequality. Recognising the dearth of empirical economic analysis of social protection policies in South Africa, the Inclusive Society Institute commissioned such a study early in 2022. The main objective of the study is to determine the economic impact of a BIG that is fixed at the food poverty line (currently R624 per month), via econometric modelling.


Additional sections include a detailed analysis of the evolution of social grants in South Africa, as well as a comprehensive overview of progress with achieving the aims of social protection measures in developing countries (including South Africa). The study is at an advanced stage of completion and preliminary findings include the following:


  • South Africa’s sterling performance with regard to the coverage of Social Protection Programmes (SPPs) at 99% is particularly impressive when juxtaposed with the global average for developing countries of 56% (as determined in a 2018 World Bank study).

  • South Africa is also ranked first amongst developing nations for the key performance indicators of poverty reduction and adequacy of SPPs and is ranked second for the ratio of government expenditure on social protection to GDP, namely 4.3%. Georgia is ranked first at 6.6% and the developing world average is 1.4%.

  • The evidence from econometric modelling (via two different methodologies – vector autoregressive [VAR] and autoregressive distributed lag [ARDL]) confirms the existence of positive effects on aggregate economic output (measured by the GDP), which also translates into higher fiscal revenue for government.

  • International evidence points to superior outcomes of SPPs when linked to workfare and other conditionalities in the areas of human capital formation. Opportunities exist in South Africa to consider such amendments, especially with regard to a proposed BIG. The latter should ideally be targeted at unemployed persons that are listed in an official registry, which also contains information on their educational attainment, skills levels, and work experience.

  • A universal BIG will not be able to match the poverty-reducing impact of a targeted BIG and will also dilute the value of the relevant cash transfers, whilst potentially creating fiscal instability during periods of slow economic growth.


Social Transformation


This section covers a wide range of issues, from social cohesion and nation building to safety of women and children; eradication of substance abuse and gangsterism; promotion of sports, arts and culture; and the empowerment of vulnerable groups.


To begin with, from May 2020 to April 2022, the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant of R350 per month for adults aged 18-59 has been delivered to those with no income. In a short space of time, it reached six million new individuals who had no access to a grant. This includes the top-up of existing grants, for example, the Caregiver Social Relief of Distress (CSRD) grant. Over the last few months, however, problems have been encountered with the provision of this measure. There has been non-payment for two months or more, which is totally unacceptable.


Another area of concern is that of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill. In May, Parliament’s health committee voted in favour of a motion of desirability for the NHI Bill. This represents the first important building block for the vision of universal health coverage, but many questions and concerns remain regarding the roll-out of the NHI policy. Covid-19 has highlighted the parlous state of our public health system, even in the economic powerhouse of Gauteng. It has been claimed that steps have been taken to address the management of the health care system and other challenges, yet there are continuing reports of dysfunctionality, especially in the Eastern Cape. Indeed, reports show that medical personnel are resigning in increasing numbers due to the unsatisfactory conditions in hospitals.


The Inclusive Society Institute research on the NHI affirms some of the challenges that exist in the health care system. It supports an NHI and believes it can work, provided that certain of the Institute’s reservations are accommodated. It has identified four key elements that currently need to be addressed in the NHI Bill before Parliament:


  • The proposed mechanisms for supporting governance (and their potential weaknesses). The ISI is of the view that, in contrast to the NHI Bill’s position that the Minister appoints the Board and CEO, the Board appointments must rather follow a public participation process, and that the CEO must be appointed by the Board.

  • The role of medical schemes in the short to medium term. Medical aids should be permitted to provide continued coverage of all procedures, also those covered by the NHI. Whilst all citizens will be required to pay NHI levies, medical aids should, at least until the NHI is fully functioning and sufficient public trust has been achieved, be allowed to provide top-up insurance for private care.

  • The evidence for and against competition amongst funds and the core recommendation emerging from the German experience: to not break anything in the health system until you have built the replacement. The ISI’s view is that, in order to moderate costs and mitigate corruption, competition needs to be built into the system. The NHI Bill proposes a single fund, whilst the ISI proposes a number of public funds in the event of private medical aids being phased out of the sector.

  • It was agreed that there is an urgent need to build and restore trust in the health system – which is intimately tied to questions of the pace and sequencing of reform. Without public trust in the NHI, government will not get the buy-in from society.


On another front, concern has been expressed about the decline in research and development (R&D) over the years. This is the case in business investment and inadequate government investment, and in SOEs. The documents note that new innovations and invention of new technologies have to be more vigorously promoted. They further note that good progress is being made in the implementation of policies and programmes towards achieving good quality teaching and learning outcomes. There is no independent verification for this claim though; progress is claimed in the creation of employment opportunities for the youth that are neither employed nor participating in education and training (NEET).


Lastly, delegates pushed strongly for the continued empowering of women economically, politically, socially, and culturally. The NPC called for the application of overarching equality legislation that ensures that procurement processes more effectively empower women on the economic front.


Peace and stability


This discussion document refers to the importance of the rule of law, improved levels of safety and security, and effective protection of economic infrastructure. For South Africa to succeed, it notes that government must deal decisively with corrupt elements, transgressors, those who prey on women and children. Crime is not merely making communities unsafe and unstable, but it is also undermining investment prospects and our economic performance.


The July 2021 unrest experienced in mainly KZN and Gauteng was referenced. It resulted in billions of rands in damages, loss of business confidence, and the killing of 384 people. A year later, only minor figures have been charged in connection with this catastrophic event. Both the Peace and Stability and the Balance of Forces documents state that this event represented an assault on the legitimate organs of state, with the intention to remove a democratically established government by extra-constitutional means. The multiple failures of the country’s State Security apparatus are noted. This further undermines state authority and adds to the narrative of a failing state.


An expert panel, chaired by Prof Sandy Africa, was established by the Presidency to look into these security forces and intelligence failures. At the 2022 SONA, a promise was made that more police will be appointed and that there is a renewed emphasis on community policing forums; ANC branches have been asked to play a central role in these forums. It is the view of the Inclusive Society Institute that a national criminal justice system dialogue is needed to turn things around in this sphere and restore effectiveness and confidence.


Fight Against Corruption and State Capture


Corruption is a cancer in the ANC and South African society that must be destroyed. A key litmus test will be how the ANC responds to the Zondo State Capture Report and whether it will stay the course where the NPC document notes that, “we may find some of the observations and findings unsettling, and there may be some assessments that we disagree with, but we must engage honestly and openly with all aspects of the Commission’s report”.


There is a need to retain momentum and further strengthen anti-corruption measures to which the ANC claims commitment. But the justice system is weak and takes forever to press charges against those accused of corruption, years in fact, when there are many “low-hanging fruits” that can be plucked from the myriad cases in existence.


The Zondo Commission was established in January 2018 as a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, flowing from a resolution of the 2017 ANC Conference. The terms of reference of the Commission were mainly to investigate allegations of state capture, corruption, and fraud. However, many of those fingered in the Zondo Commission have still not been charged, more than four years later. This is a totally unacceptable state of affairs.


The ANC has called on all South Africans to engage with the Commission’s report and to re-build the state and a society governed by the values of the Constitution and the rule of law. Within four months of receipt of the Zondo report, the President must formally submit the report to Parliament together with implementation plans on the Commission’s recommendations.


Conclusion


Projections of where South Africa is currently situated


As a snapshot of some of the comments by journalists and analysts shows, most views on the NPC are negative. They suggest that there is not much that is new in the policy proposals and that these proposals are often just a regurgitation of old ideas couched in new rhetoric. The terminology, especially with reference to the Balance of Forces and Strategy and Tactics papers, is framed in archaic, impenetrable language that is difficult to understand in the current conjuncture. Most of the papers are also overly long and not specific and time-bound.


There is a great deal of cynicism in the country about the current state of affairs. The prevailing sense is that the country has stagnated and suffered reversals in many policy areas. There is a strong view that the ANC has messed up and is bereft of new, innovative ideas on how to unlock our socio-economic gridlock and make partnerships with social partners work for the benefit of the country.


This is leading to a growing trust deficit between society and the ANC. In the latest Ipsos poll (published 15 August 2022), 52.9% of respondents were of the view that the ANC could not be trusted. Even amongst ANC respondents, this was high – 40.89%.


The ANC is seen as an aging, male-dominated political party out of synch with a predominantly young country. In its own publications, the party says that it is weak on implementation. These are issues that the ANC will need to address in order to ensure its own longevity and electoral sustainability.


ISI views: The way forward


In 1994, South Africa ushered in a democratic dispensation and a universally recognised Constitution, founded on fundamental human rights for all citizens. In the ensuing years, there were significant advances, and reversals, resulting from the 2008 Great Financial Crisis period and negative internal developments in the ANC and the country. And all happening against the backdrop of a contradictory global balance, characterised by shifts in economic power and tendencies towards populism, authoritarianism, militarism, and now, another heated Cold War. The world has become a more uncertain, unstable, and insecure place and conflict, unrest, and immiseration is on the rise as a result of the worsening socio-economic climate, evidenced by much higher inflation rates and the worst “cost of living” crisis in decades.


On the global front, South Africa needs to more clearly define its national interest, in our foreign policy, based upon our foundational constitutional values. President Ramaphosa, in the introduction to the policy papers, threw down the gauntlet to the NPC when he said that the ANC’s priority “has to be the improvement of the quality of lives of people, rather than an often narrow, internal party focus”.


The NPC deliberated on an extensive number of policies with the ostensible aim to improve society and the quality of people’s lives. The smooth denouement of the NPC, despite many predictions to the contrary, is a positive development for the ANC and the policy process, despite the shortened period for discussion and debate. It should be noted that nothing is straightforward, and the situation is fluid, four months out from the December conference.


As the August 2022 Ipsos poll suggests, the support for the ANC is still tracking negatively and coalition arrangements appear to be in the offing at national and various provincial levels. What awaits potentially post-2024, is instability and chaotic scenarios in governance arrangements. Only time will tell, in December 2022 and then in 2024.


The challenge will also be in whether the outlined policies will bear fruit to make South Africa more stable, prosperous, sustainable, and flourishing. Implementation has to substantially improve at all levels of society, but particularly at local level, through a more focused, caring and efficient state bureaucracy, to achieve these laudable objectives.


It is the view of the Inclusive Society Institute that the next period must be focused on uplifting the economy, creating jobs, including restoring energy security. The “cost of living” and rising prices, especially in energy and food prices (inflation problems), will not make things easier. Also important is strengthening social cohesion, including making people – especially women and children – feel safer in society. The country cannot afford a repeat of the destabilising July 2021 riots and looting. The entire criminal justice system needs to be overhauled. This requires an urgent national dialogue, which the ISI believes should be convened by the President as a matter of urgency.


The conclusion of the Social Accord is essential, but it must go beyond the economic sphere; something akin to the early-90s negotiations process, but as a reset now, for the future. State performance, at all levels, but especially at local level must be drastically improved. Trust in the democratic system and adherence to our constitutional values must be respected and upheld by all, especially those in positions of influence. Policies must be clear, focused, and implemented assiduously to counter the sense of “drift” in the country. The focus must be on a few key policy areas, with measurable timeframes ideally, not long shopping lists.


There is no time or space for delays on the implementation front. Government, together with business, labour movement, and civil society formations must work together to put the national interest first and rise above sectional interests. Equally, the governing party must rise above a “narrow focus on internal party matters”, as President Ramaphosa said in his introduction to the policy documents. The focus on the key issues needs to be bold, innovative, resourceful, with less talk and more decisive action in government and at all levels of society.

Appendix


Snapshot of academics’/analysts’/journalists’ Comments


On Thursday 21 July, the eve of the NPC, former President Thabo Mbeki, spoke at the memorial service for ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte, in Johannesburg. Mbeki made some telling comments that were seized upon by the media and analysts. Lamenting the ANC’s inability to counter soaring unemployment and poverty, he said: “As a matter of fact, we don’t have a national plan to address these challenges … There is no national plan to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment, inequality. It doesn’t exist.” He also noted that the Social Accord, despite the commitment of President Ramaphosa, has not been finalised in the 100-day period since SONA.


In a subsequent interview, Mbeki said his comments were not intended as an attack on the administration of the current president. However, the comments did end up having the desired effect of bringing about movement on various policy fronts by the Presidency and government.


Prof Richard Calland (Public Law, UCT) (2022)


I asked three of the policy and process junkies to give me one policy innovation that had emerged from the National Policy Conference. There was nothing new, they admitted. One of them said that a few in the ANC leadership are waking up to a certain reality – to achieve either the goal of saving the ANC from electoral defeat or for saving the economy. For the rest it was about holding the ANC together.


At a time of mounting crisis, when old ideas have failed, a viable political party of government has to come up with something new, otherwise its demise is inevitable. Did the National Policy Conference in any way respond to this crisis? No. The ANC is now an empty vessel, both policy-wise and politically. It can neither hold the centre nor lead society. The ANC’s future lies behind it, as last weekend amply demonstrated. The next election will mark the start of a new era – of greater electoral competition (and instability and uncertainty) – and the end of an old one, of ANC dominance. Everyone needs to start preparing for this transition.


Duma Gqubule (economist) (2022)


Gqubule wrote that ANC conferences are a waste of time for anyone who follows macroeconomic policy, because they never discuss such issues, and nothing changes. The party suppresses the will of its branches and gives no explanations to them for why it cannot implement previous resolutions. This means ANC resolutions are just suggestions.


Rebecca Davis (journalist, Daily Maverick) (2022)


Ahead of the ANC’s national policy conference, its discussion papers reveal an entitled, paranoid party that seems increasingly out of touch with current realities – and with democracy itself. Against this backdrop, the party’s policy papers – heavy on ideology, but low on sensible ideas – seem woefully inadequate to address the country’s problems. If a national plan to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment, inequality, the thousands of delegates expected at the ANC policy conference might have difficulty measuring its effectiveness.


The discussion papers state that no data or reports are available to assess, for instance, whether language policies relating to the school curriculum have been implemented. They state that there is no information available on how many mobile schools and mobile clinics there are in SA, or whether learners are being provided with transport. In the absence of such information, how are delegates supposed to assess whether key ANC policies are working?


Perhaps as a tacit acknowledgement of the impossibility of such a task, the papers also recommend that ANC policies should only be reviewed every decade, rather than every five years as is currently the case. In addition to the fact that the party lacks a coordinated plan of action to tackle issues such as unemployment in a practical way, the papers contain no shortage of scattered and impractical suggestions regarding all manner of South African challenges. At certain moments, the policy papers give the impression of having been written by ageing academics.


Prof Susan Booysen (political scientist, author, and analyst) (2022)


The governing ANC’s policy proposals don’t inspire confidence. South Africa is in the throes of an unprecedented, multifaceted socio-economic crisis requiring substantive, impactful policy interventions. Yet, I wonder if it actually appreciates the enormity of the problems facing the nation. The policy deliberations and proposals fell hopelessly short of addressing the country’s pressing problems. The subdued conference exposed a deficit of new policy thinking, and failed to provide solutions. It certainly did not live up to party leader and national President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration in his opening address that the conference would be a defining moment for the ANC and the country.


In my view, there were mismatches between the crises facing the nation and proposed solutions. There was a flood of small – or partial – stabs at big problems. A few big ideas came with the proviso that they may be “not affordable”. The deliberations were characterised by disingenuous, counter-factual policy pronouncements, and de facto denials of the ANC’s culpability in causing many of the current problems facing the country.


Foremost was the country’s high levels of unemployment. Beyond recognition of the problem, nothing new emerged. The conference bore testimony to fact that the ANC remains confused about its role. It has governed the country for nearly three decades, but often protests against its own government. There was no shortage of disingenuous policy statements. On the July 2021 unrest, which cost over 350 lives, the conference concluded that it was the work of those ideologically opposed to the ANC’s advances in government. The conference offered no recognition that ANC internal factional politics had wreaked the havoc. Regarding the dysfunctionality of local governments – most of which are run by the ANC – the proffered solution was the government’s district development model. There were more unconvincing platitudes on Eskom, to pursue a state-owned bank, nationalise the SARB, and promote local production of pharmaceuticals.


The poverty of policy ideas on offer was expected, given the ANC’s existential crisis. It is at its weakest moment ever, as Ramaphosa confessed in his opening address. All in all, the lack of sound policy proposals to address South Africa’s myriad challenges may suggest that the ANC has given up hope of making a difference to people’s lives. If people’s hopes of it delivering a better future also dissipates, the party’s decline will be sealed. This will mean that the ANC, while probably remaining the biggest party, will increasingly fail to garner outright majorities and be forced into increasing numbers of unstable coalition governments.


Anton Harber (2022)


Once armed with a carefully considered package of policies, the party now repeats vacant rhetoric. If you want insight into the state of the ANC, read its media and communications policy document from last weekend’s conference. Ignore that it is a scrappy document nobody bothered to edit before it was put into the special edition of the party’s online journal, Umrabulo. You can skip over the occasional incoherent paragraph. From what is left you will find that this is an organisation disconnected from reality, short on new ideas, but still strong on vacant revolutionary rhetoric.


Here’s an inspiring sample: “Ownership of the media assets remain the most powerful strategy adopted in SA and protected by the Constitution, and provided for in various pieces of legislations. The idea of ownership of assets is not only driven by market interest but also hegemony and influencing the agenda in the battle of idea, what gets broadcast.” [sic, sic, sic]


The document is headed, as it has been for many years, “The Battle of Ideas”, positioning the ANC as an organisation involved in a perpetual ideological war against enemies in the media. The media, it seems, is not a place to share and swap and debate ideas and information, not a tool to promote your own information or to hear what people outside Luthuli House are saying, but a front in the war against the ANC’s omnipresent and omnipowerful enemies. This “must be fought like a real war”, it says, with the purpose of “attaining political hegemony”.


You might think 28 years in power indicates you have achieved some form of dominance in the political arena, but this is the same phraseology carried through from the ANC’s earliest documents, when its leaders arrived back from exile to face a critical and often unfriendly media. Nor does the ANC recognise much differentiation in the media, using the lazy approach of grouping everyone together without acknowledging that there is a range of quite different outlets doing different kinds of work with different standards. You might gain hope if the enemy they were arming themselves against was corruption, lack of implementation or state ineptitude. No, the three enemies are “the SA counter revolution”, “neoliberal forces” and “world imperialism”. It is not clear if these forces are internal to the ANC or outside enemies, though I suspect they are all over, like ghosts in the night.


Interestingly, what is not in the document is the long-standing complaint that the print media is untransformed. There is only one paragraph that talks of the need to review and complete the transformation charter, and I had to struggle to remember this long-buried document. While you and I might worry about rebuilding the SABC’s financial health and political independence, the mess-ups in the transition to digital broadcasting that threaten to leave many without television coverage and the dysfunctionality of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, these do not appear to be major concerns for the ANC.


We might hope the governing party would address the extent to which the State Security Agency messed with — and severely undermined — journalists during the Zuma presidency. We could wish it would deal with the reports of journalists facing worrying levels of threat and harassment, online and in the field, often from the police. The rest of the world might be debating how to deal with the dominance and power of the social media giants and their effect on local media and journalism. But no, there is just a passing call for print and digital media and the Government Communication and Information Service (not the government itself) to “implement measures that protect [these] sectors”.


The SABC, the ANC argues, should be a pure public broadcaster with no commercial interest. It should be funded both from the fiscus and from a household levy, a confused mishmash of wishful thinking. The ANC proposal to deal with the sad state of community media is to license fewer stations, as it argues the sector cannot sustain the competition between stations. You have to remind yourself that this was a body that came to power with a carefully considered package of policies and proposals on the media that laid the ground for rich and important debate about the shortfalls of the sector. No longer. Equally dismal was the questioning by journalists at the post-conference briefing, which also showed little grasp of the major issues facing the sector.


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This report has been published by the Inclusive Society Institute

The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) is an autonomous and independent institution that functions independently from any other entity. It is founded for the purpose of supporting and further deepening multi-party democracy. The ISI’s work is motivated by its desire to achieve non-racialism, non-sexism, social justice and cohesion, economic development and equality in South Africa, through a value system that embodies the social and national democratic principles associated with a developmental state. It recognises that a well-functioning democracy requires well-functioning political formations that are suitably equipped and capacitated. It further acknowledges that South Africa is inextricably linked to the ever transforming and interdependent global world, which necessitates international and multilateral cooperation. As such, the ISI also seeks to achieve its ideals at a global level through cooperation with like-minded parties and organs of civil society who share its basic values. In South Africa, ISI’s ideological positioning is aligned with that of the current ruling party and others in broader society with similar ideals.


Email: info@inclusivesociety.org.za

Phone: +27 (0) 21 201 1589

Web: www.inclusivesociety.org.za