ANC policy conference: What is the real story?

THERE is no final answer as to what the real, full and true story is on the outcomes of the African National Congress’ recently completed so-called “policy conference”.

For starters, we are calling it a “so-called” policy conference because, whatever policy options were discussed, they are judged more for their impact on other issues, like factional battles and future leadership positions, than in their own right.

As for the expectation/speculation on whatever the outcome of the discussion that emerged, the final result, come the national conference in December, might be something totally different.

And for that there is historical precedent, with the present leader, President Jacob Zuma, one of most prominent uncertain factors.

At the 2012 policy conference the big theme was the “second stage of the transition.” But, when the December conference came along, President Zuma introduced the National Development Plan.

And even that was not the final, or full, story. History tells us that just about nothing happened in practice, nor is likely to happen any time soon, if ever – under the ANC in government.

Since 2012 the theme on the socio-economic front, in the run-up to policy conference 2017, has changed to “radical economic transformation”. But then at the policy conference, to the keen ear, there was clearly not nearly total consensus on the content of this new mantra.

The conference was a proxy battleground for the internal leadership contestation

In an address to the conference, deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa (one of the front-runners in the race to succeed Zuma as leader in December) tweaked the new mantra. He added the word/concept “social” to it. He claimed that branches of the party, making inputs for discussion, have called for “radical socio-economic transformation”.

Leadership race

This change of emphasis by Ramaphosa was an indication as to what extent the conference was a proxy battleground for the internal leadership contestation. It is also, in the final analysis, an indication to how much influence the outcome of that contestation could have on the full and final “policy-story”.

To what extent this leadership, and/or factional battle had an influence on the conference is illustrated by the fact that, right at the start, it was widely interpreted that the Ramaphosa “forces” had an early “victory”, when an organisational diagnostics report by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe was cleared for discussion.

How the debate on the issue and details about it came to light, despite the media not being present, also tells one something of the “inside” story of the state the ANC finds itself in at present.

A message by North West ANC chairperson Supra Mahumapelo (a strong supporter of the “Zuma-faction”) to his delegates, was leaked to the media. In it he instructed them that: “The position of our province is that the diagnosis must be done by the branches because the national executive committee (NEC) cannot diagnose itself … and that this be done as part of branch discussions towards national conference.”

Other leaked information was that the ANC’s Gauteng secretary, Hope Papo, led the fight back against the Zuma group. The proposal to skip the diagnostic report was supported by the Free State province, and the ANC youth and women’s leagues – all known supporters of the Dlamini-Zuma camp.

Other Ramaphosa supporting provinces, like the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape, opposed the proposal that the report should be skipped.

Blast from the past

This situation reminds me of the late 1970s/early 1980s, when reporting from parliament during the heyday of the battle between the so-called verkrampte (narrow-minded) and verligte (enlightened) factions in the then ruling National Party. On a Thursday afternoon, after the morning’s weekly NP caucus meeting, it took a few chats with members in both camps, and then you could just about write the minutes of the morning’s confidential meeting.

It becomes very unlikely that the ANC will enter the 2019 election in the same shape it was in, in 2014

The factional divisions also got reflected in leadership election battles. It was not many years before the situation became intolerable and the party split in 1981, when the Conservative Party was established.

Add to the internal factional fights the present unhappiness of the ANC’s “alliance partners”, the South African Communist Party and labour federation Cosatu, (with many holding dual membership), and it becomes very unlikely that the ANC will enter the 2019 election in the same shape it was in, in 2014.

The divisions in approach to some matters are also much more fundamental and deeper than might appear at first glance.

For instance, when Zuma, true to his normal form, in his opening remarks, went off the prepared written script, into off-the-cuff mode, he again vented his frustrations for often having been on the wrong end of the stick in court cases in recent times.

The man, who among other things, had decisions on his Nkandla homestead going against him, claimed the courts are getting in the way of governing – going against his understanding of democracy. The court was hindering the government in implementing its policies he said.

Mantashe, referring to Nkandla in his “diagnostics report” said the particular Nkandla judgment was “… in fact, the conclusion we (ANC) came to more than three years earlier.”

That the “us-them-syndrome” is very prominent in the party is also obvious from a remark by the Gauteng ANC chairman and Ramaphosa candidacy supporter Paul Mashatile, about the coming leadership election. He said: “We don’t want to pronounce names. We will come to that by September. I think we are going to win this time.”

He was apparently referring to the fact that at the previous leadership election in Polokwane, Gauteng backed former president Kgalema Motlanthe who lost to Zuma.


There is not a single storyline on the policy conference, other than it is a story of a party in disarray. It is a developing drama with inside stories, behind-the-scene stories, stories about power struggles, and more.

Overall, it might just happen that election 2019 brings the start of the final act for a once almighty South African liberation movement that failed in transitioning to a regular political party in a democratic society. But, expect more, confusing, dramatic and even dangerous side-shows before then.

This article first appeared in The Intelligence Bulletin, by Piet Coetzer

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