ANC NGC discussion documents make for interesting read, lack details,

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In an almost uncharacteristic manner than in previous years, the African National Congress (ANC) has decided to consult as widely as it can on the recently released National General (NGC) documents – with previous installations of the NGC reserved only for party insiders – the party’s branches and its tripartite partners, Cosatu and the SACP.

This upcoming NGC, like the three before it, will again be an insider affair. However, the ANC hopes that by expanding submissions to non-party actors, including private individuals, corporates, civil-society organisations, think tanks and so forth, the upcoming NGC might represent a broader view to the discussions that the party’s branch delegates will have on 9 to 12 October 2015.

The only problem, however, is that though calling for discussion, the lack of details and practicality has limited the documents. While the documents are crosscutting and include a number of areas: the so-called balance of forces (race, demographics, class, geopolitics), economic transformation, etc., they are woefully inadequate in detailing mechanisms, timeframes and a clear programme of action.

Although regrettable, this is to be expected. Mechanisms, timeframes and clear programmes of action are the results, of clear and credible problem analysis. The old adage, how you perceive the problem, limits your solutions, comes to mind. The problem analysis presented by the party, in its Balances of Forces chapter, while making for great reading, is lazy at best, and lacks clear details and understanding of geopolitics or the shifting tides of South African politics.

Validation of conclusions reached by the 2012 conference seems to be the permeating theme of the Balance of Forces chapter. At least five subsections still use the same frame of analysis and conclusions adapted in 2012 – from the international environment, to socio-economic trends, to organisational renewal.

It is then hardly surprising that some of the conclusions reached in theses sections, include tiredness and some outrageous notions such as “South Africa’s immediate neighbourhood – sub-Saharan Africa – was experiencing not only improved conditions of peace and better democratic governance and economic management” or that “China in 2011 overtook Japan as the second largest economy in the world. According to some estimates – using purchasing power parity – China overtook the US as the largest global economy in 2014”.

The assumptions the party offers on what it terms the “societal alignments and party politics” are equally scant – especially given that this will shape the party’s future strategies and tactics. While the party uses solid analysis techniques and mature forms of analysis regarding its decline in support and its shifting support base following the 2014 national and provincial elections, it arrives at strange conclusions. According to the party, “the choices (of the 2014 elections) reflect the rising primacy of current issues such as manifestations of corruption and Gauteng’s eTolls’ (electronic road pricing) in electoral decisions – introducing an interesting (though still moderate) fickleness to South African politics, especially amongst the middle strata”.

Voter behaviour as complex and sometimes non-descript as it can be, can hardly be considered as fickle. Such a conclusion, fails to acknowledge that the ANC effectively contributed in making eTolls and Nkandla (and in corruption in general) election issues and sometimes, ‘foundations’ for public opinion. The corresponding response from the electorate is to be expected, surely, and cannot be dismissed as fleeting voting interests.

The sections that follow are wholly informed by the same misinformed “balance of forces analysis”, these include: economic transformation, education and health, legislation and governance, social transformation, media transformation & diversity, and accelerating digital future, peace and stability, international relations, rural development and land reform.

On economic transformation, the ANC seems to be yet again the intent of defining what socio-economic order should prevail – one would think that with an existence of more than 100 years, and public governance experience of more than 20 years – the party would have already addressed this question.
The implementation of economic transformation imperatives is also lacking. Many of the objectives derive from the 2014 election manifesto – an agenda whose true measure would only be done in 2018/19.

Others are things yet to be done, all future looking and not in the now, including quotes such as “this strategy is back on the agenda of NEDLAC and will be debated and finalized by Social Partners,” “since 2007 we have developed a framework for a Comprehensive Social Security strategy” and “the Minister of Social Development has established a committee that will amongst other things ensure that our policies are integrated”. The salient trend being ‘documents’ and supposed ‘plans’ – all future-orientated initiatives, with very little by way of substance – non-descript hopes and wishes for the future, with an occasional mention of the National Development Plan – the supposed blueprint of our socio-economic development between now and 2030.

On the legislature and general standards of government, the NGC discussion document, states that in preparing for the 2016 local government elections, the ANC will address several governance and character issues in order to bring about a better calibre of councillors, yet the steps suggested in the legislature and governance section of the document are not comprehensive enough, and certainly do not mention the tools and systems to be used to ensure the desired change.

The “through the eye of the needle” doctrine also adopted by the party does not seem to have the requisite tools and system. Yet again, a failure of the NGC discussion document of suggesting practical interventions, effectively, of how the ANC will reasonably ensure that the quality of the councillors it puts up to voters will measure up against standards of good governance?
The international relations section is also fraught with the same inadequacies identified above, and with many questions that will puzzle the South African public and the country’s diplomatic community. It seems that consistent with its analysis of the shifting ‘balance of forces’ in international relations, the ANC is cheering the emergence of China and BRICS, while correspondingly attributing most of the ills in the global arena to the US and accusing the US of fighting the emergence of these new centres of power.

This above will no doubt need clarification. The ANC will need to explain if whether this signals a decisive move away from close relations between South Africa and the US? If so, would this even be practical? Moreover, the party would also need to address the question of what such a shift means for the current relations between these two countries. I would even extend this to include Western Europe – given the seemingly ant-western stance adopted in the NGC discussion document.
The ANC also, interestingly designates several issues such as Israeli-Palestinian issue, Western Sahara-Morocco and Cuba as part of the party’s second international relations pillar (continental and international solidarity). Begging the question why the party and the ANC-led government is not been playing a greater and more first-hand role in resolving these issues, and simply choosing to make them solidarity campaigns? Are they not pressing enough? Would that party to these issues not appreciate South Africa’s more direct role, one that shares our own recent experiences of conflict resolution and nation building? Such a position seems completely inadequate given the notions of international engagement depicted by the party.

In the end, the point of the NGC is to review and determine policies and programmes of the party in between national elective conferences; ostensibly to improve the party’s position and making it relevant to an ever changing context. However, the NGC discussion documents bring more questions than answers – they show a party whose analysis of geopolitics is flawed, whose socio-economic transformation power is weak, and whose foreign policy is increasingly inconsistent and isolationist – without real alternatives, nor the financial might to back such a move.

While the party’s faithful, will, I am sure, discuss robustly the contents of the discussion document on October 9 – 12, they will find that they, like party outsiders will be making moot points and suggestions, and that the policy implementation paralysis pervading the ANC, as captured in the document and the foregoing piece, will continue – with only memories of yet another gathering convened to “shape party policy” whose practicality or implementation is yet to be decided.”

Mzoxolo Mpolase, is an Analyst at Political Analysis South Africa and frequently writes on topics covering political strategy, party politics, labour and diplomacy.

– By OPINION: Mzoxolo Mpolase