The ANC released its policy discussion documents this week ahead of the party’s mid-year National Policy Conference.
ANC policy is ideologically incoherent, reflecting the war inside the ANC at the moment. Much of the policy is based on the National Development Plan, which is a widely supported blueprint for achieving the society envisaged by the writers of our Constitution. However, many of these policies are opposed by the powerful Zuma faction which is in charge. They are not interested in sensible policy that will grow the economy and create jobs. They are interested in policies that facilitate further state capture and looting. Opposed to this faction are those who do have an interest in real reform and renewal, and who hate what the ANC has become. But they are in the minority, and will soon have to choose between the ANC and South Africa.
The fact is that today’s ANC lacks the capacity, the unity of purpose and the political will to effectively implement policy. By the ANC’s own admission, “deviant conduct has become deeply entrenched; and arrogance, factionalism and corruption have been identified by large sections of society, including ANC supporters, as dominant tendencies within the movement“. It warns that: “Internal squabbles, money politics, corruption and poor performance in government all conspire to undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of the broader public.“
The policy document seeks to increase state control and size. But the ANC is incapable of implementing this interventionist, developmental state agenda. They have failed to create a capable state. By President Zuma’s own recent admission, ANC local government destroyed the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. “We ruined it for years, bit by bit. Now the opposition is in charge. We cannot say we are surprised by that.” Their disastrous policy of cadre deployment bit by bit replaced competency with corruption.
The ANC clearly recognizes that it faces the very real prospect of losing its majority in the next national elections in 2019. It states the need to “prepare itself for the complicated relationships involved in coalition governments“. It correctly recognises the urgent need to renew the organisation, and to make rapid inroads into fighting poverty and inequality if it is to retain its majority. But realistically, organizational renewal is extremely unlikely, because corruption is so deeply entrenched and because much of the party itself is captured by private interests.
In the real world where it matters, the ANC cannot rapidly improve the lives of South Africa’s poorest, because the Zuma faction has adopted the cause of “radical socio-economic transformation” to justify policies designed to accelerate large-scale corruption. This is why the many admirable policies contained in this document offer cold comfort. “Nuclear power generation should be… based on the requirements of affordability, procedural fairness and transparency.” While we welcome this statement, it is hard to be reassured by it when the actual nuclear deal process has been conducted in secrecy and looks set to bankrupt the country. “The Constitution’s commitment to ‘just and equitable’ compensation for the acquisition of land for land reform purposes should be codified“. But back in the real world, we have a President calling on “black parties” to unite to enable expropriation without compensation.
We all agree that “social grants must be defended and run efficiently”. And yet Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini has been absolutely incompetent at ensuring that they will in fact be paid to 17 million poor South African on 1 April 2017. She has treated the poor and those who care about the plight of the poor with arrogance and disdain, and she has done so with impunity. In Parliamentary question time on Wednesday, Zuma denied that Dlamini should be held accountable for the grants crisis.
The fact is that the ANC rejects the notion of accountability within the state. A free media is an essential cornerstone of democracy precisely because it enables society to hold government accountable. And yet the ANC policies in the communications document seek to steer South Africa away from a free media and towards a controlled media. South Africans must fight for media independence and reject the media appeals tribunal which seeks to control what editors can and cannot publish, and the Hate Speech Bill which seeks to deter and even criminalise criticism of the government.
Evading accountability is also at the heart of the drive to vest more power in the presidency. “The presidency must be strengthened as the strategic center of power in the state.” This is a very, very bad idea. Zuma’s presidency has already delivered conclusive and devastating evidence of the dangers of over-centralisation of power. By enabling Zuma to capture elements of the state and grow a massive patronage network, it has done great damage to South Africa. And it has also done great damage to the ANC. All of which is why the National Development Plan is gathering dust rather than momentum.