Disconnected and Dithering: ANC takes the low road as SA crisis deepens
The ANC lives, the ANC leads. The first part of the slogan is certainly true – a 104-year lifespan is a formidable feat for a political organisation. As far as leading though, this week’s national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla leaves doubt as to whether the ANC appreciates the crisis South Africa finds itself in. From an economy in dire straits to a nation struggling to find social cohesion to serious problems in higher education and the SA Revenue Service and more scandals involving senior ANC members, you would think the party leadership would step up to confront issues. And yet, there was not a single outcome to show bold, decisive leadership. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The ANC NEC lekgotla is arguably as high-powered a gathering you can get in South Africa. Apart from the ANC’s top six officials and 80 NEC members, the meeting is also attended by the leadership of the ANC Women’s and Youth leagues, high-level delegations from Cosatu, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the SA National Civics Organisation, ministers and deputy ministers who are not in the ANC NEC as well as senior government deployees. It is supposedly the brains trust of the ruling alliance. The ANC NEC lekgotla is meant to set the agenda for government – what is decided at this meeting informs the mandate of the Cabinet lekgotla and will form the essence of the State of the Nation Address.
When you watch the who’s who of the ANC elite coming in and out of the conference room, it certainly looks like they have been involved in intensive discussions and there is a major decision-making place.
What was announced at the end of the lekgotla however makes it seems like most of the people in the room were filling out crosswords and playing Solitaire on their phones.
At a media briefing on Wednesday evening, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe gave a “business-as-usual” report from the lekgotla with no decisive intervention from the governing party on any issue. Mantashe instead opted to advise how the media and public should be viewing controversial issues.
With regard to the nuclear build programme, for example, Mantashe said it was “mischievous and strange” that people look at the universal cost of the project but do not calculate the collective value of coal power stations. People look at the nuclear build programme as if it is “one huge nuclear power station”, he said. It seems not to occur to Mantashe that Treasury would have to find funding in excess of a trillion rand for the entire build programme, not per power station.
Asked about the ANC reaction to job losses, Mantashe said people should not look at the ANC “like a programmed gramophone”. Because the ANC had intervened in the past to stop the shedding of jobs in the mining industry “didn’t change the ANC to be a trade union movement”, Mantashe said. The loss of jobs was the “primary responsibility of trade unions” not the ANC. If the ANC was expected to constantly intervene to stop job losses “we will have to open a big labour section in the ANC”, he said.
Mantashe said the ANC NEC meeting preceding the lekgotla “deliberated at length on the recent emergence of racism and what seem to be racist individuals becoming more emboldened within South African society”. President Jacob Zuma delivered a political report saying there was a need for the ANC and society to “confront and defeat racism” wherever it occurred.
“To do this, South Africa must urgently respond to the frustration of the black majority, many of whom believe that their attempts at reconciliation and nation building are rejected. Economic marginalisation and inequality perpetuate the notion of a superior race and an ingrained system of domination,” Mantashe said. Wealth redistribution was therefore a moral and economic imperative.
When asked what the ANC would be doing to promote race relations and social cohesion, Mantashe said racial tensions could not be addressed through debates and dialogues, as Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane had proposed. “Fighting racism is not a beauty contest between the ANC and the DA,” he said.
The ANC has laid complaints at the Equality Court against former and current members of the DA who posted racially offensive messages on social media.
As the organisation that fought against racial discrimination throughout its life, and now governs the country, surely the ANC should play the lead role in fostering race relations? But this is not what the ANC sees as its role. “Black South Africans cannot continue exaggerating the domination of whites. They must actually be bold enough to confront racism,” Mantashe said.
There is surely no greater priority for the ANC at present than focusing on the economy to create stability and growth. Mantashe said “bold actions are expected from government to grow the economy inclusively and avert the possibility of a credit ratings downgrade”.
There should be consensus between all key stakeholders to help stabilise the economy, save jobs and restore fiscal sustainability and credibility. “We must deal decisively with the threat of state capture, resolve governance problems in SOEs (state owned enterprises), implement stringent cost cutting measures and consolidate the implementation of sound fiscal practices to strengthen the people’s confidence in the South African economy,” Mantashe said.
But there was no mention of the single incident that created the greatest instability in the economy recently – the juggling of finance ministers. Asked whether the ANC had discussed the messaging around the management of the economy following the huge losses and damage incurred by the firing of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, Mantashe said: “Leave the reshuffle.” He said there was no confusion in government about who communicated what.
If the ANC had noticed the disastrous impact Zuma’s actions and statements have on the currency and the economy, it appears nobody had the mettle to say so.
Journalists asked about a number of topical issues you would expect the ANC to pronounce firmly on. Asked about the ANC’s view about a letter sent by Beaufort West mayor Truman Prince to the Construction Education Training Authority requesting that a company sympathetic to the ANC be awarded a tender, Mantashe said journalists should contact Prince. He said Prince’s actions could not be linked to the ANC’s fundraising strategy.
The lekgotla did not discuss the conflict between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the South African Revenue Service, neither did it have a “focussed discussion” on amendments to the tax laws. He said however that Cosatu’s threats about withholding electoral support for the ANC over the issue constituted “political blackmail”.
Mantashe would not comment on the raging controversy over bursaries offered by the uThukela District Municipality to young women on condition that they remain virgins. Mantashe referred the issue to the ANC Women’s League. He said even though the uThukela mayor was an ANC leader, he could not speak on the issue as there were cultural sensitivities around such matters.
It is enlightening that despite the ANC claiming to lead the fight against racial and gender discrimination, it is shirking away from pronouncing firmly and providing leadership on actual cases. It took the ANC three weeks to ask its Western Cape chairperson Marius Fransman to step down after he was accused of sexual assault.
The only new development announced by Mantashe was that the ANC decided there should be a review of all trade agreements entered into by the democratic government since 1999. This follows the wrangle over the recently renewed trade agreement between South Africa and the United States under the banner of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. “At all times, government must be alive to the need for an exit strategy where agreements have a potential to defeat the core objective which is to expand, increase and grow our domestic industries and markets,” Mantashe said.
Regarding the turbulence in the higher education sector, Mantashe said free education was an ANC policy and the lekgotla supported the “interventions” put in place by government. This included not increasing university fees for 2016 and the establishment of a commission of inquiry by Zuma to investigate the modalities of free higher education for the poor.
South Africa is in a state of crisis with unprecedented economic and social pressures that requires extraordinary leadership. This was not at all forthcoming from an organisation that hopes to retain its electoral dominance in this year’s local government elections. It is difficult to imagine how, if the ANC is unable to address major national issues, it will be answerable to the electorate on the campaign trail.
This week’s meeting brought the entire ANC talent pool under one roof. Yet there were no new ideas or proactive measures to halt South Africa’s decline. One can only hope that the ANC decided to withhold any major announcements and allow government to make them.
In a few months, South Africans will be voting for the political party they trust. In its state of disconnectedness and over confidence, the ANC does not seem to appreciate what exactly this means. DM
Photo: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who is also the president of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), gestures as he arrives for the party’s 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.