The national policy conference of the African National Congress (ANC) has come and gone. What should we make of the policy proposals that were adopted, and was the conference more or less about leadership preferences than it was about changing the policy direction of the country?
I suppose we should start with the reason why the ANC is correct to take its draft policy proposals not only to its structures but also to key constituencies in society. My assumption is that the ANC will not be in power forever. It is, therefore, not enough to sell its vision to its members and supporters. It must also make sure that the vision is embraced by all and its content is influenced by society as a whole. Success in this regard means that the day the ANC loses power, the new government will lend its specific policy content to an ANC vision that has become the property of society. In short, the country must reach a point where electoral outcomes are determined more by attempts on the part of citizens to defend a vision that has become theirs and less by narrow sectional, economic, race and class interests.
It is partly in this context that we must understand the outcome of the so-called ‘second transition’ debate. It is now common cause that President Jacob Zuma betrayed a lack of political judgment when he unwisely and unnecessarily aligned himself with the concept of a second transition. Therefore, it is more important to focus on what the debate was really about.
In 1969, the ANC adopted its first Strategy and Tactics document, in Morogoro, Tanzania, following the disastrous Wankie military campaign, in which members of Umkhonto we Sizwe fought side by side with the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army of Joshua Nkomo against the Rhodesian army of Ian Smith. The defeats that were suffered in the joint campaign caused internal tensions in the ANC, as a result of which the then presi- dent of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, convened a consultative conference in Morogoro.
This conference was attended by exiles and members of the internal and external underground structures of the ANC, and it was at this conference that the ANC charted a new path for the revolution. Since then, the ANC has authored several strategy and tactics documents in response to changes in the global and domestic balance of forces. The second transition argument must be seen as an attempt by the authors of the latest strategy and tactics document to make sense of the current period in South African history and the international balance of forces, given the emergence of new economic powers and the economic decline of Europe and the US.
What opportunities in the current conjuncture are available to South Africa and the ANC to exploit shifts in the global system to the advantage of our country and Africa and to the benefit of South African citizens? In addition, has the balance of forces in South Africa changed in a way that has opened up opportunities for the ANC to change policy direction and reposition the postapartheid State?
These are some of the questions that gave birth to the idea of a second transi- tion. The basic idea is that the first two decades of democracy have delivered at institutional and procedural levels but the gains on the economic front have not been as impressive. It was then argued by the authors of the second transition document that a second transition, beyond 2014, would be required to give effect to the imperative of economic freedom.
To cut a long story short, the policy conference rejected the idea of a second transition. It was argued that the current period in our history must be seen as the second phase of the transition from the end of apartheid to the successful creation of what the ANC refers to as a national democratic society whose social, gender, class, race, economic and other relations would be the antithesis of colonial and apartheid relations. I agree with the policy conference because, as I argued elsewhere, bad theory results in bad solutions.
That said, were the draft proposals that were adopted at the policy conference an example of good solutions for that which ails our country?
I am afraid I cannot concur with the argument of the President that the conference adopted radical poli- cies. While the objective is to reposition the State and make it more interventionist in key sectors of the economy, nothing about the draft policies seeks to position the ANC outside the current policy paradigm. As some radical democrats have argued, the challenge is to make sure that democratic imperatives infiltrate every aspect of social and economic organisation. Otherwise, and in the words of the rap group, Public Enemy, the cost of living will keep going up but the chance of living will keep going down.