The period leading up to the September national general council (NGC) of the African National Congress (ANC) turned out to be the storm before the calm.
I must say, though, that ANC president and South Africa head of State Jacob Zuma pulled a fast one on us and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). In fact, Zuma was so effective in outflanking the ANCYL that he must be charged with child abuse. Despite the post-NGC bravado of the league, there was blood on the NGC floor and most of it came from the bloodied noses of the ANCYL and its black economic-empowerment allies.
The NGC was a triumph for those who were wishing for the retention of the economic policy status quo. Given the fact that Zuma seemed more indecisive than a lame duck prior to the NGC, how did he simultaneously outmanoeuvre the ANCYL and avoid a head-on collision with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP)?
The answer lies in understanding the multi- ple purposes to which he put his opening speech. In the speech, he used both long-term and short-term historical memory as a political weapon. When he dealt with the vexed question of the strategic centre, he invoked the thoughts of OR Tambo on the role and historical mission of the alliance and its components. Zuma was responding to the argument of Cosatu and the SACP that it is the alliance that should be the strategic centre that determines the content of government policy, and that the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu should enter into an electoral pact.
This is a view that, with the help of Tambo, he contradicted, and stated quite unambiguously that the ANC remains the leader of the alliance. This notwithstanding, he avoided a fight with the Left by postponing the debate on a new economic growth path. This new growth path will now be a subject of debate first in Cabinet and then in an alliance summit.
After he had taken the sting out of the new growth path debate, he was left with the task of dealing with the less politically experienced but more exuberant Youth League. It is interesting that, when Zuma poke about the need for the restoration of revolutionary discipline in the ANC, the television camera focused on the face of Youth League leader Julius Malema. This was a clear sign that, by emphasising the need for discipline in the party, he had indirectly succeeded in projecting Malema as the face of ill-discipline.
The irony, however, is that it is under the very same climate of ill-discipline that Zuma became leader of party and country. I suppose the argument can be made, convincingly or not, that there are those who took the conscious decision of stepping outside the ANC’s disciplinary framework because they thought such an approach would be the most potent weapon against former President Thabo Mbeki.
Some of Zuma’s supporters may even argue that the attachment of opportunistic tendencies to the approach was one of the unintended consequences of the battle against Mbeki. Whatever the argument or counter- argument, there is no doubt that Zuma benefited from both the climate of ill-discipline the battle against Mbeki imposed on the ANC and the now growing unhappiness about the internal instability it has been causing since Polokwane.
From this, he achieved the added advantage of NGC delegates who distanced themselves from the policy demands of the ANCYL. In their desperation to return to the true nature and character of the ANC as a broad church, the delegates avoided passing a resolution on the nationalisation of mines that would be read as outright support for, or rejection of, the ANCYL position.
To me, it seems some of the biggest losers were the BEE interests that went to the NGC to argue in favour of nationalisation. The suspicion is that some owners of private mining assets need to be bailed out by the State.
Another suspicion is that some of them want to buy certain mining assets at a time when the share price would be under pressure as a result of the ANC adopting a resolution calling for nationalisation. I do not know what the truth is, but my own suspicion is that these people do not want mines to be nationalised. All they need is a resolution the ANC’s deployees in government will resist implementing. In other words, they must have known that the markets would react immediately and the share price would come under pressure long before such a resolution is implemented.
Anyway, the ANC is not going to call for nationalisation in the same year government is supposed to set aside funds for the implementation of the National Health Insurance initiative.