The Mangaung conference of the African National Congress (ANC) has come and gone. Will the lot of the ordinary South African be better or worse, and has the conference taken the country closer to achieving success in the battle against poverty, unemployment and inequality?
As they say, your guess is as good as mine. While the Mangaung conference was a bit of a damp squib, to the extent that it gave me a lot to think and, therefore, write about in the months to come, it was not uninteresting. The fact that there was no chaos, mayhem and violence means that we can focus less on the sensational and more on the meaning of conference outcomes.
The first in this regard is the leadership contest. With the benefit of hindsight as a perfect science, we now better understand why Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe approached the leadership race in the manner that he did. Clearly, he participated in the leadership contest as an independent candidate who sought to be as distant as possible from factional poli- tics. In other words, the so-called Forces for Change and the Anything but Zuma lobby were, in their support for Motlanthe, not only thin on strategy and vision but never had a candidate. I am now, after the fact, of course, convinced that the decision by Motlanthe to run very slowly as an independent, coupled with his decision to decline nomination for the position of ANC deputy president and his refusal to avail himself for a National Executive Committee seat was the action of a man who went to Mangaung with the intention of retiring from politics.
It is, therefore, not interesting to point out that South Africa may have a new Deputy President sooner than we think and business mogul Cyril Ramaphosa will be the country’s Number Two after the 2014 general election. The fact that Ramaphosa was elected ANC deputy president is probably very good news for business, investors and the markets but the Left (the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party) is probably growing bald from scratching its head as it tries to figure out what it portends for the direction economic policy will take after 2014. For business and the markets, the election of Ramaphosa means that the attitude of the ANC and the content or interpretation of economic policy will be business friendly.
There is also the expectation on the part of others that Ramaphosa will play the role of Prime Minister and give the Presidency an Anglophile and modernist face. If the policy aspects of his ascendance to the deputy presidency of the ruling party coincide with the expectations of the markets, the ANC and the Left are heading for the kind of policy conflict we saw after the adoption of GEAR in 1996. If this happens, positive investor sentiment will, once again, turn into policy and political uncertainty.
Given the fact that President Jacob Zuma was re-elected by a margin much wider than I had expected, what is he going to do with the strong mandate he received in Mangaung?
The strong mandate notwithstanding, the President will have to navigate difficult choices and balance conflicting interests. For instance, he must decide whether policy deci- siveness means that he must balance the interests of business and the Left, or choose who between business and the Left he can risk alienating. Also, he must balance the aspirations of ANC voters against the policy desires of business, investors and ratings agencies.
Given the choice between allaying the fears of investors who threaten to relocate their interests to other investment destinations, and meeting the demands of angry and frustrated ANC voters, what is the ruling party going to do? While it is critical to build bridges between the ANC government and its social partners, it must be with the understanding that success with regard to the achievement of our national developmental goals will depend on the willingness to give, take and sacrifice for the greater good.
This means that the ANC and its government must cure themselves of all that has been bad for this country and the capacity of the State to deliver optimally. For their part, business and the markets must decolonise their minds. As I have argued elsewhere, South Africa is not a colony whose economic resources must be plundered at the expense of the interests of the people. In short, 2013 must be the year in which we start decolonising the South African economy.
That said, 2013 must also be the year in which business and government start tackling the deficit of trust and confidence in the interests of inclusive economic growth. If the ANC government and business fail to unite behind a common vision for the future of our economy, other economies on the continent will leave us behind and the highest price will be paid by those who remain economically marginalised.