The ANC's National General Council, which meets this week, is second in importance only to the organisation's National Council which elects the leader and adopts policy. And given the ANC's dominance of the South African political system, this mid-term meeting is not only important to the ANC but therefore important also for South Africa and South Africans. The three partners in the alliance are coming to the conference with definite ideas of what they want to get out of it but a history over the past six months of very public quarrels and spats. Some of these have revolved around policy - particularly economic policy - and some around personalities. This was one of the factors I mentioned in my last Insight when describing August as a "terrible" month for South Africa. The other concerns affecting public opinion and confidence levels I mentioned were the three-week Public Service strike with its serious consequences for schools, health and hospital facilities in particular; the wide-spread mistrust around how President Zuma's friends and family have managed to gain billions of rands almost overnight; and of course the government's proposal to supervise the media. It's not surprising that The Economist, which is a global authority on African affairs and especially on South Africa, carried an editorial more critical than anything that I have seen since 1994. Of the government's media proposals it said that were they to be implemented "South Africa's press would end up being subject to restrictions not since the days of apartheid". In fact, Helen Zille, feisty leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said over the week-end that what the government proposed went further than any of the apartheid government's plans to limit reporting. And The Economist ended its editorial with this damning, but in my opinion, balanced statement: "South Africa is Africa's biggest economy and its most influential country. It could lead the continent towards prosperity and freedom, or in the other direction. It is largely up to Mr Zuma to decide which way it goes. The signs so far are worrying. But it is early days yet. There is plenty of time for Mr Zuma to take a public stand against this rotten press Bill. It would be a good way of telling his countrymen, and the rest of the world, that he has a vision for South Africa - and that it is a decent one." Mr Zuma, regrettably, is not going to take a stand against the Bill - all the indications are that it will go through to Parliament with his full blessing. One not unimportant consequence of the government's press action is the establishment over the week-end of a body to be known as the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution. Chaired by Sipho Pityana, a leading businessman, its founding members include a number of distinguished South Africans - including (surprisingly) the ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete and Democratic Alliance Helen Zille. While there will be many particular issues of contention at this week's meeting in Durban, main attention will focus on COSATU's determination to see certain policy and policy guidelines whole-heartedly taken up by the ANC. Although they all agree that a more inclusive economic growth path is needed if the country is to even start meeting the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, how to achieve this are matters which will be debated beyond the Durban meeting this week. On the personality side, a concern of all three members of the alliance is how to curb the ANC Youth and its leader Julius Malema. Over the past six months he has moved from saying crudely insulting things about opposition leaders to directly criticising President Zuma and threatening to limit him to a single term of office.
Omega Investment Research
Cape Town, South Africa