President Cyril Ramaphosa.

THEBE MABANGA

ANC President Cyril Ramphosa delivered the party’s annual January 8 Statement sounding tired for this time of year, a reflection of the strain he has been under, and put his finger on the pulse on problem facing the party and the country, but offered little by way of proposed solutions.

When he outlined the achievements of the democratic, it sounded tense, turgid and hollow, as if he knew that many of those listening knew of those achievements, but had grown impatient with them.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ANC cannot trade on its past glories.

Without a hint of irony, Ramaphosa pointed to the economic success of the five year period leading to the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis but did not remind his audience that the success was funded on the 1996 Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) and the 2004 Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (Asgisa), unpopular policies pioneered by former President Thabo Mbeki, the currently unpopular former finance minister Trevor Manuel and current finance minister Tito  Mboweni as governor of the Reserve Bank.

The NEC’s prioritization of the fight against COVID-19 and reviving the economy are spot on, but Ramaphoa did not outline how he will deal with the multiple court challenges, the latest from the liquor industry, challenging the lockdown regulations.

Is he going to keep alcohol sales open during the coming Third Wave?

Even if it proves deadlier?

What about live sports and entertainment events?

His handling of the response has been admirable but the balance between saving lives and livelihoods has not always been correct.

He was brutally frank in his assessment of how corruption and perceptions of corruption erode the ANC’s standing in society and there would have been murmurs when he mentioned controversies involving ANC leaders, for that would have to include him.

The biggest problem with the ANC’s action and communications is that it aims its message and action to its 1 million members rather than the 11 million voters who put it in power.

Which is why the party takes decisions like reinstating the VBS corruption-accused officials in Limpopo, or former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, a misguided action which may appease members but certainly angers and alienates voters.

Ramaphosa chose Gender-Based Violence to talk tough.

“It cannot be, and it must never be, that any member or leader of the ANC is associated with violence against women and childreen in any form,” Ramaphosa said.

 “We remain firm that any of our members who are found guilty of such crimes have no place in our movement. They do not belong in our meetings. They do not belong in our leadership structures. There is only one place where they belong, in jail”

But GBV is a low hanging fruit, an area in which everyone agrees in their condemnation.

The question is whether he can talk equally tough on corruption, including to his secretary general Ace Magashule.

 Ramaphosa announced that the Integrity Commission will be strengthened, but did not say how.

A good place to start would be to have the Commission comprise of eminent independent persons who have no historical connection to the ANC, either as members or beneficiaries of business with the state or serving on government structures.

The commission should also have its status elevated to the National Disciplinary Committee and have its recommendations binding.

Ramaphosa gave an important update on the land reform process, confirming that the parliamentary process to amend Section 25 of the Constitution will continue and legislation on security of tenure for farm labour tenants will be strengthened.

But the statement no longer serves as a platform for major new policy announcement and that could be because, as Cosatu Genetral secretary Bheki Nthslintshali pointed out ahead of its delivery, it is no longer clear if policy originates from the ANC and given to government for approval and implementation or, as Treasury did with its economic document in August 2019, government initiates policy for Luthuli House to endorse.

Mbeki used the 2004 statement, an election year, to announce the launch of the country’s infrastructure program, then at an ambitious sounding R400 billion.

The programme has since evolved into the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium (SIDS) with a gazette initial R340 billion worth of programmes in the short-term and running into trillions over the medium term.

Mbeki also used this statement to announce that the country was to develop a new industrial policy.

That became a drawn out and elaborate process under former Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mphahlwa, who produced the first blueprint of the National Industrial Development Policy which has since evolved into the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP). But it all started at the January 8th statement.

Finally, Ramapahosa must be careful how radically he pushed his modernising agendas and remember that some modernising occurs naturally.

After all this is a party that used to have provincial presidents and a President General for its first fifty years of its existence, including Albert Luthuli and AWG Champion Mhlongo as Presidents of Natal at various points, with the latter acting as President General in Dr. AB Xuma’s absence in 1946.

Yet now it has provincial chairmen in line with democratic boundaries.  

Old political parties tend to reject modernization.

The Labour Party in Britain rejected its most successful moderniser since the Second World War, Tony Blair, who led it to power for the longest period in its history and led Britain to full employment by building on Margaret Thatcher’s conservative policies, which castrated union power.

The labour party’s union allies eventually rejected Blair but have since lost successive election and the Brexit referendum and only can only now sense a path back to office due to Brexit chaos, economic fallout and the Boris Johnson/ Donald Trump tragic comedy double act on either side of the Atlantic that has just come to a farcical end.

Likewise, the ANC rejected Mbeki, its most successful mordeniser since its unbanning, both his economic and political vision.

Mbeki centraliseed power in the office of the President, for both party and in government.

At Luthuli House, he gave himself the powers to appoint Premiers and mayors, a move which kept Ace Magashule out of the levers of government for a decade in the Fee State Province.

The victorious ‘Polokwane Brigade’ reversed those powers and gave them back to provinces through the submission of three names with a clear preferred candidate.

Mbekis economic vision, for all the success it brought, was rejected as part of the 1996 Class Project but has never been successfully replaced.

The fiscal path followed in the wake of the 2008 recession, one of raising the debt to GDP ratio to shield the economy from the fallout, would not have been possible if it was not for the preceding year’s successful stabilization of public finances, one of the cornerstones of Gear.

 Treasury’s document Economic transformation, inclusive growth, and competitiveness: Towards an Economic Strategy for South Africa has shades of Gear, which is why it is rejected by alliance partners.

Even the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan does not stray too far from what the International Monetary Fund or World Bank would prescribe, much to the chagrin of Ramaphosa’s critics to the Left.

Good luck to him trying to sell it to reluctant allies.

(SOURCE: INSIDE POLITICS)

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