As the dust settles from the ANC conference, the comrades will hopefully team up again and prepare for the battle that lies ahead: 2019. The ANC has no time to spare. It has been in power since 1994 and by 2019 would have governed post-apartheid South Africa for twenty-five years. The sins of incumbency has indeed affected the party and the robust, and at times raw, engagements at the conference would have indicated to the organization that it has a mammoth task ahead. The worse thing that ANC members could possibly do now is to look inwards; all members of the ANC, whether victors or victims at Conference, should unite and focus on the needs of South Africans.

One thing is for sure, radical socio-economic transformation is what is needed in South Africa. The low growth rates, far less than what is expected in the National Development Plan, indicate that together with the global economy, South Africa’s economy is stagnant. The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), who represent the four social partners of government, labour, business and civil society, also seem to have reached a dead-end in its deliberations on how to stimulate the economy even more.

Yet these instruments, such as NEDLAC, cannot do the stimulation without a blue-print. What we desperately need to do is thrash out what RET means and reach consensus on this. We need to get the buy-in from all sectors of society in order to make RET work. We must be able to convince the wealthy in our country, as we convinced Whites during the end days of apartheid, that it is in their best interest that RET be developed and implemented. We need to ensure greater participation from all organized business, labour and civil society. 

It is for this reason that Jessie Duarte’s proposal of a economic ‘CODESA’ must be lauded. In fact, Duarte was not the first to make this call, for even Bantu Holomisa has called for it, and this in itself indicates that the idea has already germinated in some quarters. The challenges faced by Black business, for example, needs to be engaged as well as the fears of White business. We must engage questions that will ensure more tangible investments instead of the high levels of liquidity suffered today by South Africa.

This CODESA though, the ANC will be in the government’s seat. This will be significant because when CODESA 1 and 2 were held, during the nineties, the questions of the economy were far from the National Party’s priorities. It would seem that leaving the economy untouched was also a given as the old government tried to force the ANC, and the rest of the liberation movement, to concentrate on other matters.

In his latest book, ‘Peaceful Revolution: Inside the War Room at the Negotiations’, Dr Niel Barnard, the former head of the National Intelligence Agency and then Director-General of Constitutional Development under the National Party regime, states the eight priority areas for the government in the negotiations. These he lists as: the constitutional model, violence, amnesty, the security forces, the IFP and DP, TBVC states, the civil service and Afrikaans. Nowhere was the questions of land, the restructuring of the economy or even economic empowerment dealt with. Affirmative action was only thought about in the realm of the civil service.

The revelation is an important one. It supports the idea that from the meetings initiated with Nelson Mandela in prison, the meetings of the ANC with Afrikaner businessmen and academics in Dakar as well as the entire negotiation process was conducted by the National Party government. While some would admit that the Nationalist government caught the ANC by surprise, it is obvious that in most instances the ANC was always responding to proposals made by the apartheid regime. The apartheid regime were in the driver’s seat. Needless to mention that the ANC leadership at the time did not want to miss the historic opportunity to govern.

This time ‘round though the ANC will be in the cockpit and it must ensure that it highlights the needs of the people. Importantly, the ANC must ensure that the people’s voices are heard, as they were able to during CODESA, and that the deals are not made by the elites. Even more so, the ANC must ensure that nothing is kept off the table and that the gathering is as representative as possible.

A number of proposals have been made and needs to be explored in this economic convention. A state bank, a state construction company, broad-based economic empowerment, ensuring that capital flight and disinvestment does not happen. The re-look at the question of land, especially in the light of Constitutional precepts, and whether there are viable models of rural development must also be placed high on the agenda. Investigations must be pursued in order to understand why Blacks are not getting into top-management or why Black businesses are not receiving the necessary public and private support.

A thorough discussion and detailed plan must be set up for our state-owned enterprises in order to ensure that, as in other developmental countries such as India and China, these become beacons in the economic emancipation of our people. Industries such as manufacturing, tourism, finance, trade and transport must be given attention in order to pursue viable options of injection into these industries. The ANC government must come with its own eight priorities, which already it has in its nine point plan, and get all those around the table to negotiate and buy-into these priorities.

The ANC must be bold, as the Nats were, to restructure the economy of the country as the Nats restructured the political system during the nineties. In this way, it will win the moral legitimacy needed in order to claim back the trust of the people and ensure that the future of our children looks brighter. There is no reason why such a convention cannot be the backdrop to an election to be held in 2019 and therefore 2018 must be declared the year where South Africans, together, will discuss and decide their future. If needs be, referenda should be arranged on critical issues such as land, capitalization and state-owned enterprises. 

Unlike the NDP, definite deadlines and details must be put in place and parliament in particular must hold the social partners to account when these are not met. Unlike the NDP, and even to a certain extent CODESA, this exercise of deciding our economic future should be more widely consultative and participative of the people. Hirtheto, instruments such as parliament and NEDLAC, have not necessary been pro-active in ensuring that the a new economic dispensation dawns on our country. 


Wesley Seale Teaches Politics at Rhodes University and is a PhD Candidate at Beijing University in China 

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