The ANC’s policy conference coincides with the commemoration of the Freedom Charter, being marked on Monday. And as at that Congress of the People decades ago, our nation is at the crossroads again.
The unfinished business of our transition to a democratic nation has caught up with us and we can no longer hide.
This time around, a new slogan of radical economic transformation looms large. The decisions to come out of that conference will make or break the ruling party’s grip on power, much the same way as those that will shape the December conference.
The land question will give meaning to the buzz phrase of radical economic transformation or show it to be the farce I believe it is.
The Freedom Charter, a founding document of the liberation Struggle, acknowledged that our country is well endowed with gold, silver, diamonds and many other minerals. Our land is fertile and has such diverse weather patterns that should ensure our food security.
However, the mineral-rich land does not benefit the majority of the people of the land. South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.
After the dawn of democracy we saw the country’s economy rise but with very little impact on the lives of the majority.
After the Mbeki era, there was a dramatic decline across all economic indicators.
One hopes that the ANC, in all its factional absent-mindedness, realises we are now at the point where we cannot just hope the situation will resolve itself but that it needs decisive intervention to implement the kind of policy that will speed up the lethargic pace of land redistribution.
Since 1994, the ANC has adopted many policies aimed at addressing economic transformation.
We started with the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP); followed by Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear); Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgisa) until we ended up with the National Development Plan (NDP) and now we are talking about radical economic transformation.
All these powerfully articulated policies failed to achieve their intended goals.
They have only brought us to a sad situation of poor economic growth, unguarded inflation and now terrifying recession that looks like a vote of no confidence in the current administration and its policies.
What must be done? The sudden change of approach by our ruling party on the issue of land, while welcome, must be viewed with critical suspicion.
Why is there suddenly a willingness to look at a radical approach to land?
We should read poor political will into the mixed messages that characterised this change in the ruling party but hope that this will force a more fundamental policy posture from the ANC following the conference.
We will see in the quality of the policy decisions on this issue whether the ANC merely wants to use this as an elections ploy aimed at eclipsing the EFF or whether it is serious about effecting a lasting change on this question.
The rushed approach on the mining charter, where there seems to be a new policy brazenness even if it’s at the expense of taking social partners, seems unhelpful in rebuilding an investment climate.
Attracting investors is the only way to get out of the current growthless trajectory for the economy.
One wonders why what seemed to be a reckless pronouncement on the mining charter couldn’t await the ANC policy conference so that it is located within measures aimed at realising radical economic transformation?
Or is this a new way of asserting the ANC outside of government? Could this be a sign of a parallel government, otherwise known as state capture? Or is it the new way in which the ANC processes new policies as it happened with the NDP, which was adopted first by the National Assembly ahead of the Mangaung conference.
It’s clear that whatever the ANC decides next week, a sustainable answer must be found following a thorough national dialogue and soul-searching about how we can live up to the ideals espoused in the Freedom Charter. In so doing, these critical questions must be answered:
* Should our constitution be amended to allow expropriation of land without compensation?
* How will the government fast-track the land distribution and support those who will receive their land back given the failure to meet its own targets for land redistribution?
* How will the change of policy on land be balanced with the need for nation-building, reconciliation and economic freedom?
The nation is hoping this does not become yet another talk shop, but a fresh start at realising the ideals of the Freedom Charter.
By Lebo Keswa
The Sunday Independent