President Jacob Zuma says a return to the core values that have defined the historical character of the African National Congress (ANC), such as selflessness and collective leadership – will be critical to reunite the organization.
President Zuma was delivering the opening address at the ANC’s 5th National Policy Conference that opened in Nasrec, Gauteng on Friday. President Zuma said the policy discussions over the next few days of the NPC must be rooted in party unity, which, said President Zuma, was ‘the rock upon which the ANC was founded.’
Unity must be the thread that keeps the ANC and the country together, he said.
President Zuma noted that the NPC was being held at a difficult period for the country economically. The economy had entered into a technical recession and discussions at the policy conference would need to look at what needs to done to reignite growth over the next five years.
Despite these challenges, President Zuma noted that equal consideration needed to be given to the considerable progress made by the ANC government in consolidating democracy and expanding access to a better life for all.He cited a vibrant civil society with an independent judiciary, a free press and an extensive social security net for the poorest of the poor, and the expansion of basic services to the poor amongst the democratic gains achieved under the ANC government since 1994.
Furthermore, ‘the ANC has increased access to economic opportunities to black people who were excluded before through several economic programmes,’ the President noted.
The Conference will need to deliberate on the pace and quality of ANC programmes, as government strives to undo the damaging effects of apartheid, he added.
Turning to present challenges facing the organization, President Zuma said that historical context was key: noting that “the movement has faced several challenges over the past few years in the changing terrain of struggle that has impacted on the character of the organization.”
The ANC President said that there was a worrying development of what he termed ‘negative tendencies’ that had ‘caused frustration and disillusionment’ amongst the population at large. The ANC needed to ‘cleanse itself’ of these negative tendencies, the President said.
Within the organization itself, he cited patronage, corruption, social distance, factionalism, abuse of power, slate politics, membership system anomalies such as reported manipulation of membership data and bulk buying, as negative tendencies.
He also singled out the tendency of ill-discipline, saying that “some leaders and members of the ANC have become primary conveyors of negative information about their own movement” which needed to be stopped. Instead, members and leaders should handle matters within the organization.
Importantly, he said, “this perpetual negative messaging by our own people has a negative impact on the economy.” Moving forward, a balance would need to be struck between the ANC’s valued trait of self-criticism, with the need to protect the ANC and provide it with the space to resolve problems in a more organized manner.
President Zuma noted that it was not the first time the ANC had discussed organizational renewal, as this was done before every conference.
“This time, however” he noted, “we must discuss it not for the sake of it,” but in order to come up with a united, strong focused and cohesive ANC.
“The ANC belongs to the people of SA and we must fix it so it can continue improving the lives of our people,” President Zuma said.
President Zuma also addressed a wide-range of contemporary issues such as the election of leaders of the movement, rooting out corruption, and the contentious and thorny issue of ‘state capture’ – noting that a judicial commission of inquiry had been established.
On policy matters he touched on matters of the funding of higher education, the lowering of data costs, and promoting gender equality.
“To applause in the hall, he said that the NPC would deliberate at length on advancing the status of women.
Ultimately, President Zuma’s keynote address contained the overarching message that the NPC needed to come up with concrete and tangible recommendations that would ‘direct the movement back to its core business and character.’
“We must draw on lessons from the past 100 years and what led to the ANC surviving to be the oldest liberation movement on the continent” said President Zuma. Amongst these were its deep roots and connection with the people, a culture of vibrant internal democracy and collective leadership, a readiness and willingness of members to make sacrifices for the people and the ability to adapt to changing conditions and rise to the occasion at critical moments.
“These traits have made the ANC the parliament of the people,” he said, adding that despite current challenges, the ANC still represents the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of our people.”
The people of South Africa who love the ANC “want us to resolve our difficulties and work towards transforming south Africa and building a better life for all,” the President said.
The President then reflected on the policy imperatives before the NPC: emphasizing that ‘the economy remains our apex priority,’ and that the last National Conference of the ANC in Mangaung resolved to embark upon the Second Phase of Transition to a National Democratic Society, that would be more radical.
He explained that radical socio-economic transformation referred to a fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female.
President Zuma said the ANC government would use the Constitution, legislation and regulations, licensing, BBBEE and other transformation charters, the national budget and procurement, State Owned Enterprises, government programmes and Development Finance Institutions as ‘instruments’ to accelerate radical socio-economic transformation.
In conclusion, the President said that the ANC had reached a centenary and beyond because of its ability to ‘rise to the occasion to deal decisively with problems that threatened its very existence’.
Calling on delegates not be ‘defeatist’ in their deliberations, he called on them to come up with solutions to the challenges facing the movement and the country.
“The ANC”, he said: “must and will emerge from this policy conference stronger.”