Polokwane and the national question: The triple challenge
The 50th national conference of the African National Congress (ANC) held in Mafikengi in December 1997 reaffirmed the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) perspective of the national oppression of Africans in particular, and the black people in general.
The Mafikeng conference stands out for its elevation of the issues of gender-based oppression and discrimination against the youth and people with disabilities; and the placing on the national agenda of concerns around moral degeneration and corruption.
The 51st conference in Stellenboschii in 2002 will be remembered for the contemporary application of the understanding of the issues of poverty and underdevelopment, the launching of a programme for the advancement of Africa's cause, and its noting of the creation of the possibility of fundamental change in Africa's political and economic landscape. It is also significant to note that this conference placed emphasis on the extension of community-based public works programmes.
Notwithstanding the pragmatic response of the 51st national conference to the global capitalist hegemony – with such considerations as macro-economic stability and labour-market reforms – the journey from the 48th Durban national conference, through Mafikeng to the 51st Stellenbosch conference represents an uninterrupted process of struggle – informed by policy objectives that are not mutually exclusive, and on the realisation of which South Africa depends.iii
As per the Mafikeng Strategy and Tactics document, this is not merely a concern for this or the other “sector” of society; rather “it is in actual fact a matter of principle, an expression of our humane values, without which liberation would be neither genuine nor legitimate”.iv
‘Preservation of the movement’s character’
The Strategy and Tactics documentv that was adopted at the Polokwane national conference (December 2007) does not specifically deal with the national question. The conference, however, noted, “Preservation of the movement's character, culture and values in a changing context and new conditions of struggle is the central focus of the organisational renewal effort…”; it also made reference to the “political management of governance”.
On the national question itself, the resolutions of the 52nd national conference at Polokwanevi in 2007 begin by noting that “over the 95 years of the existence of the ANC, the movement evolved into a force for mass mobilisation, a glue that held our people together and a trusted leader of the broadest range of social forces that share the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa”.
The resolutions further note that “the 1994 democratic breakthrough ushered in new conditions, providing a unique opportunity to combine state and mass power, in serving the interest of the people. Over the last 13 years, the ANC as the ruling party has used its control of state power to improve the quality of life, beginning to roll back the legacy of apartheid and colonialism.”
The Polokwane resolutionvii on social transformation notes that South Africa “entered its second decade of freedom with the strengthening of democracy and the acceleration of the programme to improve the quality of life of all the people”, and that “in the context of our continued resolve to challenge underdevelopment and eradicate poverty, and, against the background of the huge investment in infrastructure and its attendant possibilities, the emphasis on quality education and health must be recognised”.
The resolution of social transformation further notes that “while many families have access to social grants and other poverty-alleviation programmes, many of these households and communities remain trapped in poverty, are dependent on the state and thus unable to access the opportunities created by the positive economic climate”.
This perspective is a carryover from the Stellenbosch national conferenceviii , where the ANC raised the issue of linking state grants to economic activity to reduce dependency.
The ANC in Polokwane proposed that central to the taskix of social transformation “is the role of the ANC in government in confronting the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment”. It also said the ANC must “reaffirm our commitment to redress poverty and inequality”, and noted that education and health be prioritised as core elements of social transformation.
Other key aspects of the resolutions include the linking of grants to economic activity to reduce dependency; the acceleration of programmes in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals; the establishment of a mandatory (low-cost, broad-based) system of retirement fund that covers low-income groups; and the implementation of a national health insurance system by further strengthening the public healthcare system and ensuring adequate provision of funding.
On economic transformation, the 52nd national conferencex took as its point of departure “the Freedom Charter's ‘clarion call’ that the People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth”. The resolution makes the point that substantial progress in transforming the economy to benefit the majority has been made. However, it notes the “serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality” that remain.
The centrality of the state in directly investing in underdeveloped areas and directing private sector investment received specific attention in Polokwane.
The challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality are to be addressed “simultaneously”, through accelerated economic growth and the transformation of the quality of that growth. The conference noted that “the most effective weapon in the campaign against poverty is the creation of decent work, and creating work requires faster economic growth. Moreover, the challenges of poverty and inequality require that accelerated growth take place in the context of an effective strategy of redistribution that builds a new and more equitable growth path.”xi
The centrality of the state was underpinned by a call for the establishment of a National Planning Commission (NPC). The NPC would be tasked with the responsibility of “the integration, harmonisation and alignment of planning and implementation across all three spheres of government, and with the development finance institutions and state-owned enterprises, including through the development of coherent inter-sectoral plans at national level and the alignment of local implementation in terms of the IDPs of metro, district and local municipalities”.xii
The Polokwane conference reaffirmed the NDR strategic perspective of an uninterrupted struggle for the total liberation of black people in general and Africans in particular – along with a specific focus on women, the youth and people with disabilities. It placed emphasis on the centrality of organisational renewal of the ANC, while confirming the indivisibility of various interventions towards the attainment of a better life for all – informed by policy objectives that are not mutually exclusive, and on the realisation of which South Africa depends.xiii
The 52nd national conference considered education and health as being key primary interventions. The centrality of state power to drive both social and economic transformation received particular focus – this leading to the establishment of the National Planning Commission. Polokwane also drew into the Strategy and Tactics document the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
The key content of the Polokwane Strategy and Tactics document is the conceptualisation of a “triple challenge” – unemployment, poverty and inequality – to be addressed simultaneously through accelerated economic growth and the transformation of the quality of that growth.