A farce passed off as a 'pro-poor policy conference'
THE ANC's policy conference dispelled any lingering hope that the party can still rescue South Africa from the consequences of 18 years of ANC rule.
If the conference resolutions are ever implemented they will undoubtedly worsen the crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Despite the acknowledged failure of almost every state-driven intervention - from land reform to education renewal - President Jacob Zuma has blamed the familiar scapegoat: "white men" and the inherited disparities of apartheid.
Instead of the "giant leap" forward Zuma promised, the conference ended in a tenuous "holding operation" endorsing the rehashed policy proposals adopted in Polokwane.
To be sure, it could have been worse. Many delegates were pushing for more radical forms of state-led populism, such as the wholesale nationalisation of the mining industry and the confiscation of land without compensation.
If this lobby had triumphed it would have been the death knell of further economic growth.
But this does not represent progress. It means that Zuma will be even more compromised than before. Even if some of the proposals were implemented, they will make matters worse. The proposed 50% resource rent tax on mining will inevitably lead to mine closures.
Instead, we should grow mining output by reducing costs associated with poor transport infrastructure, inadequate export facilities and high electricity prices.
To grow jobs we need more down-stream industries in mining, which requires improving the business and regulatory environment so that these industries are attractive to investors.
Then there is land reform. The conference resolved that land should not be confiscated without compensation unless it had been acquired illegally. And while the concept of "willing-buyer, willing-seller" was rejected, the conference accepted that constitutional change was not needed. So the legal "status quo" remains: if the state and a private owner cannot reach agreement on compensation for land, a court must determine a reasonable price.
Then there is the all-important area of economic growth. Clearly, the ANC still believes state-owned enterprises should be the core drivers of "economic transformation" with a mandate to "advance the socio-economic and political agenda of the developmental state".
This jargon is pure satire. Between 2008 and 2010, state-owned enterprises had to be rescued by taxpayers for R243-billion. And, when their CEOs and senior staff were "relieved" of their positions, it cost R262-million to let them go.
As if this is not enough, there are now plans for a new state-owned mining company, a state-owned bank, a state-owned construction company, and a state-controlled "human resource planning entity".
While seeking state intervention everywhere it shouldn't, the ANC continues to resist it where it should. In 2011, R5-billion was budgeted to implement a Youth Wage Subsidy to encourage employers to appoint "first-time" job seekers. It remains unspent. Under pressure from Cosatu, the ANC has shied away from implementing one of the few state interventions that would boost productivity.
Instead, the ANC has opted for precisely the opposite. Although details are still sketchy, the conference mooted an ill-defined "job-seekers grant" offering young people an "allowance" while they look for work.
Towards the end of the conference, another story took centre stage: the news that the state is finalising a R2-billion deal to buy a new private jet for Zuma.
That tells you all you need to know about the ANC's "developmental state" and the farce that passed itself off as a "pro-poor policy conference" in Midrand.
- Zille is DA leader