Johannesburg — On top of deciding whether Jacob Zuma will serve another term as ANC president, the 5,000 delegates who will attend the party's 53rd national conference in December will have to make a final call on a huge political hot potato: the nationalisation of mines. The subject caused disarray at last week's ANC policy conference.
Depending on who you speak to in the ANC, nationalisation has been rejected/is approved in strategic mining ventures and is a definite maybe. In true ANC form, there is now disagreement about whether last week's ANC policy conference agreed to "strategic nationalisation" or not, and if so what this means in reality.
The controversial proposal to nationalise South Africa's mines, the final issue to be discussed before the four-day conference wrapped on Friday night, exposed rifts in the party that led to some delegates verbally and physically attacking each other.
The information put out to the media on Friday night by senior party officials seems to contradict the report on economic transformation proposing "strategic nationalisation", which was the subject of heated debate between and within delegations. There were skirmishes between delegates within the North West, Eastern Cape and Cosatu delegations, which the party tried to hide from the media.
Proponents of nationalisation are now challenging the announcement by ANC national executive committee member Enoch Godongwana to the media later on Friday night, when he said no decision had been taken to nationalise mines.
But just after the briefing, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe confirmed to Daily Maverick that he had proposed in a commission debate that there should be a 30% state share in mines, and this was agreed to.
But he said it was eventually decided not to cap the percentage share at 30% because the amount of state ownership should be open-ended.
In an interview with the SABC last night, President Jacob Zuma said the issue of nationalisation was "touched upon" in the policy conference, but "I don't think the matter was taken".
He said the conference had reached a resolution on the issue on the basis of a study conducted by an NEC task team, which recommended against nationalisation.
"When we get to December, I doubt there will be a different resolution on the matter," Zuma said.
However, the report of the commissions on economic transformation was amended during the heated plenary session to read as follows: "Transformative state intervention in the economy must take many forms, including nationalisation of strategic sectors such as mines, banks and monopoly industries".
On bold forms of state intervention needed, the commission report was amended by the plenary to read: "State ownership, including more strategic use of existing state- owned companies, as well as strategic nationalisation, based on the need to industrialise, raise state revenue and defend political and economic sovereignty, where deemed appropriate on the balance of evidence".
The resolution was opposed by the Mpumalanga province and KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive member Senzo Mchunu said they preferred the concept of "state ownership" rather than nationalisation. With the exception of Free State, which said it wanted to use the term "state acquisition", six provinces supported the resolution.
The Sunday Times yesterday quoted Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi as saying he was disappointed at how Godongwana communicated the resolution to the media because the conference had agreed on the need to nationalise the mines.
"I was left with a bitter taste in the mouth (when Godongwana presented the recommendations). I was of the sense that the majority was in support of nationalisation. Delegates were very categorical in their support for nationalisation they did not want blanket nationalisation, but strategic nationalisation on the balance of evidence. I can see the leadership has taken a different route," Vavi told the Sunday Times.
Godongwana told the paper he did not communicate the decision on "strategic nationalisation" because he was not sure at the time how many provinces supported the resolution.
The differences in interpretation and communication of the resolution are likely to cause a further commotion because all the decisions of the policy conference will go back to ANC branches for "refinement" before being taken to the December Mangaung conference.
The nationalisation of mines has huge implications for the country's economic trajectory and has become politically charged ever since former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema became its champion. The issue was, however, overtaken in the build-up to the policy conference by debates over the strategy and tactics document titled "the Second Transition".
Lacking any form of strategy to coalesce his supporters, Zuma latched on to the second-transition concept as a blueprint for accelerating economic change, which led to it becoming a proxy debate for his campaign for a second term. When the concept was shot down overwhelmingly at the commissions, Zuma's opponents became buoyed and combined forces over the nationalisation issue, even though some provinces like Gauteng did not have strong feelings on the matter.
Mantashe's proposal at commission nine for a percentage state ownership was aimed at bridging consensus on the divisive issue. However, KwaZulu-Natal remained opposed to the suggestion with police minister Nathi Mthethwa, who is leading Zuma's re-election campaign, drawing howls of protest during the plenary on Friday when he argued that the ANC should instead stick to its position of making interventions within a "mixed economy".
Zuma appeared to echo this sentiment last night when he said there should be "bold and strong interventions within a mixed economy".
The KwaZulu-Natal delegation also enraged other provinces at the Friday plenary when they began singing an adapted IFP song in praise of Zuma.
The original version of the song praises IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
A provincial chairman told Daily Maverick on Friday night that he was "shocked and disappointed" in the ANC's top six leaders who "stood and watched the chaos unfold" at the plenary. "Not one of them went to the podium and said 'sit down comrades, this behaviour is unacceptable.' If you can't show leadership at such a time, why are they there?" he asked.
Last week's policy conference was a trial run for the ANC's elective conference in December and has resulted in even more uncertainty over the likely outcomes. As things stand, the succession and nationalisation issues will run parallel when electioneering steps into high gear later this year. The delegates will have to make a final decision on both issues.
Though the ANC can still camouflage and deny last week's ruptures, Mangaung will produce its own truths.