South Africa: No Policy Change After Polokwane -- Motlanthe

Johannesburg — THE African National Congress (ANC) went out of its way yesterday to reassure investors that the government's market-friendly policies would not change with Jacob Zuma's victory .

Outgoing ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe emphasised that broad economic policies would remain intact.

"When I say policy will not change, I mean exactly in the economic area where investors could be scared off. There are basic policies that will not change.

"We have never deluded ourselves that the ANC would micromanage government. We would rather monitor the implementation of broad ANC policies."

Concern has been expressed that the fight to the end by rival camps supporting President Thabo Mbeki and Zuma would see the development of policy for the next five years being shoved to the side. However, Motlanthe was adamant the succession battle would not change policy.

Popular support for Zuma, led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has sparked fears of policy direction moving sharply left if Zuma takes up the reins of the ANC as the federation claims its stake in return of the favour.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has been particularly vocal about plans to boost the federation's say in alliance decision making structures to install worker-friendly policies.

But Motlanthe unequivocally dismissed notions that Cosatu could claim "payback" and demand changes in policy.

"Cosatu as a federation has no voting rights in the national conference -- they have speaking rights. So there is no way they can even claim 'we put you there so it's payback time'.

"I would imagine people vote for a vision, for what you have by way of policy and the trust they have in you. So I don't believe there's space for paybacks. That would apply only if the ANC began to run elections like the US where there is a need for syndicated funding. That is not how it works in the ANC."

Motlanthe also dismissed notions that policy would be interpreted differently. He said that the challenge lay with the implementation of policy, which may be affected if there was a change in leadership.

Other proposals include a women's ministry and lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

Motlanthe told reporters that there was "broad agreement" on policy matters. "The ANC is a broad church. We have communists in our ranks, we have diehard capitalists in our ranks... Through engagement we arrive at consensus. These (divisions) will not impact on policy," he said.

Analysts said yesterday that this week's indaba was not likely to make any major changes to proposals suggested at the party's policy conference in July.

The party's 14 commissions, which started debating policy matters yesterday, are likely to draw up draft resolutions for ratification by the conference's 3900 voting delegates tonight or tomorrow.

Political analyst Ebrahim Fakir from the Centre for Policy Studies said: " Time is a factor. There won't be substantial debates or amendments to proposals that were adopted five months ago at the ANC's policy conference."

The presidential succession race was the dominant issue at the conference, political analyst Steven Friedman said.

The party is considering a number of policy proposals ranging from economic and social transformation, peace and stability, to the state and governance, and international relations.

The party decided at its policy meeting that education and health would be its main priorities for the next five years.

Delegates have to decide between making education free to a certain level of schooling, or expanding the current number of no-fee schools into more areas. The possible changes to education policy come amid increasing pressure form the party's left-wing allies to meet its target of halving unemployment and denting poverty by 2014.

The massive skills shortage and its effect on future economic growth are growing concerns. Five million children benefit from the government's no-fee school policy, which covers 40% of government schools at primary level.

Delegates will decide whether to endorse a call for the establishment of a state-owned pharmaceutical company that would help lower the price of medicines to curb the country's high health costs.

HIV/AIDS will also be discussed, but a call to make the disease notifiable is not likely to get majority backing because of negative connotations such as stigmatisation.

Commissions are also not likely to support a call for a special grant for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, because they believe it should instead be catered for by a more comprehensive social security system.

On governance, commissions are discussing a system of post-tenure rules for public officials. Delegates at the policy conference called for a set of ethics to become part of the ANC's cadre development programme.

Another matter to receive attention is whether to scrap legislation allowing members of political parties to cross the floor to another political party without losing their seats.

MPs are considering what to do about the law and the Independent Electoral Commission has suggested that the practice be abolished. The ANC has gained the most from floor-crossing, splintering the opposition.

The number of provinces will also be debated, but it is not likely that there will be any policy proposals on the matter.

The government is considering reducing the number of provinces to speed up service delivery, but there is likely to be opposition from ANC members, given the patronage opportunities raised by provinces.

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