THREE days after the ANC adopted policies to take to Mangaung, it is widely believed the party has taken a step backwards rather than the radical direction it promised.
Chief among these are issues that have seen the party at loggerheads with its alliance partners, including tackling high youth unemployment, service delivery programmes and improving the standard of education in South Africa’s schools.
Political analysts and the opposition said the policies signalled a return to basics and a tenuous "holding operation”.
Some of the supposed "radical” ideas include a proposal to introduce compulsory national youth service – a strategy to absorb unemployed matric graduates into skills development programmes through the SA National Defence Force.
The proposal comes at a time when statistics show that 70% of all unemployed South Africans are young people – who have been at the forefront of violent and destructive service delivery protests across the country.
During its conference last week, the ANC also decided to:
ıSet up an independent commission to evaluate the standards of basic education after the government experimented with various systems that have failed;
ıReview the provinces to determine their capacity regarding service delivery, possibly significantly reducing the number; and
ıIntroduce a job-seeker’s grant – a "vague” call seen as an alternative to the contentious youth wage subsidy that has been stalled by the ANC’s alliance partners.
These resolutions, if adopted at the party’s elective conference in Mangaung in December, will in all likelihood become government policy.
While more than 3500 delegates had called for a "radical shift” in policies, political analyst Ebrahim Fakir said the Midrand outcomes signalled a change in mind-set. Instead of a radical overhaul, the ANC was returning to basics to tackle key issues.
"Far from this being a radical change in policy, it is in fact, I think, a return to basics.
"On policy, particularly on education and health, they want to do the basic things that ought to have been done.
"So I feel some sympathy for the president in a sense that far from him being a completely indecisive president, he is the facilitator kind of guy,” Fakir said.
"We have seen [with these policies] a narrative beginning to emerge. He [Zuma] is reading his own story and his own story is ‘go back to basics, let us make a U-turn on some of the things because they were inappropriate’, and the U-turn would be on education.”
DA leader Helen Zille said most of Zuma’s proposals were not as radical as he had promised in his opening address on Tuesday.
"Instead of the ‘giant leap’ forward Zuma promised, the conference ended in a tenuous holding operation, endorsing the rehashed policy proposals adopted at Polokwane almost five years ago,” she said.
"To be sure, it could have been worse.
"A large number of delegates were pushing for more radical forms of state-led populism, such as the wholesale nationalisation of the mining industry [which reportedly led to a fist fight between delegates behind closed doors] and the confiscation of land without compensation.
"If this lobby had triumphed, it would have been the death knell for further investment and economic growth.”
Zille said Zuma’s not pushing through radical policy reforms would leave him further compromised at Mangaung.
"Policy paralysis is the inevitable outcome. Talk of the ‘developmental state’ leading the ‘second phase of South Africa’s transition’ is hollow rhetoric, bereft of content.”
According to some conference delegates, service delivery was one of the issues that guided the call for a review of the provinces.
The ANC has expressed concern about the increase in service delivery protests around the country, and some have cautioned that the social unrest could get out of hand if not addressed.
Fakir said the debate on the review of the provinces had been part of the ANC for a while.
"The review will be about what will be the functionality of certain provinces, will they have political power or will they become administrative units?”
Some of the policy proposals were also centred around bringing back political stability to the ANC, Fakir said.
Political and economic analyst Daniel Silke described the job- seeker’s grant proposal as political manoeuvring, to keep Cosatu – which is opposed to the controversial youth wage subsidy – happy until after Mangaung.
ANC national executive member Paul Mashatile said last week the national youth service was not a reintroduction of apartheid-style conscription.
"[Its] compulsory nature is just to avoid loitering rather than distracting those who are already at universities ... Many might not be aware that those who are already there are doing training that is not gun-related.”