06/07/2017 06:30 SAST | Updated 06/07/2017 07:08 SAST

Zuma Delivers A Less Belligerent Closing Policy Conference Address

It was filled with the language of compromise, of middle ground and kicking for touch.

President Jacob Zuma gestures during the last day of the ANC National Policy Conference in Soweto, South Africa, on July 5 2017.
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma gestures during the last day of the ANC National Policy Conference in Soweto, South Africa, on July 5 2017.

President Jacob Zuma's closing address to delegates at the African National Congress' (ANC) policy conference at Nasrec, in the south of Johannesburg, was much less belligerent and strident than his opening speech six days ago.

It was filled with the language of compromise, of middle-ground and kicking for touch. Where Zuma last week launched broadsides at worried veterans of the governing party, berated senior members who spoke out about internal problems and excitedly paid homage to the branches, he was much more subdued on Wednesday.

On the face of it, the Zuma faction is sitting with a weaker hand than they did a week ago.

Compromise #1

Tellingly, he spent more than half of the roughly 2 000 words he spoke during his speech on proposals to create a unity slate: a list of candidates for leadership positions that represents the major factions in the party. "There are no winners, no losers at this conference. There is only one winner: the ANC," he said.

The president delivered an elaborate and passionate case for proposals tabled at the commission on organisational renewal that those factions that lose leadership contests should be represented in the leadership. This means, he explained, if a candidate loses the election for president, he or she becomes the deputy president. This will mean that factions are nullified because even those that do not win will be part of the leadership.

"These proposals need to be taken to the branches. We need clear resolutions to help heal tensions. It is absolutely crucial. We can't stay with permanent factions and tensions . . . denialism is a reality," he said off the cuff.

"I can go from province to province to motivate this proposal, I believe it is the correct one," he added.

During all of this Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was working on his iPad and reading official looking papers. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on the president's left shoulder, was staring straight ahead.

Compromise #2

Zuma has clearly been forced into exploring compromise deals for December. His weaker position became even clearer in the short shrift given to the highly contentious issue of "white monopoly capital". The issue was one of the rallying points for the pro-Zuma faction in all of the commissions and led to conflict with Joel Netshitenzhe, who became a lightning rod for the Zuma faction when he told the media the phrase had in effect been rejected.

"The discussions in the commissions on strategy and tactics, organisational renewal and the economic transformation commissions and at plenary were robust on the issue of the characterisation of monopoly capital. This is as it should be," Zuma prefaced the compromise.

"The correct characterisation of (this) phenomena is important. In this regard it is technically correct, in the context of the South African political economy, to talk of white monopoly capital.

"With this understanding in mind, it is also important to lay the emphasis on the fact that it is monopoly capital as such that is the primary adversary of the collective interests of our people, regardless of its colour."

Netshitenzhe's contention, in effect, is therefore correct: the Zuma faction couldn't push though the rhetorical and ideological changes they wanted, which means the status quo remains.

Compromise #3

Expropriation of land without compensation, like white monopoly capital, was an area of factional contestation going into the policy conference. It represented a proxy battle in two divergent strands of ANC ideology: one rooted in the constitution, the other a populist struggle for power.

Derek Hanekom, the fired minister of tourism, resisted proposals from a flood of delegates, many from KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and the women's and youth leagues, to amend the Constitution in order to enable expropriation without compensation. He was even censured for calling some proposals "rubbish".

The Zuma faction could also not claim victory in this skirmish. As with white monopoly capital, he deferred to the status quo, but adding the Constitution could be changed in order to legalise expropriation without compensation.

"What is wrong is to say: 'The land was taken (by force), let us now take it back. But we have got to discuss it. In a democracy, we discuss. If we don't agree, the majority prevails. We can change the Constitution. It takes two-thirds (majority, in parliament). You can do it, as long as it is within the rules of democracy. You can't 23 years after (the advent of democracy) . . . or 50 years . . . complain when you had time to deal with the matter," he said.

When Zuma concluded his speech with the usual rallying calls, he joined a laughing and joking Ramaphosa, dancing to ANC election songs played over the speakers. Seeing what was happening, Dlamini-Zuma scurried over and took her place between the two leaders, joining them for a slate selfie.

They were all grinning.