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Not much new in this dawn

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The ANC manifesto made the right noises about the need to heal divisions, create more jobs, root out corruption and end gender violence, but was light in specifics

A party supporter holds up a poster of former president Thabo Mbeki.

The ANC launched its manifesto with an admission that the party “made mistakes and veered off course” and, as a result, the organisation was resolved “to work with our people to address this cancer (of corruption) in our society”.

This admission is important if the ANC is to rekindle the love lost with some sections of the electorate over the past 10 years. Missing in the admission is a tally of what these mistakes were and how far the movement derailed.

The electorate deserves to know this to determine whether the ANC appears fit to drive the country back from the brink of collapse it neared because of an ANC-led government.

The manifesto for the 2019 general elections has the tagline “Let’s grow South Africa together”. It builds on 2009’s “Working together we can do” and 2014’s “Together we move South Africa forward”.

The emphasis on “togetherness” is probably derived from the mantra that “The ANC is the leader of society”, intended to unite all progressive forces under its banner. This is indicated in the manner in which the 2019 manifesto emphasis is on how government, the private sector, labour and civil society should work hand-in-hand to purse the transformation of the economy to serve the people. Ideologically and politically, the idea of “the people” is contested. Who are the people?

This question is pertinent in our context as the most unequal society in the world. The ANC will do well to clarify and explicitly state who the people are; especially those it imagines to be systematically locked out of economic participation. The ANC identifies key areas that need attention for the transformation of the economy: more jobs and decent jobs, broadening ownership, a sustainable land reform programme, addressing monopolies that lead to excessive economic concentration, an investment plan, an industrial strategy, the digital revolution, small enterprises, co-operatives and township and village economies, transforming and diversifying the financial sector, and developing a macroeconomic framework.

These are not novel ideas from the ANC. They are a rehash of its past areas of focus when making promises to the electorate. Of interest it is how the ANC proposes broadening the ownership of the economy through employee-ownership schemes that would lead to workers owning a part of the companies in which they work. There is silence on community ownership – a significant concept given the continued presence of the extractive economy through mining, oil and gas exploration.

Mining communities have been asserting themselves through protest and litigation as important role-players in the exploration of mineral resources. The absence of communities when thinking of broadening economic participation makes the ANC appear ignorant of the centrality of communities where industries are enacted.

The ANC appears less ambitious in its targets this time around. The party proposes that it will create an extra 275 000 jobs each year “by boosting local demand for goods, investing more in mining, manufacturing and agriculture and expanding export markets”. Another avenue to increase economic participation will be the use of internships and training opportunities.

Coupled to this will be the removal of work experience “as a requirement for employment of young people”.

The job creation targets fall far behind the target of the National Development Plan (NDP) that intended to see unemployment drop to 20% by 2020.

This will not be achieved. Yet the 2019 manifesto still gives centrality to the NDP, even though a significant number of ambitious targets and fundamentals to jump-start the South African economy contained in the NDP are far from being achieved.

The ANC is aware of this difficulty as it once more plans to develop a macro-economic policy framework that will “support the distinct and vibrant social and solidarity economy based on addressing social and environmental needs rather than profit maximisation”. This commitment is important if the ANC is to build a mixed economy responsive to the challenges of income and asset ownership inequality that confront our country, much to the detriment of hopes of young people, especially those who are black.

This emanates from the racialised hierarchy of oppression developed by the apartheid government.

For this reason, the ANC recognises that it ought to broaden its options in the pursuit of land reform. The support for land expropriation without compensation is clearly stated by the party. However, it sees this as one of the instruments that should be available to expedite land reform.

The ANC is tight-lipped or unimaginative on what the other instruments will be.

The manifesto also addresses the advancement of social transformation, building safer communities, fighting corruption and promoting integrity, building nation unity and embracing diversity, and imaging South Africa in the world. Many of the ideas proposed under these areas of the manifesto are similar to those proposed in the 2009 and 2014 manifestos. What is interesting in this manifesto is the ambitious target to build “at least one new South Africa city of the future”. I suppose Steyn City in this instance does not qualify, and it will be interesting to hear the ANC unpack where this city could be located and what its key features would be.

During the manifesto launch there was a moment worth celebrating. Ramaphosa called on all men present at Moses Mabhida stadium to stand up and make a commitment to women that they would end gender-based violence in society. This heralded a new era in that the governing party was now ready to confront gender-based violence. For some time activists have been accusing government of being lacklustre in the fight against this in all its forms.

Mnguni is a PhD candidate and

researcher at the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit at UKZN