JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party begins its key policy conference on Friday beset by internal divisions and the country’s economic woes.
The policy meeting is seen as a preview of the ANC’s December conference where it will elect its leader.
Nearly 30 years after Nelson Mandela’s party won power in recognition of its fight to end white minority rule, the ANC is now faced with declining voter support. The party is widely criticized for rampant corruption and for not effectively pursuing policies to help poor Black South Africans.
About 2,000 ANC officials and members are to participate in the three-day conference.
“This conference should be seen as a place where we have a festival of ideas, where the ANC lives up to its role as the leader of society by developing policies that prevail to the lived experience of our people where they live, and to shape the trajectory of our country,” South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also leader of the governing party, said to open the policy conference.
The conference is to adopt policies to address urgent problems such as South Africa's 35% unemployment rate, rising poverty levels, corruption, and the faltering economy.
The policy conference will also test President Cyril Ramaphosa’s support ahead of the crucial December conference where he will seek re-election as the ANC's leader. If Ramaphosa loses that party election, he will be under pressure to resign as South Africa's president.
Ramaphosa is confronted by significant opposition within the ANC, as a rival faction loyal to former President Jacob Zuma is very active and will field a candidate to contest him for the party leadership.
Ramaphosa is also facing pressure over South Africa's electricity crisis that has seen continued rolling nationwide power cuts.
Ramaphosa's public efforts to stamp out corruption have been substantially weakened by accusations that he illegally concealed $4 million in foreign currency at his cattle and game farm.
Among the controversial policies expected to be debated at the conference is the ANC’s step-aside rule, which demands that party leaders facing corruption charges must resign from their positions. The policy has worsened divisions within the party, as some of its leaders forced to resign claim the rule is being used by Ramaphosa to sideline political rivals.
ANC national executive committee member Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told The Associated Press on Friday that discussions on the economy will be important.
“People will want to know what is the plan around (the state power utility) Eskom and energy to stop load-shedding (power cuts)," he said. “People will want to know how are we going to deal with this high rise in the cost of living.”
The majority of delegates will want to debate those policies, said Kubayi-Ngubane.