By Joe Sims
The African National Congress national conference drew to a close today as votes were being counted for a new national executive committee and with a public address and press conference by its new president Jacob Zuma.
Winnie Mandela topped the list of votes in the polling for the new leadership body. Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande also received a high vote and was 11th. Communist leaders, Charles Nqkula and Ronnie Kasrils, both of who hold important post in the current government, however were not re-elected, but others were.
Zuma, in a conciliatory address stressed the need to build unity in the post conference period: "The conference is now behind us and we will continue to work together to unite and build a stronger ANC," he said.
The new ANC president stressed continuity in terms of economic and political policy:
"We have taken various resolutions at this conference, which will guide us on our way forward. ANC policies, including economic policies that have been adopted at this conference do not indicate a fundamental shift from the policies that the ANC has adopted since it has come into power. Let me reiterate that decisions with regards to policies in the ANC are taken by conference and not by an individual."
Prior to the conference Zuma visited India, Great Britain and the US to insure investors that the new leadership’s economic policy would not shift. The conference however did reaffirm its earlier policy conference decision to embark on a new industrial policy, public works, and more state investment. The Stratfor Corporation, an intelligence company among whose biggest client is the CIA, sponsored Zuma’s US visit.
In an important policy plank Zuma highlighted the importance the new leadership took to the issue of land reform:
"Comrades, the conference has taken an important resolution on agrarian revolution, calling for a 30% redistribution of land by 2014 and support for subsistence farming and food security while maintaining a productive agricultural sector."
Zuma returned to the unity theme a number of times in his speech, noting the role of President Mbeki, calling him "brother," "comrade," and "my leader". On the unity of the organization he stressed that the meet was not:
"ANC Conference of victors and losers. As the newly elected NEC we will endeavor to work with all the comrades who did not make it to this NEC to ensure that the unity of the ANC is strengthened. We are all ANC members who just happened to prefer a different set of leadership collectives as it is our democratic right. It is our collective task to repair whatever damage or harm may have been caused as we were building up towards the conference. Let me emphasize that the leadership collective will serve the entire membership of the ANC, regardless of whether a person voted for Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma or any other member or leader. We cannot have a Zuma camp or a Mbeki.camp, there is only one ANC. None among us is above the organization or bigger than the ANC."
The South African Communist Party in a press statement, pointed to the significance of the conference and the great responsibility it placed on the new leadership to address the grave problems faced by the poor:
"ANC delegates have sent a clear message, but the electoral outcome of this conference does not mean that the underlying challenges of our society have gone away - poverty, unemployment, deepening inequality. As an alliance leadership, we will be failing the hopes and aspirations of the thousands of ANC branch delegates if we do not use the new reality as a platform to address with an even greater sense of urgency and determination these realities that impact upon millions of South Africans".
The SACP also addressed the issue of unity, declaring:
"This is not a moment for triumphalism or factional revenge. Those inclinations will simply plunge us into another cycle of inward-focused maneuvering. Let us devote our energies to uniting around the tasks of transformation."
The statement went on to indicate the need for reflection on why delegates decided to elect a new leadership pointing to frustration building from below.
Indeed it seems that great economic and health challenges that ordinary South Africans face – massive unemployment, HIV/AIDS, lack of adequate housing, became a material force at this conference, crying out for solution.
With pressure mounting and given the maneuvers of forces hostile to South African revolution the ANC faces a daunting challenges. New efforts to prosecute President Zuma on corruption charges floated Thursday only underscore the problem. The world watches with hope and anxiety.