CALL FOR CHANGE: Jeff Radebe, the head of policy in the ANC, says the party has to heed the cries of the poor. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

JEFF Radebe does not go as far as Bill Clinton's 1992 US presidential campaign payoff line, "It's the economy, stupid", but the message by the African National Congress's (ANC's) head of policy is similar: economic policy must be the focus of the party's members.

For the ANC, the challenges are steep. There are cries for freedom, also from hunger, and not just for voting rights.

Mr Radebe said the party simply had to listen to the cries of the poor who are increasingly taking to the streets over delivery.

The ANC policy conference next week will review old policies and discuss a new batch. In the past two years, there have been calls for drastic policies to be adopted. Some want the state to own and even run mines, while others would like the country's constitution to be changed to allow the state to quickly distribute land.

The conservative element in the ANC has opposed calls for the state to take over mines, a position supported by an independent report that has suggested a number of alternatives to "headline nationalisation".

These include a 50% resource rent tax on higher than normal returns on investment.

"(The) ANC will do what is right and we cannot prejudge that issue," Mr Radebe said.

He said also that mining was naturally at the centre of the ANC's policy discussions. However, some within the party use calls for socio-economic change as a way to battle leadership fights, because the ANC has put a lid on talk about its leadership elections in December. As a result, structures use policy to battle for dominance in a proxy war.

Mr Radebe said a paradigm shift in policy discourse was required in the ANC. This was captured in the strategy and tactics document dubbed "the second transition".

The message in the document is for the ANC to go up a notch in improving the economic situation. Reconciliation and the introduction of democracy were the focus of the first two decades of democracy.

The document has been criticised as populist policy that should be kicked into touch. Early drafts called for changes to the constitution, as it was seen to be blocking social transformation. However, that raised concern among opposition parties and civil society, which feared plans to fiddle with the constitution were the ANC's way to entrench itself.

One of the critics of the document is the ANC's second-in-command, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. He took it apart last week as a "smattering of Marxist jargon".

Mr Radebe said the document was a reflection of the mood of ANC members, and society at large, where there were cries for tangible economic change.

He says economic policy - and not just political freedom - should ideally be the main focus of the ANC in the future. However, his dream could be seen as rhetoric, as critics have pointed out that the document lacks the content that would lead to change or a second transition.

Analysts, and some in the ANC too, have warned that the health of the ANC, as a strife-stricken party, will prevent it from implementing any drastic policies.

Mr Radebe said frequent service-delivery protests were a cry for the ANC to speed up economic transformation, hence the need for a second transition. "The ANC government must yield to the cries of our people. There has to be change, which can only come from the economy in the main."

The calls for constitutional changes were not about further entrenching the ANC's rule, he said. Some parts of the constitution impeded the transfer of power from national departments to lower levels, such as municipalities. If the ANC were to empower cities by giving them more responsibility, constitutional changes were necessary.

On the health of the ANC, Mr Radebe said the ANC had to get rid of the "rotten apples" in all its structures. "If the rotten apples are not curtailed, they have the potential of derailing the ANC."

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za