IN THE vacuum left by the inconclusive outcome of last week's African National Congress (ANC) policy conference, a strong lobby has emerged to promote the idea of the state taking over strategic minerals and companies such as Sasol and ArcelorMittal.

The conference endorsed the idea of "strategic nationalisation" if it was backed by the "balance of evidence" - a nebulous term which any faction can interpret to support its case.

Delegates from six of the nine provinces last week pushed for mines and companies in the steel and energy industries to be taken over - a move that is being celebrated by the ANC Youth League and many provinces.

The provinces are likely to push even harder for the controversial idea to become policy at the Mangaung elective conference in December.

The details of the concept are sketchy and the resolution can be interpreted in many ways, which would create more confusion on policy and heighten unease among investors.

The youth league yesterday accused party officials of watering down the decision taken at last week's conference.

This resolution, if adopted in Mangaung, would raise the possibility of specific assets and resources being nationalised, a business leader who declined to be named said last night.

Even the usually vocal elements in the alliance have been cagey about commenting on the resolution, which appears to have left opponents of nationalisation battling to resist a strong push by the majority of the provinces. It also opens the ANC to manipulation by various interests - who can introduce other sectors that should be nationalised later.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said last night that only two committees - the steering committee chaired by Gwede Mantashe and the policy subcommittee chaired by Jeff Radebe - were qualified to interpret the official outcome of the conference. They had not compiled a report stating the resolutions, he said.

"When they have compiled, they have a duty to report to the national executive committee (NEC). It is then the NEC that will produce the official communication and disseminate (it) to our structures, including the youth league. The youth league must not jump the gun," he said.

Senior leaders who attended the policy conference say the idea for strategic nationalisation was supported by the spokesmen of six provinces, with KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Free State in the minority.

The youth league began the nationalisation campaign but now the six provinces - which have the power to push it into policy - seem to be touting the concept of "strategic nationalisation".

The spokesmen for the three dissenting provinces were now "stage-managing" the communications on the events at the conference, said a union leader who attended it as a delegate.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said last night that he was part of the commission that came up with a "resolution that was very categorical" about the need for state intervention. He said while Cosatu did not want blanket nationalisation, it needed an active role for the state, including a keen interest in the nationalisation of a key sector through a state company.

Youth league spokesman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe said the ANC was diluting the resolution when the conference had directed that "nationalisation of mines and other strategic sectors shall be a policy of the ANC emerging from the Mangaung conference".

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za