BALANCE: SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin yesterday in Richards Bay, ahead of today's national congress. Picture: SAM MKOKELI

THE African National Congress's (ANC's) policy conference got bogged down on technocratic detail and failed to clarify the party's position on important policy matters, the South African Communist Party (SACP) deputy general secretary said yesterday.

Two weeks after the conference, there is still no clarity on the ANC's direction on crucial economic policy, including the call to capture strategic firms and nationalisation of mines. Ratings agencies and economists have warned that a lack of policy clarity would cause policy uncertainty and increase investor jitters.

While the conference was not empowered to take final policy decisions, it was expected to provide direction ahead of the December elective conference, which will take final policy decisions.

Speaking in Richards Bay ahead of the SACP's congress, Jeremy Cronin said under Thabo Mbeki's ANC presidency, there were concerns that the policy process was technocratic, with government officials central in the process, instead of the branches. That created a sense that the "policy making had been taken away from branches".

While that was corrected at the 2007 Polokwane conference, with branches being the central player, there was now a lack of clarity.

"It is difficult to make policy in a policy conference with thousands and thousands of people," he said.

The Mangaung conference is likely to consist of the same calibre of branch delegates, who would create the same tone and mood as last month's policy conference. Some say debate on economic policy collapsed at the conference, hence there was no clarity on policy positions.

Mr Cronin said the ANC needed to get the balance right - between a technical, data and statistics centred approach and strategic approaches to policy making.

Meanwhile, Gwede Mantashe, who is chairman of the SACP and secretary-general of the ANC, conceded the SACP was weakened when its top officials were given other assignments. SACP leaders have previously rejected the view that allowing party officials to serve in full-time government and ANC positions affected it negatively.

Mr Mantashe is to step down as chairman this week and remain an additional member of the SACP's central committee. He is likely to be replaced by National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana when leaders are elected at the party's national conference, starting in Richards Bay today.

Yesterday, Mr Mantashe said it was "impossible to run both" positions. He had resisted earlier calls for him to quit his SACP position saying they were "more ideological than genuine". The Congress of South African Trade Unions, an SACP ally, has been campaigning for some of the top five SACP officials to remain at the party's head office.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and Mr Cronin hold government positions, as minister of higher education and deputy minister of public works, respectively. Treasurer Phumulo Masualle is finance MEC and ANC provincial chairman in the Eastern Cape.

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za