DEPUTY President Kgalema Motlanthe says the Mangaung conference represents a tipping point for the African National Congress (ANC), which needs to restore public confidence in its ability to lead the country out of a rut and formulate good policies.
In a transcript of an interview published by the Financial Times on Monday, Mr Motlanthe warns that the party needs to get its house in order and come up with policies that work for South Africa.
There is a campaign to market Mr Motlanthe as a potential successor to President Jacob Zuma.
He has received nominations from some branches as the ANC prepares for provincial general meetings next month at which it will be clear which leaders have enough nominations to be considered candidates in Mangaung.
Mr Motlanthe acknowledged that many people and sectors looked to such a conference for clues on the country’s political and economic outlook. He said if the expectations of outsiders were not met on policy issues, the levels of despondency and negative outlook on South Africa’s political and economic trajectory would be strengthened. South Africa’s sovereign rating has been downgraded by two rating agencies, essentially due to the uncertain political terrain.
Mr Motlanthe said the ANC could be saved if the conference could adopt clear policies and the party itself had a unity of purpose "so that people can say, yes, there is hope for tomorrow being better than yesterday".
Asked what he would do if his name came up, Mr Motlanthe downplayed its significance. "All these people who are making pronouncements now about this and that and so on are merely expressing their own wishes," he said.
Asked if he would accept nomination, Mr Motlanthe said: "I can only respond to that question when it is put to me, because I have a right to … The constitution of the ANC says each and every member has a right to nominate whomsoever and be nominated for any position."
While Mr Motlanthe has not expressly said that he would stand for the position of party president, some ANC leaders say the indications are that he will accept a nomination for any position, based on the principle of serving wherever ANC branches want him to.
Mr Motlanthe said Mangaung could be the tipping point for the ANC, which led a country facing myriad economic development obstacles. "We have to ensure that we come up with a formula that works for this country," he said.
The government’s welfare expenditure — with more than 15-million people receiving social grants — was not sustainable, he said. "We need to create jobs; we need to grow the economy."
The ANC had to renew itself, as that would make it capable of leading South Africa out of a "rut", he said. If it failed to do so, there was a chance that those who felt there was a need for a radical approach to the issues of transformation would gain currency. "There is no doubt about it that we need renewal or we’re going south."
The ANC must "continue to be relevant and capable of providing leadership today, not because of the glorious history", Mr Motlanthe said. It should aspire to be "the natural political home to the broadest cross-section" of South Africa.
The 2014 election posed a challenge for the ANC, as children born after apartheid would be voting for the first time. "They use a simple measurement … Is the ANC capable of going to the moon? And they say, well, if it can’t deliver books, how can it go to space?"
The new generation was not sentimental in its approach to choosing a party to vote for, he said. "There’s no sentimentality … It’s plain, straightforward."