Talkshop or game changer?
President Jacob Zuma was on to something when he emphasised that delegates to the National Policy Conference must not be content to diagnose and analyse problems, but must focus on coming up with solutions for the troubled economy and all other problems facing the country. But because of how low his credibility is at the moment, even a statement like that is immediately construed by his critics to mean that he does not want them to debate issues around his being captured by the Guptas.
But there is truth to the fact that these policy discussions tend to meander into abstract postulation and debates that do not result in real solutions to the current challenges.
Already there is a possibility that the longest policy conference ever could be bogged down by a hypothetical, unnecessary discussion about whether the ANC has always identified white monopoly capital as an enemy, or if the term is actually a recent invention meant to divert attention from real, pertinent discussions.
We have learnt already that so popular is the subject of economic transformation at this conference that the party has broken up the massive numbers of people who availed themselves to attend into three well-populated commissions.
We hope it is because these ANC delegates want to discuss strategies on the revival of the economy and arrest the steep increase in unemployment.
Past experience tells us that the party gets obsessed with slogans that people throw up at each policy conference. In the recent past, these have included concepts such as the second phase of transition, two centres of power and, more recently, radical economic transformation.
If the governing party does not get to grips with issues of crime, unemployment, education costs, health and land at the conference, it risks being another big, expensive jamboree that helps bickering factions to spend time shadow boxing.
The party will also do itself a favour by assessing why it has built up impressive policy over the years that never gets implemented. Besides longstanding ideological positions, the party helped formulate the National Development Plan, which outlines its broad vision but is not really followed in daily government action.
What the conference achieves will either hasten its decline to irrelevance or help it recover lost ground.