You have heard the refrain before: It is a resolution of conference.
This phrase is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card for ANC leaders when they want to advance a policy or an action that makes no sense.
Those who seek to argue logically against the ANC-led government pursuing an unworkable policy or taking an action that is not in the interests of the republic and its people are met with this stonewall.
By giving conference resolutions the status of the Ten Commandments or the Five Pillars of Islam, the governing party gets away without having to justify itself.
As we sit through the gripping but depressing testimony at the Zondo commission, tales of raiding the Public Investment Corporation and the revelations about the treasonous sabotaging of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), we should remind ourselves of a 2007 conference resolution that entrenched a culture of impunity.
At its 2007 conference in Polokwane the ANC controversially resolved that the Scorpions specialised crime-fighting unit be “dissolved” and absorbed into the SA Police Service and the “relevant legislative changes be effected” urgently.
There wasn’t that much urgency when it came to implementing most of the resolutions from that conference.
But there was much haste in disbanding the Scorpions, who were giving ANC heavyweights lots of heat.
By March of the following year, with lame-duck president Thabo Mbeki still in office, the legislative process had begun.
Make-believe public hearings were scheduled, with the chair of the safety and security portfolio committee Maggie Sotyu telling a press briefing that “we are going to dissolve the Scorpions” because the job of Parliament was to “implement the policies of the ruling party”.
Throughout that period the ANC refused to countenance any other views because conference had passed a resolution.
One of the views that was dismissed outright was that of the Khampepe commission, set up by Mbeki to investigate the functioning and location of the Scorpions.
In her report, completed in 2006, Constitutional Court Justice Sisi Khampepe said it was her “considered finding” that the Scorpions – formally knows as the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO) – still had “a place in the government’s law-enforcement plan” and that “the rationale for the establishment of the DSO is as valid today as it was at conception”.
“Having considered the totality of the evidence and the law relevant to the terms of reference, it is my considered view, for reasons that have already been comprehensively canvassed, that the DSO should continue to be located within the NPA,” said Khampepe in her report.
Well, the comrades paid scant attention to that and went on to do as the conference resolution had instructed.
We are hearing these noises again now in the wake of the party’s 2017 conference.
When the ANC went to the Nasrec conference it had the benefit of the Motlanthe panel report, which had spelt out clearly what lay behind the failure of the land restitution, land reform and land redistribution programmes.
But nobody was interested in the extensively researched work of the panel, which was headed by a former secretary-general and deputy president of the ANC. Fuelled by illiterate populist rhetoric, the Nasrec delegates narrowly went on to pass a resolution to change section 25 of the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation.
In the course of last year the ANC ramped up its rhetoric; there was little listening and zero consideration of the damage that the caustic debate was doing to the country’s investment attractiveness and to social cohesion.
The ANC was not willing to engage in any meaningful conversation about why a successful and speedy land reform programme did not require an attack on the Constitution.
One after another the ANC reminded anyone who dared waste their oxygen and vocal chords that the amendment was a conference resolution.
It became clear that having a logical conversation was as likely as getting Kaizer Chiefs fans to accept that the next time they would win a Soweto Derby would be the day Alexandra township overcame its legendary rat problem.
Now the conference resolution clergy have turned their attention to the SA Reserve Bank.
They tell us that the Nasrec conference resolution to change the mandate of the Central Bank and to nationalise the institution must be implemented forthwith – and damn the consequences.
Addressing concerns about interfering with the constitutional enshrined independence and mandate of the Reserve Bank, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has said the party’s leadership structures cannot go back on the decision of the conference because “ours is to implement those resolutions without fail” and “without flinching”.
Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina went further and said: “If it means we must change the Constitution to nationalise the SA Reserve Bank, what is the problem? I thought ANC policy resolutions did not need interpretation.”
So there you have it. Why do we need a Constitution when you have conference resolutions?
Why do we need common sense when conference resolutions do the thinking for you?
Why do we need public debate when the conference is there to be obeyed and needs no interpretation?
Why do we need to consider the consequences of policies and legislation when we can always fall back on the excuse that it was a conference resolution?