JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, begins its key political conference on Friday, beset by internal divisions and the country’s economic woes.
The policy meeting is seen as a preview of the ANC’s December conference where it will elect its leader.
Nearly 30 years after Nelson Mandela’s party took power in recognition of its fight to end white minority rule, the ANC now faces declining voter support. The party is widely criticized for its endemic corruption and for not effectively pursuing its policies of helping poor black South Africans.
About 2,000 ANC officials and members are due to attend the three-day conference.
“This conference should be seen as a place where we hold a festival of ideas, where the ANC lives up to its role as a leader of society by developing policies that override the lived experience of our people where it lives and shapes the trajectory of our country”, declared South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also leader of the ruling party, at the opening of the political conference.
The conference must adopt policies to address pressing issues such as South Africa’s 35% unemployment rate, rising levels of poverty, corruption and the ailing economy.
The political conference will also test President Cyril Ramaphosa’s support ahead of the crucial conference in December where he will seek re-election as head of the ANC. If Ramaphosa loses that party’s election, he will be under pressure to step down as president of South Africa.
Ramaphosa faces significant opposition within the ANC as a rival faction loyal to former President Jacob Zuma is very active and will field a candidate to challenge him for the party leadership.
Ramaphosa also faces pressures related to South Africa’s electricity crisis, which has resulted in continued nationwide blackouts.
Ramaphosa’s public efforts to root out corruption have been significantly weakened by accusations that he illegally stashed $4 million in foreign currency at his cattle and game farm.
Among the controversial policies expected to be debated at the conference is the ANC’s walkout rule, which requires party leaders accused of corruption to resign from office. The policy has deepened divisions within the party, as some of its leaders forced to resign say the rule is being used by Ramaphosa to sideline his political rivals.
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, a member of the ANC’s national executive committee, told The Associated Press on Friday that discussions on the economy would be important.
“People will want to know what the plan is around (electric utility) Eskom and energy to stop load shedding (blackouts),” he said. “People will want to know how are we going to handle this steep rise in the cost of living.”
The majority of delegates will want to debate these policies, Kubayi-Ngubane said.