Sandile Zungu

The ANC policy conference guarantees that the debate among the more than 3000 delegates will be filled with revolutionary rhetoric, but no significant policy shifts are likely. The conference is expected to reject calls for the nationalisation of SA's mines.

But, as a token of its commitment to the "paradigm shift" the party has promised its poor voters, it is expected to adopt a report on options for state intervention in the mining sector. This includes a proposal for a 50% super-tax on mining company profits.

This will go some way towards answering one of the key questions in policy discussion papers that the delegates will tackle: "Should we be satisfied with merely maintaining and tinkering with the so-called modern, sophisticated economy and infrastructure that the white man bequeathed us, or should we search for bold and creative solutions?"

Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll has pleaded for proper policy clarity and for decisions that will guarantee prosperity instead of leading the country down "blind alleys". Mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu has promised that the conference will provide the clarity business needs to invest with confidence.

ANC MP and parliamentary mining committee chairman Fred Gona agrees that the conference must give clarity on the future of the mining sector. Gona is not in favour of nationalisation. But he insists that the status quo cannot be allowed to continue, echoing the view expressed in the discussion documents. The party, he says, has to be seen to be actively investigating ways to share the country's mineral wealth more equally.

Investec economist Brian Kantor says this kind of stance won't lend any clarity to the issue. The ANC, he says, needs to put politics and ideology aside and galvanise around policies that are "not only clear but also right".

Business groups have been working behind the scenes to impress the right policies on the ANC.

Sandile Zungu of the Black Business Council (BBC), which has been invited to make a submission at the conference, says the organisation will stick to the practical requirements of running and growing a business.

Zungu hopes that though the ANC appears to be in favour of ramping up state intervention and increasing the size, scope and number of public entities, the policy meeting will also endorse the importance of the private sector.Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the "gold mines" from where economic growth and employment are going to come, says Zungu.

The BBC is pushing for a ministry dedicated to supporting and growing the SME sector.

Zungu says the problem with the current debates, especially on emotive issues like labour broking and labour regulation, is that there's too little realism and too much inflexibility. Each side, he says, refuses to concede to the so-called enemy. The BBC hopes to position itself as the voice of reason in "the madness".

"We need to get back to our natural decency because we all want the economy to grow and we all recognise that if economic growth can be sustained, there will be significant revenue for government," says Zungu.

He is not fazed by the differences on the economy in the ANC and government, saying that it is important for everyone to be heard.

There is a need for focused, pragmatic leadership to make decisions and implement coherent plans, he says.

Banking Association of SA MD Cas Coovadia has also had what he calls "productive" meetings with the ANC's economic transformation committee. The main point the association has wanted to impress on the ANC is that though there may be cases for state intervention where markets have failed, the state has to have proper skills to run them. Coovadia also emphasises the danger of policy discussions based on "flawed views". Countries that survived the global financial crisis best did so because of appropriate policy and regulation and not because of their state-led economies, as the Left in the ANC often refers to, he says.

Business Unity SA deputy CEO Raymond Parsons says business needs to brace itself for what is guaranteed to be "robust" debate at the conference. It must accept the politics that underpins these debates and understand how to make a contribution in the processes involved.

Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, says business needs to take a breath and remember that the ANC policy conference doesn't make policy. It makes proposals to the ANC's elective conference in December, which then adopts, rejects or modifies them. Even if the national conference adopts proposals as ANC policy, they don't necessarily become government policy. They could be shelved or emerge as something quite different and, in many cases, far more pragmatic than the original. The national health insurance plan is a good example of this.

Claude Baissac of country-risk consultants Eunomix argues that investors do not understand the mechanics of the ANC policy processes.

"Perception is reality. Adopting the report on state intervention in the mining sector as it is will send a very bad signal to the markets. If the report is adopted, the perceptions among foreign and local investors will be that SA is anti-investment and antigrowth," says Baissac. He says the proposals to tax super-profits and impose a new mining concession regime is dangerous for SA because the geology of its mines makes mineral extraction difficult and expensive. This means investors need more certainty as they need to take a 20- to 30-year view.

Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart argues that engagement has to be based on proper economic debates.

"How long are we going to go on with the increased state intervention thing? It's clearly not working. Business in private hands is a wealth creator; in government it is a consumer of wealth. State control is not working. Government has had enough time to make it work. Take Telkom as an example. It should be leading our economic growth but the dead hand of the state ensures that it isn't," says Hart.

Economist Iraj Abedian says business has no choice. It must accept that there are conflicting views in the ANC and in government and deal with them in a manner that is useful. But, he says, it should never become complacent about the policy process.