Genesis and anatomy of the industrial biofuels strategy of South Africa
Ruysenaar, Shaun Henry
Instrumental accounts of policy start at the policy document—the framework for action— and move on from there, identifying gaps, criticising shortcomings or praising proposals. Critical and interpretive reviews of policymaking regard it as a process to be examined rather than an outcome to be managed. At the core of this thesis, the Biofuels Industrial Strategy of South Africa presents a new terrain in which to examine the policy process before such instrumental approaches become pertinent. In doing so, pervasive underlying 'win-win' and 'pro-poor' narratives and associated discourses articulated and legitimised by constituent vested interests, global and local networks (the biofuels assemblage) and the power relations between them are scrutinised as part of the 'messy politics' of policymaking. Through such an investigation, the thesis adds to the understanding of policymaking in South Africa and seeks to instil the importance of interpretive approaches to analysing policymaking. Ultimately, decisions around biofuels highlight the importance of meaning and cognitive frameworks that policymakers bring to the table and the symbolic nature of policy. It must, for example be made clear what purpose policy actually fulfils rather than simply subscribing to social constructions of instrumental success or failure. There is a lingering if not hegemonic supposition that although South Africa has 'good' policy, implementation 'fails' due to capacity. While this may be the case, it is inadequate as an explanation of 'policy failure', where remedial action then becomes more about improving capacity, which may only serve to reify the abstract disjuncture between policy and practice. Rather an attempt should be made to 'problematise' what makes policy either 'good' or 'bad' but more so unpack the taken for granted in policymaking and how policy itself is part of wider sense making processes whilst also fulfilling symbolic roles beyond the merely instrumental. Given an inescapable reality in which politics and knowledge share a dialectic relationship in policymaking, we should rethink the veracity and technocratic assumptions of evidence-based policymaking and the value of 'knowledge' in policymaking processes over and above the way policymakers frame and interpret issues themselves. Considering 'evidence' to be a deus ex machina or panacea, as it is in New Public Management proposals, may very well be short sighted. Neglecting the interpretive and political aspects of policymaking, especially within the technical realms of renewable energy in general and biofuels in particular is equally myopic. Deconstructing the nature of the policymaking process around biofuels has wider implications or findings for the South African context. One can see, for example, the perseverance but slight reconfiguration of the Minerals-Energy Complex (MEC) and a largescale technological fetish that continues to control the vision and direction of renewable energy transitions (and policies thereof) in the country. Corporate networks are, however, only part of the picture and decisions and decision makers involved in the process extend beyond an 'MEC elite', but increasingly include ANC political gatekeepers who inscribe their own ideologies and meanings into policy. These are especially acute in the form of narratives surrounding decisions made, such as the broad-brush exclusion of maize in the face of an emotive and racially politicised food-versus-fuel storyline.