Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s speech on 13 July to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange has proved beyond any doubt that when ANC leaders’ talk about ‘radical economic transformation’ it is nothing but empty rhetoric.
If they were at all serious about this new policy, then the minister’s speech would have been the ideal opportunity to explain what it means and to announce plans to start implementing it.
In the event his speech at the JSE – the cathedral of white monopoly capital – was a statement fully in line with those of his pro-capitalist predecessors, Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan. It was clearly drafted to as a vain attempt to shore up business confidence in the government and to assure big business that his policy is just more ‘business as usual’.
Gigaba conceded that the country’s economy is in a technical recession, having contracted for a second consecutive quarter and that therefore that lower-than-expected growth is likely, but there was only a passing reference to the enormous economic catastrophe that is gripping the country.
He acknowledged that the failure to set the economy on a higher and more sustainable growth path “will disadvantage a large portion of our population and undermine efforts to rapidly address unemployment, inequality and poverty”.
These words came nowhere close to recognizing the scale of the problem: the unemployment rate of 27.7% (36.4% by the more realistic expanded definition), the ongoing job-loss bloodbath and the world’s highest level of inequality, with the vast majority struggling daily to get food on the family table, while the rich, mainly white and male elite that he was addressing at the JSE get richer than ever. This is not just ‘disadvantaging’ people; it is a catastrophe!
All he could offer no was a vague call upon social partners “to engage proactively on practical initiatives to bring about inclusive growth and economic transformation. We need all our collective leadership, initiative, imagination and ingenuity.” There was also a worrying call for a ‘sustainable’ wage agreement to be reached with public sector workers by February, a clear warning of tough negotiations ahead for the workers who he wants to ‘include’ in implementing his plan.
His only solution to the huge crisis of corruption was to support the call by the Public Protector for a public enquiry into corruption, not so much to identify, prosecute and punish those responsible but to clear the names of those who have been wrongly accused!
All he offered was a 14-point action plan for the economy ‘with firm timelines’. This plan, he said,“was not a policy statement, which is why radical economic transformation is not mentioned”. This is tantamount to admitting that this empty slogan is irrelevant to our socio-economic crisis and that he has no plans for implementing it.
The plan includes reducing the issue of government guarantees to SOEs, selling their non-core assets, more private-sector participation and partial privatisation. Gigaba says his ministry will implement a “private sector participation framework” by March next year.
Nothing could be less ‘radical’ or ‘transformative’ than this plan for privatization, which will allow even more embezzlement by corrupt private companies and individuals to syphon money away from these vital public service providers. It will mean even more expensive and inefficient public services and even more lost jobs.
Even President Mbeki was forced to back-track on his partial privatization plans, yet now it is being brought back by one of the leading radical transformers!
No wonder, according to Business Day, that “the ambitious 14-point plan appeared to have been well-received by business representatives at the JSE, where it was unveiled”.
On the issue of low economic growth and the recession, and its impact on social welfare, Gigaba said basically nothing, merely that at the end of June, President Zuma had hosted a meeting with several ministers, where he had stressed the urgency of a co-ordinated response related to the government’s nine-point plan.
“These interventions are the beginning of a response programme that will be unpacked in the MTBPS [medium-term budget policy statement] and the 2018 budget.” In brief that amounts to announcing nothing at all.
This speech fully vindicates SAFTU’s charge that the pro-Zuma (corrupt) faction of the ANC is just as bereft of solutions as that of the pro-Ramaphosa (white monopoly capital) faction. When it comes to the economy they are reading off the same business script.
All the demagogy about ‘radical economic transformation’ is meaningless waffle, some of which we now know was penned by Bell Pottinger, the British Public Relations company. They didn’t not invent the slogans of ‘white monopoly capital’ or ‘radical economic transformation’.
They are long-standing and quite justifiable concepts. But Bell Pottinger astutely realized that they might strike a chord with the workers and the poor of South Africa who are desperate for a fundamental change in their lives and a new society based on the ideals of the Freedom Charter.
The UK spin doctors hoped it might fool some of the people some of the time, despite these calls coming from people who for 23 years have pursued diametrical opposite, neoliberal, pro-capitalist policies.
Gigaba has now however surely dispelled any such illusions in these false promises.
The challenge now is for SAFTU and South African socialists to re-instate these legitimate ideas, which are now more relevant and necessary than ever, all the more so now that they have been perverted and hijacked by a corrupt faction.
The fundamental problem remains – that the economy is indeed still in the hands of a class of overwhelmingly white, super-rich capitalist monopolies, like those in Gigaba’s audience in the JSE.
Genuine ‘radical economic transformation’ must be fought for, beginning with the nationalization of these monopolies in the mines, banks and manufacturing industry, so that the economy can be democratically planned, jobs can be created, poverty and hunger eliminated and wealth invested to provide for the needs of the working class who create it.
SAFTU has submitted a Section 77 notice at Nedlac to demand a clear plan from government to change direction and plot a new growth path to change the structure of the economy and ensure redistribution of wealth, land, and create opportunity for all. We demand that the crisis in the education system, health service and public transport be fully addressed.
We are mobilising for a full-blown strike in November if government maintains the status quo whilst mouthing hot air about radical economic transformation. We have to defend these socialist policies because they are only way to provide a way out of the misery and despair which the majority of South Africans are facing every day.