SAFTU is simply disgusted with the President’s attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of the public, pretending his new plan will lead to recovery and reconstruction – when so much of it reflects a Build Back Worse mentality.
The most important point we are drawing from this plan, and that we anticipate will follow in two weeks at the Medium-Term Budget Speech by Finance Minister Mboweni, is the dominance of the neoliberal world view, joined with corporate power through traditional ‘Minerals Energy Complex’ priorities for extraction of our wealth no matter the social, labour and environmental costs, worsened by financialisation.
The desperate need to pull poor and working-class people out of our morass is being ignored.
The need to prepare our children with a good education, the need to support the youth’s demands for climate-conscious policy, the need to end femicide and gender-based violence, and the need for publicly-funded jobs to turn our economy, environment and society around – these needs are largely ignored.
President Ramaphosa boiled down his message to four main points. We will too.
First, SAFTU remains excluded from the engagement on the future of the workers it represents, along with the broader society which is by far majority poor and working people.
SAFTU is mainly constituted by the industrial proletariat organising in the manufacturing sector and private sector of the economy, but we also have a substantial membership within the state, state-owned enterprises and civil society organisations. The government should know that its attempts to continue to ignore these workers – and all the families and dependents they represent – because of our unwilling absence from the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), is fundamentally flawed.
The social compact excluding the millions we represent and their dependents mean his own legitimacy, not only NEDLAC’s, will be called into question.
Second, our society deserves better than cut-and-paste policy, especially in a massive crisis that is deeper in health, social, economic and environmental terms than any South Africa has ever faced.
SAFTU calls on the South Africa people to have a good look at all the previous President’s speeches, including the last State of the Nation Address, to realise that there is very little new in the speech that we were made to believe would offer solutions to the deepening crises of unemployment, poverty, inequality, corruption, femicide and ecocide.
The statement represents a mere reorganising of past speeches, except in a few cases that leave us disturbed. The ‘cut and paste’ economic strategy follows previous jobs summit resolutions, the five accords signed at NEDLAC on education and training, green economy, youth employment, local procurement and collective bargaining accords.
Once you read all of these you will come to one conclusion: the government lacks ideas and long ago reached a policy cul-de-sac. Government is refusing to make a clean break with neoliberalism and austerity that has simply helped to reproduce the quadrable crisis of poverty, unemployment, inequalities and corruption.
This massive crisis could easily have allowed a firm leader to stand up and break the power balance that is always reflected in expansive rhetoric, neoliberal policies and practical failures.
Accordingly, SAFTU rejects the SA Reconstruction and Recovery Plan presented because it presents nothing new that we have not heard before.
Third, the new plan does not come anywhere near to meeting the legitimate demands that SAFTU and our allies already submitted to the state and also to NEDLAC.
Since capitalism, neoliberalism and austerity have failed the working class – not by default but by design – our demands are worth reiterating. They are categorical. We demand a new economy that can give us genuine reconstruction and recovery!
· We demand that all economic life be reorganised based on a democratically-planned economy.
· We reiterate the historic demand for the nationalisation of the strategic monopoly industries, monopoly banks, mining houses under the democratic workers and community control and management. We demand that Arcelor Mittal and Sasol be renationalised.
· We demand a living wage for all workers and that no worker should earn less than R12 500.
· We demand a cut of the salaries, bonusses and perks of top management, and that the state reimpose corporate tax rates of 50% and halt illicit financial flows.
· An end to outsourcing – and to speed up insourcing – of Extended Public Works Programme staff, community healthcare, early childhood and community based construction workers jobs.
· We demand that that our living conditions be improved through reclaiming of the land taken from communities by agribusiness and mining companies. We demand that the reversal of the historic land dispossessions and looting by settler-colonialists through expropriation without compensation, giving communities – especially women and the youth – the best land to use themselves and their future generations.
· We want measurers to save our planet and cut greenhouses gasses with a genuine just transition.
· We demand the raise of social wage and improvement of our public healthcare. We demand a Basic Income Grant of no less than R1500.
· We demand free, decolonised and high-quality public education.
· We demand stronger measures – not just rhetoric – to address the current levels of crime and corruption.
Fourth, there are some terrible internal contradictions and errors.
These must be pointed out so they do not continue to lower the quality of the President’s statements.
· It is not true that government stimulus package was R500 billion. Indeed, as Business Day columnist Duma Gqubule has repeatedly shown, there was no new money made available once we consider the budget cuts. The advertised R200 billion loan guarantee amounts in reality, Ramaphosa admitted, to R16 billion. If one is generous with the main relief schemes – UIF spending that is due to workers in any case, the piddly new R350/month grant to alleviate economic crisis for just six million working-age people (when more than ten million need it), the small R440 increment to caregivers of desperate children – then only about 10% of the advertised R500 billion is actually new stimulus money. But Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is already using his new Zero-Based Budgeting powers to claw back the stimulus. Therefore, Ramaphosa’s claim that South Africa had its biggest-ever stimulus is shown to be false, by the fact that the annualised April-June economic collapse was 51%.
· The extension of the special grants by three months is certainly a (baby) step in the right direction. But the demands of the working class and civil society were for the grants to at least be extended until the end of the financial year in March (not January as he did), and to increase the grants to at least R585 a month – the food poverty line indicating the most extreme suffering. And the demand from our ranks, as well, is to introduce a Basic Income Grant which in SAFTU’s view should not be less than R1500. (Even the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro gave Brazilians a R1800/month grant.) Ending South Africa’s ungenerous special grants after just another three months hits our poor and working people very hard given that it is in these months that we are losing not only swathes of jobs and the informal sector, but also our houses due to the end of protection against foreclosures, rental evictions, debt defaults and repossessions.
· The only new development we wish to express profound concern about, is the utilisation of hundreds of thousands of new public works employees in schools, clinics and other areas, as outsourced, low-paid, casualised, precarious workers. In recent weeks our Gauteng Community Health Workers finally won their battle for insourcing, after years of struggling with terrible working conditions and low wages. The other Extended Public Works Programme workers who make R11.42/hour have demanded insourcing. But Ramaphosa’s schizophrenia, in agreeing to hire 800 000 more of these workers, must be seen in context of Finance Minister Mboweni’s illegal abrogation an inflation increase for the health workers, teachers and other public servants. The schizophrenia here seems to be resolved insofar as the formal workers are going to be ‘assisted’ and probably displaced – so as to appease the International Monetary Fund and credit rating agencies – by the R11.42/hour EPWP workers, a condition we abhor. Already President Ramaphosa rammed through a law that made the right to strike much more difficult. We see this latest attack on the labour movement as a travesty. This is Structural Adjustment Programmes at its best.
· We need a new economy that can survive the world’s most extreme experience with volatility and export vulnerability. Given the speeches President Ramaphosa has made since May, there was supposed to be a recognition in this plan that South Africa will face a ‘new’ and much smaller, more inward-oriented global economy. But if that were so, the government’s vast export subsidies for shipping out our mostly-unprocessed raw materials, semi-industrial products and even finished products, which overwhelmingly benefit multinational corporations, would be directed inward to meeting social needs and rebuilding our capacity to produce goods locally. Ramaphosa and all his predecessors have been unable to stimulate internal industrialisation in a world where multinational corporations rig trade rules, and even U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015 forced us to consume his companies’ imported highly-chlorinated chicken parts because Jacob Zuma could not protect the local poultry market. There is no indication that President Ramaphosa has the guts or power to renegotiate rules of international trade that have devastated all our labour-intensive manufacturing sectors, to get exceptions for his inward-industrialisation strategy. If he does have a plan to rebuild basic consumer goods sectors through protection, for example, how will that be allowed under rules of the World Trade Organisation or deals made with Chinese leaders?
· Moreover, if Ramaphosa thinks that the strategy that will allow more exports plus inward industrialisation is to run roughshod over our environment, he should think again. There is nothing in this plan to suggest he is serious about making the economy “green and sustainable,” aside from privatised renewable electricity. At the same time, however, his Integrated Resource Plan will soon bring into electricity generation capacity 4500MW of new coal and gas (methane) plants. And his only strategy for attracting private sector investment is to promise that Environmental Impact Assessments and water-use licenses will be completed in at worst 50% less time than now, when we know that corporations put enormous pressure on the Environment Minister to rubber-stamp ecologically-catastrophic projects. Last week, a major study by Swiss Re insurance company found that South Africa had by far the worst record in sustaining our biodiversity of any G20 country. Our record of CO2 emissions per unit of GDP per person is the world’s third worst. The President wants to Build Back Filthy. The labour movement knows that Ramaphosa is again attacking workers and poor people who are hurt most by environmental injustice, plus rural communities where women farmers are unable to grow food when soils dry, and cities where residents of shack settlements and townships suffer most in Day Zero droughts and devastating floods, and especially our youth who must look forward to what will literally be a future of hell and high waters.
· The President has committed that in two years our electricity crisis will be a thing of the past. This is a refrain we’ve heard since his predecessor put him in charge of fixing Eskom five years ago. We wish we could believe this, after subsequent promises about the end to load-shedding, made and broken so many times before. Also, when we pointed out that the intention of breaking up Eskom into three components to compete against each other, we were assured that privatisation of generation is not the agenda of the government. We feel vindicated, sadly, because not only will Eskom be broken up for no reason except to prepare it for privatisation but has made a commitment that 50% of our energy will be provided by privatised renewable electricity suppliers from Europe. And to make matters even worse, the desperate situation in so many poor dorpies, townships and shack settlements – in which even households who have paid are disconnected – must end, instead of being endorsed by NEDLAC. SAFTU has already filed a Section 77 notice to resist this privatisation of energy to the last drop of our blood.
In all these ways, and more, President Ramaphosa’s new economic plan does not offer us true reconstruction or recovery or any hope for more than a bandage, readily torn off. He has found many ways to build South Africa back worse, and the few concessions he is making to our suffering are nowhere near the ever-worsening, ever more desperate conditions our working class faces under his rule. It must be reversed, and mass action will resume in coming days to raise the pressure.