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SAFTU’s response to the MTBPS 2017

The Medium-term Budget Policy Statement by Finance Minster Malusi Gigaba has confirmed all the worst fears of the South African Federation of Trade Unions that it would be nothing but old wine in new bottles.

The speech had absolutely nothing remotely in common with the programme of ‘radical economic transformation’, which he claims to believe in. It was no different at all from the ‘business as usual’ budgets of his predecessors, Trevor Manual, Pravin Gordhan, Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan again.

He said he did not want to ‘sugar-coat’ the state of our economy or the country’s massive crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but spoke of this as if this was some new problem, which he was having to grapple with for the first time.

He made no attempt to explain why, after 23 years of ANC government, we still have such a crisis and why it is even getting worse every day, as his own speech confirmed. The government’s revised economic growth down from 1.3% to 0.7% and he predicts rise in the government’s deficit to 4.3% from the 3.1% target set in the February budget, which will lead to interest and repayment of debt to consume 15% of all government spending by 2020/21.

He also said nothing of the main reason for this crisis, which is successive ANC governments’ neoliberal policies of GEAR and the NDP, which were designed to boost the profits of the white monopoly capitalists, whom Gigaba pretends to oppose, while cutting spending in real terms on vital services in education, healthcare and social security for the poor.

Worse still he then proceeded to advocate exactly the same neoliberal policies as his solution to our problems, in particular the NDP, with no explanation as to how this would be any less disastrous than when it was implemented by his predecessors.

All we heard were the usual empty phrases about government, labour and business coming together to promote ‘inclusive growth’, and ‘a new growth and transformation model that is anchored on a common vision for the economy and its society’.

The grim statistics he had just given proved that on the contrary. South Africans, especially the poorest, can expect a future of nothing but more job losses, widening and deepening poverty, greater inequality and austerity cuts in public spending.

As SAFTU said in its expectation statement, budget cuts and the diversion of funds to bail out failed state companies will leave even less money to spend on improving vital services in education, health-care, sanitation, security and public transport, and the appalling levels of service in a country where the rich minority elite enjoy world-class service provision while the black majority suffer squalor, incompetence and contempt by a system which has left them behind.

Particularly alarming for workers and the poor was a significant shift to more privatization. Both Telkom and SAA are now on a slippery slope towards becoming privately owned, with an undisclosed number of government shares in Telkom to be sold off and a ‘strategic equity partner’ to be sought for SAA, which in plain language means selling the South African flag carrier to a foreign-owned airline.

How long before the same logic is applied to Eskom, Transnet and all our other state enterprises which have such a key role to play in growing the economy and providing jobs? The private business sector will be licking their lips at the prospect of getting their teeth into these juicy public assets.

By far the worst aspect of the budget speech however was its casual references to stopping the huge problem of corruption and the mismanagement of state-owned companies. He said almost in passing that we “all are united in condemning corruption in the public and private sector and are calling for renewed efforts to combat it”.

The minister sounded as though this was just one of many little problems he faces, when in fact it is having a massive impact on the crisis facing both the government’s revenue flow and the future of the economy as a whole, causing already a loss of at least R700 billion to the economy.

Even more crucially it is a massive problem in which he personally and many of his government colleagues are deeply implicated. He even had the nerve to suggest that one of the reasons for a drop in tax revenue included “public concern about government corruption”, as though the public do not have every right to object to the money they pay in taxes being looted by Gigaba, Zuma, the Guptas and all their cronies in both the public and private sectors.

The minister’s arrogance and contempt for the people ought to have brought millions out on the streets in protest. We urgently need to highlight the appalling danger we now face, with a government riddled with corrupt ministers and state officials and law-enforcement agencies who fail to take any action to bring them to justice.

This speech displayed a breath-taking detachment from the real problem out here in the real world. It is as though Gigaba is living in a bubble in which the whole issue of state-capture, corruption and theft are excluded. For the rest of us it is all too real.

That is why SAFTU is determined to mobilise its members in the coming months, starting in November, to protest at the theft of the country’s wealth by corrupt politicians, greedy capitalists and a criminal network of racketeers. We shall hit the streets to demand genuine policies of radical transformation which have to start with the implementation of the Freedom Charter’s call that the country’s wealth must belong to the people of South Africa.