Big busi­ness is not com­mit­ted to eco­nomic change and a weak ANC can do noth­ing about it, writes Sdumo Dlamini

CityPress - - Business -

The re­cent push­back against the amended Min­ing Char­ter was im­me­di­ate and vi­cious, as were the re­ac­tions to Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane’s call for the re­ori­en­ta­tion of the Re­serve Bank and to Pro­fes­sor Chris Ma­likane’s pro­pos­als to na­tion­alise the coun­try’s mines and banks.

This in­di­cates that there is still strong op­po­si­tion to eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion in South Africa from white monopoly cap­i­tal. Media cov­er­age has shown us the in­sti­tu­tion­alised at­ti­tudes of cor­po­rate com­mer­cial media and how lit­tle, over­all, the well­be­ing of the peo­ple mat­ters in our cur­rent pub­lic dis­course.

This also re­minds us how the bal­ance of class forces re­mains de­ci­sively in favour of white monopoly cap­i­tal, whose in­ter­ests are in­ter­twined with those of im­pe­ri­al­ism – eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally.

Black South Africans, killed for their land over cen­turies, bent over back­wards to ac­com­mo­date their op­pres­sors af­ter the 1994 demo­cratic break­through. They de­manded only 30% of the land, de­spite being in the ma­jor­ity. Yet, 23 years later, land re­form is still a con­tentious is­sue be­cause white peo­ple are not pre­pared to let go of the land with­out bankrupt­ing gov­ern­ment.

The amended Min­ing Char­ter ad­vo­cates the own­er­ship tar­get of only 30% for blacks, while Mkhwe­bane and Ma­likane ar­gue that a sys­tem that works for a mi­nor­ity should be changed to ac­com­mo­date the ma­jor­ity.

De­spite these two in­tel­lec­tu­als hav­ing been en­trusted with es­teemed posts be­cause of their qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence, as soon as they talked about the trans­for­ma­tion of in­sti­tu­tions that alien­ate the ma­jor­ity from the main­stream econ­omy, they were treated like semi-il­lit­er­ate im­be­ciles in pub­lic and by the media.

We have also seen too much space in the media ded­i­cated to rhetoric de­cry­ing the pro­pos­als for Na­tional Health Insurance and a min­i­mum wage. And some au­thor­i­ta­tive re­search in­sti­tu­tions, funded by big busi­ness, have de­nounced the pro­gres­sive po­si­tions adopted at ANC con­fer­ences and al­liance sum­mits, while the un­ac­count­able ratings agencies play their over­sight role in all of this.

This at a time when South Africa is said to have the high­est un­em­ploy­ment rate out of more than 60 emerg­ing and de­vel­oped coun­tries in the world. And the same big busi­ness that re­sists eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion is un­re­lent­ing in its on­go­ing in­vest­ment strike.

Last year, corporates boasted that they had es­ti­mated cash de­posits of close to R600 bil­lion in South Africa’s banks and that this amount had in­creased since the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

De­spite the loss of 1 mil­lion jobs be­cause of the 2008 global eco­nomic cri­sis, com­pa­nies have con­tin­ued to in­crease their profit mar­gins.

Ac­cord­ing to data from the Re­serve Bank, as of De­cem­ber 2014, cor­po­rate cash bal­ances reached R1.35 trillion. This is the equiv­a­lent of 38% of South Africa’s GDP which big busi­ness is re­fus­ing to in­vest back into the econ­omy, de­spite re­trench­ments and eco­nomic stag­na­tion.

Cap­tains of in­dus­try say there is pol­icy un­cer­tainty. This is sur­pris­ing as gov­ern­ment has adopted poli­cies such as the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, the New Growth Path and the In­dus­trial Pol­icy Ac­tion Plan. In ad­di­tion, big busi­ness – along with gov­ern­ment, labour and civil so­ci­ety – en­gages on pol­icy mat­ters at the na­tional con­sen­sus-seek­ing body, Ned­lac.

In­stead of in­creas­ing their in­vest­ment in South Africa, lo­cal com­pa­nies such as Sa­sol, Life Health­care and Stein­hoff are in­vest­ing in de­vel­oped coun­tries such as the UK and Aus­tralia.

All of this, com­bined with price fix­ing and col­lu­sion by many com­pa­nies – as ex­posed by var­i­ous Com­pe­ti­tion Commission probes – shows us that South Africa has the huge task of tam­ing the mon­ster that is the coun­try’s un­reg­u­lated sys­tem of free market cap­i­tal­ism.

If next week’s ANC pol­icy con­fer­ence does not ad­dress the prob­lem of un­reg­u­lated cap­i­tal­ism, it will be a waste of time. While the ANC dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment ac­knowl­edges that we can­not rely on the market to rad­i­cally trans­form the econ­omy, it seeks to en­trench the un­reg­u­lated na­ture of our cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. This is prob­lem­atic.

In Malaysia, the gov­ern­ment had to in­tro­duce its new eco­nomic pol­icy af­ter vi­o­lence was meted out against the elite Chi­nese Malay pop­u­la­tion. Be­fore the 1970s, Malaysia was fo­cused on growth and ex­ports. It ne­glected em­pow­er­ing the in­dige­nous Malay ma­jor­ity. The Si­noMalay sec­tar­ian riots of 1969 re­sulted in the killing of Chi­nese Malays. Only af­ter this did the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duce new eco­nomic poli­cies which sought to in­crease state in­ter­ven­tion in the econ­omy and ef­fect re­dis­tribu­tive poli­cies such as af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion and quo­tas.

The ANC can learn from Malaysia. We do not have to wait for riots or revo­lu­tion; we must rad­i­cally trans­form the econ­omy to re­flect our de­mo­graph­ics. The ANC’s trickle-down eco­nomic growth poli­cies have failed the black ma­jor­ity and must be aban­doned now, be­fore it is too late.

The ANC has been pru­dent in gov­ern­ing and averse to con­fronta­tion. But given cor­po­rate in­tran­si­gence, a change of tac­tics from the ANC is needed.

We have seen our cam­puses fired up with stu­dents de­mand­ing free ed­u­ca­tion, and tragedies such as the Marikana mas­sacre. These are re­minders of what hap­pens when the pri­vate sec­tor is un­will­ing to ac­cede to the de­mands of the poor ma­jor­ity. And it is gov­ern­ment that faces the brunt of pop­u­lar anger and that pays the price.

So, the ANC would do well to use its up­com­ing pol­icy con­fer­ence to deal with its fac­tional di­vi­sions be­fore they be­come ir­re­versible. It also needs to sort out the cor­rup­tion that is be­com­ing en­demic in the state as these fac­tors are driv­ing many of its loyal sup­port­ers, and even well-mean­ing ac­tivists, to the en­emy. Mak­ing such im­prove­ments will help to re­ar­range the bal­ance of class forces away from white monopoly cap­i­tal.

For now, it is clear that a paral­ysed ANC, with its de­mor­alised mass base, will come out sec­ond best against white monopoly cap­i­tal – which is hell­bent on de­fend­ing its in­her­ited priv­i­leges and ill-got­ten wealth.

Dlamini is pres­i­dent of labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu

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