SA MUST ACT FAST TO AVOID REVOLUTION
Big business is not committed to economic change and a weak ANC can do nothing about it, writes Sdumo Dlamini
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