The 4 000 who made hot air
In 2014, twentysomething-year-old Peking University PhD candidate Dai Wei and a handful of his fellow students decided to translate an experiment into a practical intervention. That intervention was to become a multibillion-dollar business. Wei decided to capitalise on a need that he and his former colleagues were experiencing. Students walked long distances between lecture rooms and residences. Even those who had enough money to own bicycles preferred not to because they kept getting stolen.
Wei developed the idea of shared bike rides based on the Uber model. Instead of bicycles being locked at designated docking stations, an app would allow you to track free rides and unlock them with your device.
Thus was born Ofo, a bike-share company that made the commute of Peking University so much easier. So successful was Ofo that it soon spread to other campuses. Then to the rest of the city. Then to other cities. And, as it goes in competitive environments, it soon spawned copycats who improved on their technology.
Round about the same time, entrepreneur Hu Weiwei was hooking up with Davis Wang, the former boss of Uber Shanghai, to design a similar model. Before long, the innovative bike-share model was all the rage in China. A middle class that had fallen in love with cars and discarded biking as archaic suddenly embraced it as cool.
They revolutionised a bike-sharing model that was taking off in the West, but was quite moribund. Today, 13 of the top 15 bike-sharing companies in the world are Chinese. Just like Uber conquered the world with vehicle transport, the Chinese are doing with their bike-share model.
This is but one example of how innovation and inventiveness are charging ahead in the rest of the world while we in South Africa deliberate on whether monopoly capital is the prime adversary of the national democratic revolution and whether it has a skin tone. Having recently visited China – a country that ANC alliance leaders love to go to on fact-finding missions – this lowly newspaperman couldn’t but despair as he observed the most wasteful use of six days by supposed leaders of society.
If you take away the blatantly authoritarian nature of the Chinese government that our leaders so admire, their clarity of vision and the willingness to implement and carry decisions are qualities to emulate. The Communist Party of China (CCP) may be made up of the most ideologically sound and theoretically astute Marxists, but they do not spend precious time debating like university sororities. While they take conceptual issues seriously, they do not engage in vacuous banter about what dead theoreticians had to say. They generate ideas about how to uplift their people, move society forward and compete on the world stage.
The CCP and the Communist Party of Vietnam – the other party that the ANC and its allies look up to – have gone beyond theorising about what stage of the revolution their country is in and the relation between the state and capital. They are focused on creating prosperous societies, something they have done by freeing the entrepreneural potential of their people. They have embarked on medium-term plans that they have diligently implemented, with the central involvement of the private sector. Today, their capitalists, who are embraced by the party leadership as comrades, sit comfortably at the top table with the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson.
The ANC’s monopoly capital debate had a Groundhog Day feeling about. This question was answered in its 2007 Strategy and Tactics documents.
“The relationship between the national democratic state and private capital in general is one of ‘unity and struggle’, cooperation and contestation,” the ANC said 10 years ago.
It continued: “On the one hand, the democratic state has to create an environment conducive for private investments from which the investors can make reasonable returns, and through which employment and technological progress can be derived.
“On the other hand, through state-owned enterprises, effective regulation, taxation and other means, the state seeks to ensure redistribution of income, direct investments into areas will help national development, to play a central role in providing public goods and, broadly, to ensure social responsibility.”
Since that time, at the behest of the ANC, government established the National Planning Commission. The commission conducted a diagnostic exercise of South African society and its challenges. It later drew up a National Development Plan (NDP), a vision of where South Africa should be in 2030 and outlined steps on how to achieve this. The plan was adopted by Cabinet and Parliament and was embraced by most sections of society, with labour expressing reservations about some aspects. The ANC adopted it at its national conference in Mangaung in 2012. It was then locked in a secure vault, to be hauled out only when a flowery speech had to be made.
The NDP vision received scant attention from the drafters of the prepolicy conference documents. It was not on the radar of most delegates, who had come to draw up Christmas wish lists to be posted to Santa Claus and strategise on how to drive the economy further into the ground.
The 2017 ANC policy conference will be remembered not for what it should have been about, but as a wasted opportunity. It will be remembered as a week in which 4 000 citizens who should be responsible for giving the country direction took a break from their productive lives, their families and communities to generate a billion cubic litres of hot air. They should have rather stayed at home and played morabaraba.