To my mind

Finweek English Edition - - Front Page - COLLEEN NAUDÉ colleenn@fin­

“BE CARE­FUL what you wish for,” Trevor Manuel replied when asked for his opin­ion about the Money Bill, which will give MPs the power to amend the Bud­get. It’s ironic that South Africa is con­sid­er­ing this leg­is­la­tion at a time when, in the midst of chaos in which the world’s big­gest and most re­spected mar­kets have landed them­selves, this coun­try is be­ing lauded even by the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund for its sen­si­ble mon­e­tary and fis­cal poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions that have largely pro­tected it against the con­se­quences of the mis­guided ac­tions in coun­tries such as the United States, Bri­tain and most of Europe.

The ab­sence of clear fis­cally re­stric­tive rules is one of the as­pects of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that’s caus­ing grave doubts among some com­men­ta­tors.

Though Manuel didn’t ex­press op­po­si­tion to the Bill he did warn it en­tailed great risks. He has reser­va­tions about whether Par­lia­ment in fact has the ca­pac­ity to ap­ply such leg­is­la­tion sen­si­bly – leg­is­la­tion that stip­u­lates the con­se­quences of any pro­posed amend­ments to a Bud­get must be treated cir­cum­spectly and must be prop­erly mo­ti­vated.

If the Bill is ap­proved in the cur­rent ses­sion it will mean Par­lia­ment will al­ready be able to in­flu­ence the next Bud­get.

With dis­tinctly more left­ist tenets em­a­nat­ing from the rul­ing party af­ter the de­par­ture of for­mer Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki, and then some of his for­mer Cab­i­net min­is­ters and other dis­il­lu­sioned mem­bers un­der the lead­er­ship of Mo­siuoa Lekota and Mb­haz­ima Shilowa – who are in the process of form­ing a new party – the Bill could play into the hands of the pop­ulists who have far less re­gard for a mar­ket-ori­en­tated eco­nomic pol­icy.

That could add fuel to the flames of those who couldn’t be both­ered with the sober view­points Manuel ex­pressed in his care­fully worded mid-term Bud­get speech. For them, scor­ing points with “the peo­ple” over the short term is much higher on the agenda than the cat­a­strophic long-term eco­nomic con­se­quences of their short-sighted pol­icy of lib­er­ally dis­tribut­ing alms to the poor.

That much was ap­par­ent at the re­cent ANC/Cosatu/SA Com­mu­nist Party al­liance sum­mit, where far-reach­ing pro­pos­als about com­pre­hen­sive so­cial pro­tec­tion, among other things, were made: the kind of pro­pos­als that clearly in­di­cate an un­mis­tak­able shift to the left.

Mean­while, the small ini­tial trickle of dis­si­dents break­ing away from the ANC is gath­er­ing mo­men­tum and be­com­ing quite a size­able flood. Many South Africans re­gard the sub­se­quent pos­si­bil­ity of an al­ter­na­tive to the strong dom­i­nant rul­ing party as the start of an ex­cit­ing new phase in SA pol­i­tics. For the first time, it looks as if the ANC will be fac­ing real op­po­si­tion.

How­ever, for the stream to be­come an un­stop­pable tor­rent and to give the party a fair chance of suc­ceed­ing a cred­i­ble and charis­matic leader is re­quired who will in­spire his fol­low­ers – not only be­cause they’re dis­il­lu­sioned with the “old” ANC but also be­cause of a clearly out­lined al­ter­na­tive pol­icy.

If that doesn’t hap­pen, the only re­sult of the break­away could be that the rul­ing party is sim­ply left to de­ci­sion-mak­ers bent on per­pet­u­at­ing outdated ide­olo­gies. Be care­ful what you wish for... In­deed.

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