Panacea for SA ills
President Jacob Zuma s speech debunked the notion of nationalisation as the only or even key tool for progressive action to uplift the poor, writes VUKANI MDE
ARE you just as tired of the offensive notion that if – sorry when – Julius Malema finally buggers off under whatever rock he crawled from, poor people will be the losers because he “speaks” for the poor?
It is such a stupid thing to think and say that you wouldn’t think there are many people out there willing to sign up for it.
But a small unscientific survey I’ve conducted – chiefly by watching the coverage from e.tv and the SABC last Saturday – has led me to the conclusion that there are in fact people willing to suspend thinking in favour of this analysis.
Anyway, whatever one thinks of the idea, the narrative seems to go something like this: Malema and his youth league declared an “economic freedom in our lifetime” campaign; therefore they are fighters for “economic freedom”. Second, they adopted a conference resolution calling for “nationalisation of the mines”.
In this narrative, “nationalisation” is obviously a good thing for the poor and thus those calling for it are champions of the poor. Again, there is no attempt to explain what the league means when referring to “nationalisation ”.
Therefore the fact that Malema and his comrades have been disciplined and to one extent or another booted out of the ANC means these debates about economic policy will be “silenced” and poor people pushed into the margins of our national debate.
Personally I find that there are two types of people who indulge in this myopic thinking: the committed and the lazy. There are those, on the one hand, who have some personal commitment to Malema, the league, or their politics. They are the committed.
Then there are those who are curiously willing to take Malema at his own insincere word, accepting that he cares deeply for the plight of the poor. These types are just intellectually lazy.
A state of the nation speech is not meant to fulfil such a purpose, but on Thursday night President Jacob Zuma delivered an inadvertent but powerful riposte to two of the premises of this lazy narrative.
These are the belief in nationalisation as a panacea, assuming the league’s idea of nationalisation would be something recognisable, and that nationalisation and other pro-poor policy choices would have no champions in the public domain in the absence of the “economic freedom” campaigners.
First, the speech debunks the notion of nationalisation as the only – or even key – tool for progressive action to uplift the poor. South Africa has a number of powerful parastatals in key sectors of the economy, some of them with healthy balance sheets that can and are being leveraged for increased state spending to improve the lives of poor South Africans.
On the economic front, this expenditure will be rolled out through one of the world’s largest continuous infrastructure building projects. On the social policy front, the expenditure will be seen in the expansion of the public health sector through the massive amounts being allocated to National Health Insurance.
The housing initiatives announced will pull millions of the “mid-level poor” into the ranks of the property-owning middle classes by guaranteeing their loans from the private sector.
Second, it is clearly untrue that the path of nationalisation or any other progressive policy choice will be abandoned in the wake of the demise of its latter-day prophets. Both Cosatu and the SACP have for years called for the re-nationalisation of Arcelor-mittal (formerly the state steel manufacturer Iscor) and Sasol, which pioneered coal-to-liquids technology through state investment.
The call for this re-nationalisation is based not only on a careful consideration of the two sectors’ strategic role in economic growth, but also relies on the eco- nomic impact of the companies’ privatisation as evidence.
These long-standing progressive campaigns, as well as the bold, expansionist steps being taken by the ANC government, are not quixotic or sexy.
They cannot be easily translated into belligerent slogans or primetime bulletin sound bites.
So people who really ought to know better ignore them. You’ll know exactly what I mean if you ’ ve caught sight of the ANC’S State Intervention in the Minerals Sector report. It’s comprehensively researched and thorough.
Vukani Mde is SADC editor of Africa Report
MASS ACTION: ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema leads a march through the streets of Johannesburg for ‘economic freedom’. The marchers later held a vigil in Pretoria before marching on the Union Buildings the following day.