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

Sunday World - - Opinion -

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 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

Picture by Veli Nh­lapo

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.

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