The bat­tle for hearts and minds is still on

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Christo Owen van der Rheede is chief ex­ec­u­tive of business think-tank AHi.

Christo Owen van der Rheede

THE SOUTH African po­lit­i­cal land­scape is set to change dra­mat­i­cally with the ex­pul­sion of the Na­tional Union of Me­tal­work­ers of SA (Numsa) from the ANC al­liance. My guess is the coun­try is head­ing to­wards a three-party state:

The So­cial­ists who seek state own­er­ship and a greater share of prof­its gen­er­ated from goods and ser­vices pro­duced; the Prag­ma­tists who seek in­di­vid­ual own­er­ship and em­pow­er­ment of the masses through the free-mar­ket sys­tem; and the Crony Cap­i­tal­ists who seek un­bri­dled self­en­rich­ment through state ten­ders and abuse of po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age.

Plans are afoot to launch the United Front next month, a broad-based so­cial­ist move­ment com­mit­ted to ad­vance the in­ter­ests of the work­ing class. So­cial­ists are of the view that work­ers are ex­ploited and their tal­ents at their ex­pense are geared to­wards max­imis­ing prof­its for own­ers only. Ac­cord­ing to Irvin Jim, the sec­re­tary­gen­eral of Numsa, work­ers are “duped” into shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about what they do to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity at the point of pro­duc­tion. Such in­for­ma­tion is then used to re­duce the num­ber of work­ers with­out com­pro­mis­ing vol­umes of pro­duc­tion.

The cen­tral thrust of a so­cial­ist state is to mo­bilise the work­ing class to ad­vance their ma­te­rial well­be­ing through the ap­pro­pri­a­tion and re­dis­tri­bu­tion of sur­plus value by the state.

While so­cial­ism is on the up­surge, a new free-mar­ket par­a­digm prop­a­gated by the Prag­ma­tists is also on the rise. The Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP) un­der the aus­pices of the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, a co­hort of as­tute po­lit­i­cal, business and aca­demic lead­ers, laid the foun­da­tion for this. In prac­tice it takes on the form of a so­cio-eco­nomic plan to tackle head on the com­plex­i­ties of a highly un­equal and frag­mented so­ci­ety such as ours. Or­gan­ised business for­ma­tions and key po­lit­i­cal play­ers em­braced the plan, while it was re­jected by so­cial­ist labour move­ments such as Numsa.

The cen­tral thrust of all ar­gu­ments put for­ward in the NDP is that rapid eco­nomic growth is the so­lu­tion to our so­cial chal­lenges such as poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment. Eco­nomic growth is re­alised through a prag­matic ap­proach.


The Crony Cap­i­tal­ists thrive on pa­tron­age and the trad­ing of “inside” in­for­ma­tion for per­sonal favours. Cosy re­la­tion­ships be­tween those who seek business op­por­tu­ni­ties within the state and those in pow­er­ful gov­ern­ment po­si­tions who seek fi­nan­cial re­wards for their hand in se­cur­ing it, is the hall­mark of crony cap­i­tal­ism.

While the nar­row sec­tar­ian in­ter­ests that char­ac­terised the po­lit­i­cal land­scape pre-1994 made way for na­tional in­ter­ests’ post-1994, it was soon re­placed by self-in­ter­ests and per­sonal en­rich­ment.

Crony Cap­i­tal­ists do not have an ap­petite for merit and demo­cratic pro­cesses. It seeks to cen­tralise au­thor­ity and favours the ap­point­ment of cronies who will not ques­tion de­ci­sions by the pow­ers that be. This state of af­fairs can eas­ily plunge South Africa into civil con­flict and is cer­tainly in no­body’s in­ter­est, ex­cept those who thrive on chaos and loot­ing.

Who will save South Africa from this down­ward tra­jec­tory of em­bed­ded cor­rup­tion and eco­nomic stag­na­tion?

I bet my money on the Prag­ma­tists, be­cause the mil­i­tant mo­bil­i­sa­tion prop­a­gated by Numsa and the likes against own­ers of cap­i­tal is in no­body’s in­ter­est. In an ev­er­chang­ing lo­cal and global eco­nomic and tech­nol­ogy-driven en­vi­ron­ment, in­vest­ments by en­trepreneurs, tal­ent op­ti­mi­sa­tion, new ideas, in­no­va­tive­ness, com­pet­i­tive­ness, mod­erni­sa­tion, sci­en­tific re­search, high or­der skills, in­ter­net ac­cess, in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, con­tin­u­ous adap­ta­tion and strate­gic eco­nomic or­gan­i­sa­tion should be en­cour­aged not dis­cour­aged.

It is in­cum­bent on the Prag­ma­tists to con­vince Joe Pub­lic to opt for this route. Mar­ket­ing the value propo­si­tion of a new free-mar­ket par­a­digm based on the NDP as op­posed to what the old or­der un­bri­dled cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and its lega­cies of hu­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­ploita­tion has to of­fer, therein lies the crux. More im­por­tantly is the need to es­tab­lish a new po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tion con­sist­ing of Prag­ma­tists from ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tions that seeks faster growth, more ef­fi­cient so­cial spend­ing and an in­clu­sive and mod­ern free-mar­ket sys­tem.

The bat­tle is on for the hearts and minds of the elec­torate. Don’t ex­pect a three­some.

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