Take a leaf out of Lyndon Johnson’s transformation design
A clear objective of radical economic transformation must be to reduce inequalities in SA
LYNDON B Johnson, the 36th president of the US, is best remembered for designing the “Great Society” legislation which paved the way for the US society of today. It declared war on poverty, helping millions of Americans rise above the poverty line. It upheld civil rights, medicare and aid to education. The Civil Rights Bill he signed into law banned discrimination in public facilities, the workplace and housing. His Voting Rights Act prohibited certain southern states from using discriminatory state regulations to ban African Americans from voting.
In his now famous address to the predominantly black Howard University in June 1965, this is what Johnson had to say about the need for economic redress for the previously disadvantaged:
“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him to the starting line of the race and say, ‘You are now free to compete with all the others’, and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. To achieve fairness, therefore, one must supposedly allow members of certain groups a chance to recover from the effects of previous disadvantages by giving them special help such as: either extra training to qualify for positions which they can then achieve on merit, or else deliberate selection over better-qualified candidates, with special assistance after appointment.”
Indeed, Johnson was correct. Without interventions that specifically target those who have been economically marginalised for centuries, equitable redress is hard to attain. When South Africa attained freedom through the miracle of 1994, it was natural that political and social freedom would take precedence in the reconstruction and development project. The vestiges of apartheid had to be dismantled one by one, and this was no mean feat.
Education, health, housing, social services and other areas of everyday South African life had to de-segregated and true integrative measures put in place to create a truly non-racial society. But perhaps in hindsight, this process of political and social change was supposed to have run concurrently with a process of radically transforming the economy to change its racialised structures and bring the marginalised into its mainstream.
This is what the ANC recognised five years ago in its national policy conference and elective conference resolutions, declaring the period onwards as the Second Phase of the Transition, which would focus on changing the structure of the economy to make it more inclusive. This time around, the ANC has gone further and is advocating for radical economic transformation as the central pillar of its economic policy.
“A clear objective of radical economic transformation must be to reduce racial, gender and class inequalities in South Africa through ensuring more equity with regard to incomes, ownership of assets and access to economic opportunities. An effective democratic developmental state and efficiently-run public services and public companies are necessary instruments for widening the reach of radical economic transformation, enabling the process to touch the lives of ordinary people.
“Furthermore, proposals for new transformation programmes must be cognisant of the reality that resources are always finite and are particularly scarce when the rate of economic growth is slow. In order to fund new programmes or expand existing programmes, therefore, it will be necessary to recommend the de-prioritisation or discontinuation of other programmes, which are not having the desired policy impact,” observes the ANC in its Discussion Document on Economic Transformation.
The ANC has identified 12 key pillars that must be in place if the structure of the economy is to be completely overhauled.
Perhaps the first three pillars of this strategy are the most important to spark a domino effect on the other pillars. Muhammad Khalid Sayed is chairperson of the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape