Take a leaf out of Lyn­don John­son’s trans­for­ma­tion de­sign

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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

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