Noth­ing much has changed

The un­equal struc­ture of colo­nial and apartheid South Africa re­mains in place and the ex­ploited poor have to be sat­is­fied with wel­fare con­ces­sions, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

THE OP­PRES­SIVE char­ac­ter of the South African state meant that po­lit­i­cal free­dom came to dom­i­nate ANC pol­icy over the years. But eco­nomic con­cerns were al­ways present, even if they were for­mu­lated in terms of im­me­di­ate needs rather than de­vel­oped pro­grammes.

At the found­ing of the ANC in 1912 the de­pri­va­tion of land was a ma­jor is­sue, es­pe­cially as the Land Act of 1913 was loom­ing which was to lead to the ero­sion of the ba­sic means of pro­duc­tion for mil­lions of Africans.

In the en­su­ing years the ANC was con­cerned with the loss of po­lit­i­cal and civil rights as was set out in African Claims of 1943. But there too there were a se­ries of eco­nomic de­mands un­der the head­ings of land, in­dus­try and labour, and Com­merce. It called for “the right to an equal share in all the ma­te­rial re­sources of the coun­try”, as well as rights to own and ac­quire land in ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas.

The Free­dom Char­ter adopted in 1955 at the Congress of the Peo­ple (COP) was a fur­ther op­por­tu­nity to set out eco­nomic pol­icy. By this time the Com­mu­nist Party and el­e­ments in the labour move­ment were be­gin­ning to ad­vance so­cial­ist mea­sures for eco­nomic change, but there were forces in the ANC which re­sisted these ten­den­cies and the eco­nomic clause adopted at the COP was highly con­tested.

In the end it was agreed to even though it con­tained rad­i­cal for­mu­la­tions such as that the min­eral wealth be­neath the soil, the banks and monopoly in­dus­try be trans­ferred to the own­er­ship of the peo­ple as a whole. Re­mark­ably it has never been chal­lenged in any ANC con­fer­ence.

We move to the Moro­goro Con­fer­ence in 1969 when im­por­tant is­sues of pol­icy were laid down. It stated that na­tional eman­ci­pa­tion was linked to eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tion, and the ba­sic wealth and re­sources should not be ma­nip­u­lated by sec­tions or in­di­vid­u­als, be they white or black. Na­tion­al­ism must not be con­fused with the clas­si­cal drive by an elit­ist group among the op­pressed to gain as­cen­dancy to re­place the op­pres­sor.

The suc­ceed­ing years were pre­oc­cu­pied with the con­crete Strug­gle for the lib­er­a­tion of South Africa and such is­sues were laid aside.

As the prospect of change be­came ap­par­ent and the regime sent emis­saries to en­gage with Thabo Mbeki and oth­ers in ex­ile, the na­ture of a pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion be­came cen­tral. Even in the pro­vi­sional dis­cus­sions about a Bill of Rights, eco­nomic con­cerns were down­played in favour of civil and po­lit­i­cal rights.

As the tran­si­tion be­came ev­er­more real, as at the Con­ven­tion for a Demo­cratic South Africa, is­sues of the con­sti­tu­tional or­der were cen­tral.

As the ANC came to power in 1994, the up­per­most ques­tions were on the sur­vival of the gov­ern­ment and how a lib­er­a­tion move­ment that was con­sti­tuted as a Strug­gle mech­a­nism could adapt to run­ning a coun­try.

In ad­di­tion to well-es­tab­lished do­mes­tic busi­ness in­ter­ests fear­ful of their fu­ture, there were also pow­er­ful ex­ter­nal forces like the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and the World Bank ex­ert­ing enor­mous pres­sure on the ANC gov­ern­ment to pur­sue mod­er­ate eco­nomic pro­grammes.

While I was in ex­ile I was in­volved in work with the UN Con­ven­tion on So­cio-eco­nomic Rights. When I joined Par­lia­ment’s com­mit­tee work­ing on the Bill of Rights for the con­sti­tu­tion I no­ticed that it was weak in this area.I lob­bied Fink Haysom, Man­dela’s top le­gal ad­viser in Par­lia­ment, and to my de­light he even­tu­ally agreed and in­tro­duced the nec­es­sary so­cio-eco­nomic clauses in the con­sti­tu­tion, al­beit with a lim­i­ta­tion clause.

The con­tro­ver­sies of those years, such as the adop­tion of Gear (growth, em­ploy­ment and Re­dis­tri­bu­tion), are still with us. Apart from the ex­i­gen­cies of a frag­ile gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, there was also a more fun­da­men­tal is­sue of what kind of so­cial and eco­nomic vi­sion was guid­ing the gov­ern­ment.

The broad Left was alarmed by the con­ser­va­tive and cau­tious char­ac­ter of gov­ern­ment pol­icy while busi­ness and the Right were alarmed by the po­ten­tial mil­i­tancy of the masses.

The gov­ern­ment took the easy way out by adopt­ing a wel­farist pos­ture, which could be de­fended as re­liev­ing the most acute poverty. This pol­icy con­tin­ues to­day.

Mbeki claimed that he was build­ing a de­vel­op­men­tal state, but the re­al­ity in­di­cated dif­fer­ently. The state was fo­cused on run­ning the ex­ist­ing ap­pa­ra­tus al­beit with dif­fer­ent per­son­nel. There were no changes to the struc­ture of the econ­omy; busi­ness be­came ever more prof­itable and the rich richer.

At the same time un­em­ploy­ment con­tin­ued to plague the poor and the wel­fare pro­vi­sions were just enough to keep hunger from the door. In­equal­ity in­creased. In­cred­i­bly in­equal­ity in the African pop­u­la­tion is greater than in the pop­u­la­tion as a whole, an in­di­ca­tion of where “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion” might be head­ing.

Yet this was far from the in­ten­tion of BEE. Par­lia­ment adopted the broad-based ver­sion of BEE which recog­nised the im­por­tance of co-op­er­a­tives and eco­nomic ini­tia­tives on the ground, but this has not hap­pened.

In­stead a small group of in­di­vid­u­als have be­come su­per rich. Even then, many of the BEE schemes which gave shares to African busi­ness­men (to be re­paid from div­i­dends which failed) merely led to in­debt­ed­ness rather than wealth.

In­equal­ity also re­sulted from in­flated salaries in the gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic ser­vice where the for­mer white of­fi­cials had en­sured that those who ran the apartheid ma­chine had liv­ing stan­dards way above the bulk of the pop­u­la­tion.

The un­equal struc­ture of colo­nial and apartheid South Africa re­mains in place and the ex­ploited poor have to be sat­is­fied with wel­fare con­ces­sions. The sta­tis­tics re­veal the lop­sided char­ac­ter of our sys­tem. Last year, 15.5 mil­lion peo­ple had jobs, while 17 mil­lion were on so­cial grants.

To make mat­ters worse, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s per­for­mance at lo­cal level – where or­di­nary peo­ple ex­ist in town­ships and in­for­mal set­tle­ments – is abysmal in many ar­eas. The au­di­tor-gen­eral found huge amounts of irregular ex­pen­di­ture with only 49 out of 263 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties hav­ing clean au­dits. An amount of R49 bil­lion was mis­spent by the na­tional gov­ern­ment.

None of these de­fi­cien­cies will be reme­died by the rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion model pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and in­serted in the new min­ing char­ter. The deep cor­rup­tion fos­tered by cer­tain pri­vate in­ter­ests and avidly taken up by those who should know bet­ter, make mat­ters worse.

The econ­omy is in the worst shape it has been for some time. Much de­pends on a clear vi­sion on how to fix it. I wish I were more con­fi­dent that those in charge had some so­lu­tions. Pro­fes­sor Ben Turok was the au­thor of the eco­nomic clause of the Free­dom Char­ter and is the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute For African Al­ter­na­tives

SUPERFICIAL EF­FORTS: None of the eco­nomic de­fi­cien­cies will be reme­died by the rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion model pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and in­serted in the new min­ing char­ter, says the writer. The deep cor­rup­tion fos­tered by cer­tain pri­vate in­ter­ests and avidly taken up by those who should know bet­ter, make mat­ters worse, he adds.

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