Carol Paton Writer at Large
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba addresses delegates during the Progressive Business Forum breakfast on the sidelines of the 54th ANC Elective National Conference on Saturday. Picture: MASI LOSI
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba addresses delegates during the Progressive Business Forum breakfast on the sidelines of the 54th ANC Elective National Conference on Saturday. Picture: MASI LOSI

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba fired the first shots at the ANC national conference on Saturday morning, calling for radical transformation of the economy as well as inclusive growth at a breakfast briefing to business leaders.

Gigaba said that given SA’s inequality and its alarming unemployment rate, particularly among the youth, the need to transform the economy was a no-brainer that no reasonable person could argue against.

"At this defining moment, the most important task for the ANC as the governing party is to lead the country to achieve inclusive growth through radical economic transformation. Our country still suffers extreme income inequalities, deep poverty and very high levels of unemployment particularly affecting the youth.

"A call for radical socioeconomic transformation is relevant. It is a stepping stone towards inclusive growth. There can be no other way forward for our country other than to recognise the social grievance of the majority and to fulfill it,” he said.

The call brought loud applause from sections of the audience, an indication of the support for the radical economic transformation vision that has been championed in the lead-up to the conference, particularly by President Jacob Zuma.

Gigaba cautioned, though, that radical economic transformation without growth was not viable.

"Growth without transformation is unjust and will further exacerbate social tensions, fissures and instability. But transformation without growth is similarly self-defeating. If the economy does not grow, there will be no radical socioeconomic transformation to speak of," he said

As Gigaba was speaking, Zuma announced in a press statement the introduction of free higher education for families earning less than R350,000. He also imposed a fees freeze for university students whose family income is less than R600,000.

The announcement will directly undermine commitments Gigaba has made to fiscal consolidation and cutting spending, and will on its own require substantial tax increases.

While Gigaba spoke of the need to improve access to higher education in his address, he did not refer to Zuma’s imposition of a new policy.

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