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Will Eskom be Cyril Ramaphosa’s Gear, or will it be the crowning victory of his brand of social compacting politics? The announcement on Thursday that Eskom will be split into three parts is the single biggest economic reform since the democratic government restructured public finances in the late 90s. Those reforms — described in part by the acronym Gear, which stood for growth, employment and redistribution — became known as “the 1996 class project” by the labour movement and the left generally, and were widely regarded as an assault by the democratic government on workers and poor communities. That is because in stabilising the macroeconomic environment, Gear reined in the budget deficit, dashing hopes for a huge expansion of social spending. Gear was also the precursor to the start of plans to corporatise and privatise state-owned entities. Gear was moderately successful. The stable investment environment laid the basis for a decade of growth, though job creation was not as robu...

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