Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s maiden speech to the business community, at the Gordon Institute of Business Science on Tuesday morning, was a mystifying affair.

It was the first time Dlamini-Zuma had provided a comprehensive exposition of her views on the economy, the role of business and what needs to change. She was accompanied, as she often is, by disgraced former ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus, who is a stalwart of her campaign. Thankfully, this time he swopped his camouflage military wear for an ordinary business suit.

Niehaus’s outfit wasn’t the only change. The speech, presumably drafted by her team, was also substantially altered in the delivery. The thrust of it was that while the ownership of economy needed to be transformed to allow in new entrants, especially black Africans, this was an endeavour in which business and the government had to work together.

She spoke earnestly about skills and education being the key to SA’s success and fighting poverty. Her list of priorities were exactly those shared by corporate SA and included the need for skills, job creation, enhanced service delivery, infrastructure development, domestic and foreign private investment, efficient state-owned enterprises and a version of black economic empowerment that is entrepreneurship oriented, and prudent macroeconomic management.

She suggested the way to fire up economic growth and draw poor people into the economy would be through convening sector-based forums or advisory groups composed of the government and business to look at how to attract investment. When it came to infrastructure development, she said she wanted to look for projects that could crowd in private investment.

On radical economic transformation, she was similarly pragmatic. If the economy was not transformed and economic participation widened, the peace and stability of the country would be under threat.

All patriotic business people would agree, she said, that it was unacceptable that half of the nation’s population was living in poverty. Radical economic transformation meant there needed to be fundamental change in ownership, management and control in favour of the poor, the majority of which were African and female.

Her message could not be faulted for reasonableness and pragmatism. Its biggest fault – admittedly a large one – was its disjuncture with the realities we face. She made no reference to SA’s very difficult fiscal position that, among other things, would mean her wish list would not easily be funded. She also didn’t mention the country’s falling credit ratings and spoke cautiously about state-owned enterprises and their governance and efficiency failures.

More interesting, though, was the vastly different content and tone of the written speech distributed by Niehaus afterwards. It was peppered with references to white monopoly capital (she did not use the phrase once), calling for its prohibition by legislation.

It stated that the South African Reserve Bank would no longer be allowed to hold on to its "amorphous independency" and would have to follow development goals set by the ANC government. Dlamini-Zuma’s only mention of the Bank was that its ownership would be debated by the ANC at its December conference.

So which one was the real Dlamini-Zuma? Did she disagree with the speech she was given to read or did she chicken out of delivering her message to a business audience? Is she content to hang about with the anti-white monopoly capital bandwagon or will she dump them if she were to come to power?

After Tuesday’s speech, we are none the wiser.

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