Finance minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: SARAH PABST/BLOOMERG
Finance minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: SARAH PABST/BLOOMERG

Cosatu was not alone in its opposition to Tito Mboweni’s economic strategy, unveiled by the National Treasury last week. Behind the scenes, sections of the ANC also reacted negatively to the document, while the SACP openly questioned the process followed by the Treasury to compile the document.

The problem lies not so much in the contents but in the process followed in releasing it. This seems rather petty, considering the dire economic situation in the country, now manifesting itself in violent protests, xenophobia and looting.

But such is the nature of our politics and there is a strong chance that Mboweni’s plan will be scuppered by the fractious state of the governing alliance.

Cosatu’s reaction was knee-jerk and rooted in politics: insiders in the alliance complain that the federation barely has the research capacity to conduct a sober analysis on the document due to its organisational weakness.

The response of its leadership was nonsensical and unnecessarily hostile. The federation failed to make any input on the actual content of the document, rejecting it out of hand and demanding that Mboweni withdraw it.

This is partly due to its inherent dislike and distrust of Mboweni as an individual. While Cosatu conceded to his appointment during cabinet negotiations with President Cyril Ramaphosa, it has made no secret of its dislike for the man.

Its response is also illustrative of the growing lack of trust between it and the Ramaphosa administration, and what it terms the sidelining by the Treasury of economic cluster ministers from its own ranks: trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel and his deputy, Fikile Majola.

The SACP will discuss the document at an extended leadership meeting over the weekend — but it has already hinted that it would oppose much of what is being proposed.

A further complication arose following a meeting of the ANC’s top six officials, along with Mboweni and the party’s economic transformation tsar, Enoch Godongwana.

The ANC said the document would be circulated among its branches for discussion — opening it up to scrutiny by structures which pushed for resolutions such as the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank at its elective conference in 2017. It is at this point that factional dynamics would come into play, with the "radical economic transformation" grouping, which has been fighting back against reforms under Ramaphosa’s leadership, likely to reject the document and its proposals.

A comprehensive response to the document will be presented at the ANC’s next national executive committee meeting, to take place in the coming weeks. While Mboweni emerged upbeat from his meeting with the ANC’s national officials, taking to social media to proclaim that the top brass appreciated his "disruptive" ways, the final say on the document will emerge after party structures have been canvassed.

The response of ANC structures and the alliance to the document will show whether the movement can put factional considerations and power plays aside for the sake of the economy and the country.

Should they fail to do so and send Mboweni back to the drawing board, the economic and social crisis unfolding in our townships and cities will deepen. Even adopting the document as is provides no guarantees — the ANC government’s track record on implementation is dismal.

Mboweni may be in a Catch-22 situation, thanks to sections of the ANC and the alliance.