Enoch Godongwana. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Enoch Godongwana. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The difference in mindset, capacity and intellectual rigour dividing the world of business from the world of politics is starkly illustrated by the contrast between the ANC’s blueprint for reconstructing the SA economy post-Covid and the one produced by business.

Released last week hours apart, the two plans agree that the pandemic is devastating the economy and that SA needs to chart a new course involving "bold and decisive action" underpinned by "a new social compact" in which all partners work together to accelerate inclusive growth. So far, so many platitudes and clichés.

The lightweight 30-pager produced by Enoch Godongwana, who heads the ANC’s economic transformation committee, skims across the top of SA’s gaping challenges, touching on a few catalytic interventions that will save the day. The ANC sees a "massive expansion of social and economic infrastructure" as the key to boosting growth, along with a revitalisation of state capacity and a handful of structural reforms.

The ANC document uses the word "massive" a lot. There will be a "massive" artisan development programme, a "massive" upgrading of school infrastructure and a "massive" expansion of sewerage systems. There is no attempt to model the potential impact on growth or, indeed, how to fund this "massive" agenda while simultaneously achieving fiscal stability. Not that stabilising debt is an urgent priority — it is mentioned just once.

Business for SA (B4SA), on the other hand, paints a terrifying picture in which SA is at the tipping point and, without dramatic reform, could slide into an abyss of dismal growth, indebtedness, poverty, crime and societal instability.

While the ANC dusts off its failed developmental state model, business is clear that accelerating growth and attracting investors requires new thinking around how to ease the costs of doing business and improve competitiveness.

It details the reforms needed — including fixing Eskom and ensuring efficient network industries (road, rail, ports, telecoms) — and explains how a reform mindset combined with a big infrastructure push would crowd in investment, help revive growth and restore public finances.

However, its 110-page presentation is so complex — identifying 12 policy focus areas and 12 key initiatives, from a list of more than 50, across 11 high-impact sectors — it will be a wonder if any politician ever reads the whole thing. The ANC plan, in contrast, mostly skips past the nuts and bolts while conceding that sectoral masterplans may be useful and should be extended. This is what passes for analytical rigour in the ANC.

Granted, business pulled in sectoral experts to hone its plan, quickly doing the analytical work that would normally be done by numerous government departments. But this just reinforces the case for why the government needs the help of business to get SA out of the hole it’s in — it doesn’t have the capacity to do what needs to be done.

For all that the ANC plan talks about Covid-19 "having legitimised a greater and more active role for the state", it seems to accept this could mean providing greater "strategic guidance" and acting in partnership with business — if only on infrastructure or until capacity is restored.

B4SA uses the same language in arguing that the state’s role is to "guide strategic initiatives". If this is a breakthrough, we’ll take it. But writing words isn’t the same as implementing them.

The odds of SA avoiding a death spiral weaken with each day that talk replaces action. The work agenda is so huge, and the détente between business and government so fragile, that to say we are sceptical is a gross understatement.

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