DAVID FORBES: The neoliberal ANC and its 'radical economic transformation' hot air
It’s extraordinary that hardly anyone is interrogating the inconsistencies and contradictions in the concept of radical economic transformation that is being bandied about with increasingly carelessness by those in power.
Let’s look at a bit of history here: 1991: the ANC stood for the Freedom Charter, socialism, and a non-racial future of peace and prosperity that they would create. Fast forward to 2001 and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) — a mixture of socialist and neoliberal policy — had disappeared and had been replaced by Growth Employment And Redistribution (Gear) — paradoxically a move to enhanced neoliberalism and away from the socialist ideals of the Freedom Charter.
In 2005, just a few years later, Gear was replaced by the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of SA (Asgisa), and then, after Zuma seized control in 2010, by the New Growth Path. In 2013 it morphed into the New Development Plan, former (neoliberal) finance minister Trevor Manuel’s brilliant plan that was long on vision and terribly short on practical steps, accountability, time frames or deliverables. Of course, it fitted right into the mould of neoliberalism, once again, and is designed to take us, allegedly, to 2030.
This policy was unchanged under successive finance ministers Pravin Gordhan, Nhlanhla Nene, Des van Rooyen (the Weekend Special), Pravin Gordhan (again) and now Malusi Gigaba. All of these ministers have said that they are following the current (neoliberal) policies and no change is expected. Right.
So neoliberalism is the policy of the ANC government in SA. Finish ‘n klaar.
So where does this phrase “radical economic transformation” come from, and what does it really mean?
In February 2012, then ANC Youth League firebrand leader Julius Malema was expelled from the ANC for challenging Zuma. He formed the Economic Freedom Fighters, thereby putting economic change and nationalisation back on the national agenda after nearly two decades of ANC rule.
He also put the land question back on the agenda. About this time, probably in response to Malema’s rapidly growing power after the Marikana Massacre (for which neither Zuma nor Ramaphosa has ever apologised), the ANC began to talk of the second phase of the transition, dealing with economic and social change in the aftermath of apartheid. This really just meant tweaking existing policy, and introducing new meaningless Orwellian phrases like “social cohesion”.
As Malema and the EFF gained ground, the ANC saw their support slipping away from them, especially in the urban centres. As the ANC leadership became more and more estranged from their electorate, and service delivery protests escalated in the face of increasing corruption and government ineptitude, the need arose for a new rallying cry.
This was radical economic transformation, espoused with enthusiasm by the dancing Zuma. How anyone can believe a man who is a proven liar and transgressor of the Constitution when he coins a new opiate for the masses is beyond the pale.
So, if in the words of the Zuma sycophant Gigaba, “nothing has changed”, then is radical economic transformation? It’s a figment of the Naked Emperor’s imagination.
Neoliberalism is not radical. It’s conservative. So clearly radical economic transformation is nothing more than a fancy piece of rhetoric without meaning. Just like the ANC’s “Land Reform Programme”.
It’s Malema and the EFF who truly want radical economic transformation: nationalising the mines, the banks and the Reserve Bank, expropriating land, and doing away with neoliberalism in all its forms.
People seem too frightened or befuddled to challenge the pathetic ANC's attempt to convince the public that radical economic transformation is something we should all get behind. It’s just rubbish. It contradicts ANC policy. Could Gigaba’s new adviser be the forerunner of a new policy emerging from the ANC national policy conference? Doesn’t look like it, and on closer examination, it appears to be rooting for a black capitalist class rather than a white capitalist class, so nothing will change there either. That’s not radical.
What South Africa really needs is an honest discussion about new economic models (and there are some being bandied about globally, but not really locally). Our academics and economists need to drag themselves into the 21st century and begin to do what they are paid to do: to think and develop plans.
Instead we are stuck with just two stark models: capitalism and communism. The understanding of most South Africans of what socialism, or its many variants are, is minimal, if it exists at all. Anyone ever heard of that strange word: Hybrid?
Is it not possible to craft a totally new economic model suitable for an African developmental state that desperately needs to create jobs, reduce poverty and inequality, and reduce our dependence on globalisation and foreign investment? So that we can grow ourselves, make our own goods, fix our own problems and take control of our own lives, in a way that could set an example for many other countries?
Or is this too much to ask of our esteemed academics, economists and politicians? I’m listening, but I fear it will be in vain.