ANC’s RET retreat a victory for business elites
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OPINION: The ANC recognises that South Africa’s problems are structural and systemic. No amount of finding scapegoats will address South Africa’s problems, writes Professor Sipho Seepe.
Radical economic transformation (RET) was tentatively mooted at the ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung. It gained political traction towards the party’s 54th elective conference.
The latter was convened under the theme of “Remember Tambo: Towards Unity, Renewal and Radical Socio-economic Transformation”. The same conference “resolved that the ANC should, as a matter of policy, pursue expropriation of land without compensation”.
The adoption of radical socio-economic transformation was the ANC’s attempt to address the persistent legacy of colonialism and apartheid which “expresses itself in racialised patterns of poverty, inequality and unemployment, in land and spatial disparities, in infrastructure and service backlogs, in concentrated structures of ownership and control”.
It was with this understanding that an enthused Cyril Ramaphosa, then deputy president, addressed the Gordon Institute of Business Science Forum in Johannesburg on the very concept of RET.
Ramaphosa remarked: “Radical economic transformation is about placing the economy on a quantitatively different path that ensures more rapid, sustainable growth, higher investment, increased employment, reduce inequality and the de-racialisation of our economy… Those who are dismissing this term should sit down, listen, smell the coffee … and realise that the economic transformation of our country is non-negotiable. It is going to happen whether people like it or not, the economy has to be transformed and it will be transformed.”
The speech was delivered on the June 20, 2017, almost six months before the elective conference. Well, that was slightly two months before South Africa’s richest man, Johann Rupert, dismissed the concept radical economic transformation as “just a code word for theft”.
Once the master had spoken, the seeming clarity about RET within some members of the ANC disappeared. And quickly so. To be fair, the ANC is a contested terrain. Many leaders have had to invoke double-speak. Being ambiguous and vague provides plausible deniability. It enables such leaders to argue that they have been misunderstood. But those who pay the bills are never vague.
Just a month before the 2017 elective conference, the fog had somehow cleared. Assessing presidential contenders, the Business Day editorial (November 20, 2017, What is needed to fix economy) had this to say:
“Presidential candidates Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa both recognise they will need the business community in a post-Zuma phase … Cyril Ramaphosa talks of a ‘new deal’ for jobs and growth to be negotiated by all stakeholders in the economy ... Investor-friendly policies – fiscal discipline, caution over debt – are promised ... It is also the language of business.“
Predictably dismissive of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the editorial argues her approach sounds "a lot like the policies of the left-leaning parts of the ANC – best expressed by Cosatu policy documents – through the ’90s and the 2000s".
Business Day was not alone in its assessment. Just a few days before the conference, the editorial of The Mercury (December 15, 2017) noted that “Ramaphosa stands for what has been termed a ‘New Deal’ … As one of the richest Seouth Africans, it is argued that he is out of touch with the people. He is plagued by his involvement with the Marikana massacre. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma stands for radical economic transformation, which entails the expropriation of land without compensation, creation of state-owned banks, mines and free education for the poor.”
The seeming prevarication of the current administration must be understood within the context of the battle for the soul of the ANC. The capture of the ANC by the business elite was long in the making. This capture has not improved, and was not going to improve, the material conditions of the majority who have remained disadvantaged.
Indeed, since taking over as president of the ANC and the country, the country seems to be on a downward spiral. City Press’ editor-in-Chief Mondli Makhanya describes Ramaphosa’s presidency as four fruitless, wasteful years.
He writes: “South Africa’s unemployment rate now stands at 34.4%, up from 32.6% in the first quarter. Using the expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who have been discouraged from trying to find a job, the figure stands at 44.4%, up from 43.2%. This number has been climbing steadily over the years and the situation has obviously been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The country has the dubious honour of being title holder of the highest unemployment rate of the countries tracked by Bloomberg. Last year the economy shrunk by 7%. Investor confidence remains low.
As if that is not enough, estimates are that the recent unrest have cost the country about R50 billion in lost output. At the time when the country faces a calamitous pandemic, a recent survey by Afrobarometer found that only 13% of South Africans trust government to ensure the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine with 15% saying they somewhat trust. These are not the makings of a New Dawn.
The ANC recognises that South Africa’s problems are structural and systemic. It argues “the legacy of colonialism and apartheid is still deeply entrenched in our society and in the structure of the South African economy.” A colonial economy cannot provide for the needs of a non-colonial society. No amount of finding scapegoats will address South Africa’s problems.
Conspiracies around insurrections are misplaced. The encroaching on people’s privacy should be worrying. To label protest as insurrection is an act of desperation. It is also a calculated move to justify the use of force and the abuse of security forces.
The deployment of troops in the communities will turn members of the defence force into the enemies of the people. A government of the people by the people should have confidence in its own legitimacy. Only a government that has lost its legitimacy will resort to brute force.
We have been here before. In a democracy, calls for the president to step down fall within the democratic expression of free speech. Instead of addressing South Africa’s structural challenges, resources are being wasted in intimidating South Africans from exercising their constitutional rights. Acts of criminality should be dealt with. We should, however, not criminalise freedom of expression.
* Professor Sipho Seepe is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.