MASSIVE state intervention involving wholesale expropriation of land without compensation, centralisation of power, a command economy, a cult of personality surrounding a self-proclaimed commander-in-chief. The kind of rhetoric that gets people riled up, most recently at a debate on the economy between Clem Sunter and Julius Malema.
The event occurred after yet another rambunctious shouting match in Parliament, which saw beleaguered South African president Jacob Zuma’s SONA being heckled by opposition parties, including the EFF.
The crude reductionism of the debate into opposing sides, mutually-exclusive poles — those who support the free market and those who don’t, those who favour state intervention and those who oppose it, is infuriating. The more so, since those who see a gap in the debate — an opportunity to talk Malema round into a “mixed-economic” model, (which he already appears to accept) and thus an end to the impasse, with a strategy that once worked with the ANC — are bound to fail a second-time round.
Spinning this as a ‘ready to rule’ story as some media houses have, is a blatant misrepresentation and a fib. Are we to believe that business is now hosting secret meetings with the EFF, as if the party is operating from Lusaka? Expecting the EFF to turn into the ANC is simply wishful thinking, more likely is that the statist direction we are already heading in as a country, will be exacerbated, as too the economic crisis.
That Malema is demanding centralisation of state power as a sine quo non is clear. The only real question is, what are the alternatives to this battle to the bottom, in which ‘black power’ becomes synonymous with statism, and ‘white power’, (incorrectly) with individualism and market freedom? Is this even a fair debate, since both parties appear worlds apart, and both may as well be on different planets?
Since I agree with Sunter’s central premise that we are moving into a world without jobs, (at least in the traditional sense), and that entrepreneurship and small business development offers us a way out, (more on this later) I will focus my time here on Malema’s plans.
Let’s look at the facts, for starters, Malema isn’t even relying on empirical evidence. His analysis is a rehash of criticism of the ancien regime, a critique of apartheid that is at least two decades out of date. A lot has changed since 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. Miners already lease mineral rights from the state. Some 31 million hectares or 25% of the surface area of the country is in the hands of the State. So what has this got to do with the current economic situation? Would calling an end to the deals of the past, by rejecting the policies of several ANC administrations, in effect, dealing another hand, as Malema implicitly suggests, be the solution?
Firstly, land ownership in South Africa, is not necessarily all that desirable, the dematerialisation of assets and shifting nature of wealth in a digital age, demonstrates that so far as the old forms of materialism, title deeds and property law, the old rules no longer apply.
Instead of fixating on what is really a demand for a fresh start, a new deal via the ballot box — the proverbial “economic freedom” in which the state would nationalise all assets (with all the problems this entails) only to create yet another economic order, whose provenance and logic has not been tested, and whose antecedents in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in Eastern Europe have failed miserably — we could simply borrow from models that are working, and which are already in progress.
That South Africa needs massive engineering schemes to deal with poverty and inequality is abundantly clear. The Chinese-financed R84-billion City of Modderfontein, a mega-project already underway in eastern Johannesburg, is one such scheme, that will correct the problems created by apartheid planning, when townships such as Soweto, Mamelodi and Diepsloot were built.
The thinking here is that Modderfontein would allow migration out of Soweto, while those stuck in informal settlements, hopefully armed with a special government-sponsored property allowance, or a guaranteed housing bond, would move from the slums, into the same townships, now vacated by the upwardly mobile.
A similar scheme in Cape Town known as Wescape, would allow people trapped in the townships of Mitchell’s Plain and Khayalitsha to move into new accommodation on the west-side of the City, is also on the cards. Getting informal settlements into formal housing is going to present a number of challenges. Financing all of this via a treasury, already under pressure from a currency crisis, is a further, but not insurmountable, challenge.
That Malema ignores the dynamics of housing development already underway, RDP schemes that have already provided land and housing, is clearly a denial of reality. But then saying the right things, so far as the landless are concerned, is a facet to his Communist ego and strong-man personality, focused as it is upon gaining state power at all costs, (to implement a dictatorship) and thus demonstrating via force of words, not logic and argument, that he is somehow the heir-apparent to the Presidential throne — that his party alone, the EFF, are thus the successors to the ailing Cosatu-SACP-ANC alliance.
Such impressions must be rejected as simple mischief and nonsense.