ANYBODY remember the National Development Plan (NDP)? The economic initiative was the hallmark of successive ANC administrations. As late as January 2017 the plan was being touted as a vision for 2030, “the product of hundreds of interactions with South Africans, input from tens of thousands of people, extensive research and robust debate throughout the country”. When Pravin Gordhan was hastily recalled from London, whilst on an economic roadshow, it was the NDP, with its broad vision that he was selling to investors.
The markets were reassured by the long-term stability promised by Pretoria bureaucrats, and, after the Nene fiasco, (a foretaste of what was to come) not only was the economy in recovery, but the currency was even experiencing a bull-run, making the Rand one of the world-beating currencies of 2017, at least this was until President Jacob Zuma fired his finance Minister again, and then half-his cabinet while embarking on a course which took South Africa directly into the headwinds of currency volatility and the ire of ratings agencies. Within a short space of a week, the gains and momentum of the past 12 months were wiped out, as local banks lost heavily, and borrowing money on international markets suddenly became a lot, lot harder.
What happened? Can one put this down to the simple cult of personality surrounding the President? The Guptas and the intrigues of Nkandla and Pretoria, or BRICS? Here is one alternative version of events, and no doubt there will be others:
Frustrated by electoral inroads being made to the left and right of the party, the centrist ANC realised that something drastic needed to be done. Instead of meeting the official opposition the Democratic Alliance (DA) whose market-friendly policies and promise of renewal had resulted in astonishing gains at the polls, in both the City of Johannesburg and metros of Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, NEC party insiders decided to quietly drop the NDP focus in favour of a new mantra — that of ‘Radical Economic Transformation’ (RET)
In effect, the ANC were now adopting the policies of the far-left Economic Freedom Front (EFF), promising massive changes in ownership, whilst debating expropriation of property without compensation, (an all too familiar bait and switch strategy) and thus a sure sign that groups such as Black Land First (BLF) were also beginning to dictate the ruling party agenda. Exactly what RET represents, is anyone’s guess. In all likelihood, it is mere code for a hodge-podge of incoherent leftist policies. If the ANC is to survive at the polls come 2019, it will have to enter into coalitions, and the dilemma remains that the DA and EFF are on opposite sides of the political fence so to speak.
The resulting drift to the far-left by the ANC under Zuma (even if by some accounts, simply empty promises) has had severe consequences. The fallout couldn’t get any worse than if Hugo Chavez had to suddenly arrive back from the dead, flogging the statist focus of big government and the anti-private property rhetoric which nearly destroyed Venezuela. So while ratings agencies were hammering the bond market, and the parastatals were still on life-support, we saw the travesty of Malusi Gigaba and the trillion-Rand nuclear debacle (read: expensive mega-projects) getting everyone in a tizz.
Unless Pretoria figures out a way to print money without encouraging further Rand depreciation, the big bucks flagship projects and renewable energy procurement touted before the downgrade are all but DOA. The only questions remains: Can the NDP be saved (or scaled back?), or will it take a defeat at the polls to realise, that when it comes to economic policy, nothing in South Africa is cast in stone? That the ANC is unlikely to be in power come 2019, with a workable NDP or not, is slowly dawning. Some 100 000 people from across the spectrum, marched on Friday while calling for the President to resign.