SOUTH AFRICA has had its fair share of disappointment. Corruption in every sphere of government. A ruling party that has to some extant, captured the judiciary. A leftist project which has delivered dismal economic performance and GDP figures which place us alongside Argentina, Thailand and Colombia. If you’re a clueless commentator like the Financial Mail’s Chris Roper, unable to see the wood for the trees, and who believes ‘the apocalypse is now now’, then here is a list of what is going right:
Thriving Arts Sector
The South African Cultural Observatory (Saco) in Port Elizabeth — which maps, measures, values and calculates the gross domestic product (GDP) contribution of South Africa’s cultural and creative industries — pegs it at R63-billion a year.
This is a small but not insignificant contribution to GDP, and unlike many sectors continues to deliver growth
Automotive Made in South Africa
One thing that our President is doing right, pumping the automotive sector, which continues to produce export quality vehicles. He recently unveiled the Tshwane Automotive Hub at the Ford Motor Company in Pretoria. Part of the Tshwane Special Economic Zone which diversifies the country’s already major auto hub in Nelson Mandela Bay. Almost 19% more vehicles were exported so far this year, compared with 2018.
Emerging Renewables Market
Although competing for government spend alongside parastatel Eskom, the groundwork has been laid for renewables to step into the gap left by unreliable coal projects. In 2016 South Africa was ranked first for its addition in concentrated solar power. Latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018 allocations indicate 8 100 MW for wind, 5 670 MW Solar Photovoltaic (PV) and 2 400 MW of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) to be procured by 2030, which has the potential of attracting in excess of R200 billion in the next 12 years.
While South Africa has a modest 54 percent internet penetration it experienced 7 percent growth from 2017. More citizens are gaining access every day and South Africans spend an average of 8 hours and 32 minutes on the internet per day via any device. Revenue in the local eCommerce market amounts to US$3,308m in 2019. Revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2019-2024) of 8.3%, resulting in a market volume of US$4,930m by 2024.
Thanks to post-apartheid reforms, the country’s middle class increased by 30% between 2001 and 2004. After a period of recession following 2009, this trend looks set to continue which is why the WWF observes ‘a shift from staple grain crops to a more diverse diet’. Accordingly South Africans have shown a decrease in the consumption of the staples maize and bread, and have massively increased their annual consumption of chicken from 6kg to 27kg per person.
Worth considering that despite land anxiety and uncertainty, climate change and water scarcity, the country remains a net exporter of agricultural products.
African Financial Hub
South Africa is well-positioned to take advantage of its position as a gateway to the continent. The sector contributes some 22% to GDP. Innovation in financial services has made South African banks extremely competitive, responsive and able to deliver what consumers need, low fees, digital access and more on the way.
BRICS development funds
Funds coming our way as a result of the BRICS bank initiative include $200-million loan to Transnet to expand the capacity of Durban port, $300-million loan to the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) for on-lending to sustainable development projects, R1.15-billion loan to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) for on-lending to renewable energy sub-projects $480-million loan, to Eskom to retrofit flue-gas desulphurisation equipment, to make Medupi power plant compliant.
NOTE: Sorry Chris, if you want to apportion blame, Stephen Hawkings says, greed and stupidity is what will end the world, not merely politicians.
IT WAS during the dying days of apartheid, that I wrote a series of articles promoting ‘ecological sustainable development’ and deep ecology. The pieces published by Grassroots and South Press were extraordinary, the least of which is that they were published by a working class imprint shortly after the state of emergency.
They dovetailed my criticism of race-based conservation efforts by elements within the regime, for example the Rupert Family, and addressed perceptions that the emergent environmental justice movement in the country was, to put it crudely, an all-white affair.
The result was the ‘First National Conference on Environment and Development’, in which academics and activists from all quarters joined hands on a broad eco-justice platform which included both the ANC and PAC, and which resulted in the placing of Earth Rights at the centre of our Constitution, in the form of article 24.
Today’s political pundits Carilee Osborne and Bruce Baigrie , conveniently ignore the history of environmentalism in South Africa, preferring to situate their respective struggles within the contemporary milieu of the Climate Strike — the recent Cape Town March which saw some 2500 people from various organisations and civic structures take to the streets in what they view “as one of the largest environmental protest actions in South Africa’s history.”
This is no mean feet and without wishing to downplay the successes of these epic events during the course of the past year, one should always remember that the environmental justice movement arose as a foundation stone of our Constitution during a period of mass democratic action, the likes of which have yet to be repeated. And thus a struggle which was situated not upon my own writings, nor the writings of any one particular individual, but rather the Freedom Charter, which (within the colour of the time) called upon people black and white, to “save the soil”, whilst sharing the land, and assisting the tillers of the land.
A similar mistake in historical proportion and misreading of history occurs within the various articles penned by one Farieda Khan. She writes in “Environmentalism in South Africa: A Sociopolitical Perspective”, (an otherwise excellent paper written over the turn of the millennium): “The first extra-parliamentary political organization to commit to a formal environmental policy was the Call of Islam, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front (the South African front organization for the then-banned African National Congress).” She goes on to state: “The Call of Islam had a formal environmental policy since its inception in 1984, due in large measure to the efforts of its founder, Moulana Faried Esack.”
If only history were so convenient as to claim environmentalism on behalf of any one religion or individual, whether Islam, or the Church, as many within SAFCEI and SACC would have it, or on behalf of one or more important groups or class formations formulated by those on the left, as those within AIDC would have us believe.
Rather, I think it more accurate and best to take a broader arc of history — one that includes the Freedom Charter and reaches forward to the essential humanism espoused by the deep ecology movement of the 1970s, whose distinguishing and original characteristics are its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings: “Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans.” And by extension, as much of my writing and published work from the 1980s suggested, an African environmentalism which realises that Ubuntu is not simply being human because we are all human, but rather, a common humanity contingent upon the necessary existence of our habitat, without which we could not exist as a species.
Instead of situating the environmental movement within so-called ‘working class’ struggles, or working class factions as Osborne and Baigrie attempt in “Towards a working-class environmentalism for South Africa”, and thus the binary of a grand populism vs narrow neoliberalism which simply perpetuates the idea of man’s dominion over nature and thus a struggle which of necessity is juxtaposed alongside the authoritarian grip of party politics, another path must be found.
It is all too easy to issue anti-capitalist prescriptions, leftist directives and cadre-based imperatives calling for the end of free markets whilst, forgetting that it is Eskom’s captive market, Eskom’s socialist ambitions, and Eskom’s coal barons which have pushed South Africa ahead of the UK in terms of GHG emissions, a country with 10-15 million more people. Although only the 33rd largest economy, South Africa is the 14th largest GHG in the world. Our national energy provider, Eskom has yet to adopt GHG emissions targets.
All the result of the boardroom compromises of the statist, authoritarian left, whose policies have seen our country embrace ‘peak, plateau and decline’ alongside a COP-out strategy excluding South Africa from the Paris Agreement, and thus a national environmental policy which is not based upon empirical science and evidence-based research but rather class driven kragdadigheid and Big Coal.
If those on the far left expect us all to reject secular humanist values alongside Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess who introduced the phrase “deep ecology” and thus an environmentalism which emerged as a popular grassroots political movement in the 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, simply because these persons are lily-white, or tainted by the liberal economics of the West, then they are sorely mistaken.
Instead, I believe, that it is far better to formulate an African-centred response, and rather a Pan-African struggle which is broad-based and inclusive of our collective humanity and common habitat. Such a broad-based struggle out of necessity includes an African-Centered Ecophilosophy and Political Ecology.The draft Climate Justice Charter is one such vehicle and deserves our full support.
The struggle for survival during the collapse of the Holocene, includes those already involved in conservation and preservation efforts and those who now join because of concerns about the detrimental impact of modern industrial technology. When one talks about climate justice we thus need to include the voices of those who have not been given an opportunity to speak, and remember that without mass mobilisation, nothing would have changed during apartheid.
IT WAS June of 1991, the apartheid government had just unbanned political parties such as the ANC and PAC, exiles were returning to the country, and negotiations towards a new democratic dispensation were in full sway. The First National Conference on Environment & Development, organised by myself and my colleagues from the Cape Town Ecology Group (CTEG) and World Council on Religion and Peace (WCRP) was being held at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
It was here that the campaign to include sustainable development in our country’s new constitution came to a head, with a mandate to ‘ecologise politics and politicise ecology’.
Solly Skosana of the PAC was of the view that ‘land apartheid had not disappeared and that a constituent assembly was the only mechanism in which environmental concerns over land distribution would be able to be addressed.’
There was consensus among delegates that unequal land distribution was a major cause of environmental problems in South Africa and that the land itself needed protection under the law.
Speaking on behalf of the ANC, Cheryl Carolus criticised the lack of political involvement by environmentalists in the past and made the point that her decision to get involved in politics had ‘arisen out of a desire to empower herself and to regain control over her environment.’
The issue of workers’ involvement in environmental issues was taken up by Nosey Peterse of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) who told delegates: “You can talk about environmental degradation but while you talk workers are losing their jobs because of environmental degradation.”
It was here too that I stood on a podium alongside Mike Kantey of Earthlife Africa, Ebrahim Rasool of WCRP and Julia Martin of CTEG, with delegates from across the political spectrum, to rally against apartheid while calling for a future in which the needs of future generations would not be compromised by the demands of our own generation.
As the conference drew to a close, we had no inkling of the dire consequences our nation would be facing today, with water shortages, air pollution and threatened ecosystems, nor did we realise back then, what it would take. Our actions back then simply introducing article 24 of our Constitution, enshrining Earth Rights, to impact and affect climate change and the lives of those yet to be born.
It was thus a twisted and tortuous politics which saw successive appointments of environmental ministers, from then Minister of Environment General Magnus Malan, to Dawid de Villiers, Pallo Jordan, Valli Moosa, Marthinus van Schalkwyk and Edna Molewa, each taking the credit for the groundbreaking inclusion of ‘ecological sustainable development’ in our nation’s constitution, and yet collectively responsible for the allied policies of the ruling party. Despite becoming the first country to include the environment in its bill of rights, the party proceeded to pave the way for mega coal projects, increasing of GHG emissions and lowering of air pollution standards.
You can read about the campaign to put Earth Rights into South Africa’s constitution here.
At the same time that the Mbeki administration was hosting the 2002 WSSD (the acclaimed “Earth Summit’ which produced very little of real substance) the ANC was promoting a crackpot policy sans physics which became known as ‘peak, plateau and decline‘. A neat phrase cooked up by the DEAT to describe a strange new political compromise between our constitutional imperatives, ‘the needs of the future’, and the diktat of the fossil fuel industry, in particular the opportunities (read curse) presented by our own country possessing abundant supplies of coal.
Thus when Min Gwede Mantashe opened a new colliery, while myopically claiming: “our vast coal deposits cannot be sterilised simply because we have not exploited technological innovations to use them,” he was articulating this self-same policy. It describes the apparent trade-offs to be made — ramping up our GHG in the short to medium term, so that we are on par with the West economically speaking, before reaching an abstract ‘plateau’, whereupon we will by some act of the imagination, decline our GHG profile (perhaps via slight of hand and creative accounting) — the introduction of a Carbon Tax, is yet unproven.
Every year, the time frame for the plateau and reduction of local GHG targets has been shifted, while the much vaunted Carbon Tax is slow on the uptake and still being implemented. The Climate Change Bill introduced in 2018, focuses on mitigation and adaptation as opposed to implementing a drastic about turn in energy policies. Bare in mind the Carbon tax is an economic charge which Greenpeace has said, will not be ‘effective enough and far from adequate’.
Every policy decision thus far made by the ruling party, has been on the basis of the bad maths of these mantras introduced without much scientific consensus, and there is no precedent.
After negotiating a COP-out deal at Paris, which has allowed our country to continue with business as usual — South Africa’s pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement is ranked as “highly insufficient” — we are left with a Promethean struggle involving several massive coal mega-projects versus the reality of today. At 510.2377 mtCO2e pa our GHG profile is currently on par with the UK, a country with a population of 66 million people, as we begin to exceed the West in air pollution. Our country has been criticised internationally for “ delaying the development of policies to cut emissions.”
It is thus with some sadness and poignancy that I read a letter addressed to our president and signed by some 50 local environmental organisations, demanding ‘an emergency sitting of Parliament to deliberate on the recently issued UN report on 1.5°C increase in planetary temperature and its implications for South African climate change policy.’
This while 300 kids marched from Parliament to the City Hall in Cape Town last Friday, to hand over a memorandum demanding government take “immediate action on the climate crises”. Following a mass demonstration on 15 March where thousands of school learners protested, calling on government to act against climate change. In various parts of the Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where “youth collectives are meeting to learn about climate justice and organise, “writes Alex Lenferna
“Outside of the Union Buildings, young people rallied and delivered a petition to the president calling for climate justice now.”
Instead of declaring a climate crisis, President Ramaphosa, has chosen to skedaddle and bamboozle with stats and an unhelpful allusion to the climate problem during SONA. The government clearly lacks any real programme to deal with the crisis. This is not the first time that the ruling party has attempted to colour itself with the revelry of the green movement.
Stating that the President’s ‘recognition of the climate crisis is the first step to fundamental change“, as a 17-year-old environmental activist Ruby Simpson does, is expecting a serial climate change denialist, to suddenly get science and find Gaia, because the reality is our nation’s policy of ‘peak, plateau and decline‘ is founded upon a tragic denial of the existential threats facing our planet and its people.
Regrettably, one can only express skepticism of presidential lip-service, uttered with pro-coal cynicism — successive ANC Presidents and their cabinets have shown themselves to ‘talk green, but walk with coal’. One has only to witness the abject failure of the President to address the detailed requirements of a ‘just transition’, and thus his startling refusal to acknowledge the implicit question of ‘whose justice?’
Without an immediate adoption of a climate emergency, articulated by the 2011 Durban Declaration, there can be no justice. And without a complete u-turn in our energy policies, there will be no future for our country.
WHEN Medupi and Kusile were announced by our government in 2004 and 2007 respectively, the two coal-fired mega-projects were both seen as emblematic of South Africa’s democratic progress — key to the ruling alliance and its plans for the future.
The ruling labour-left coalition was at the height of its power. With its roots in the victorious anti-apartheid struggle, it had made no secret of its desire for a ‘mixed economic model’, in which a socialist command economy would prevail alongside the capitalist economy, and where the energy sector, would imitate policies from the days of the former Soviet Union. What could possibly go wrong?
According to Pretoria technocrats, a new era of cheap coal would herald in cheap and plentiful electricity with which to ‘build the nation’. Both consumers and workers would benefit. The latter from long-lived and extended public works programmes centred around coal, which in turn would drive salaries and feed households which had experienced some of the worst ravages of apartheid ‘separate development.”(1)
Thus it was that these two projects ballooned into costly engineering exercises, as complexity driven by the technocrats, bureaucrats and party officials, armed with Marxist texts and presidential directives, ruled the day. That Marxists tend to overtheorise economic problems, relying upon ideas such as ‘dialectical materialism’ and the ‘labour theory of value’ to arrive at their conclusions, in effect the triumph of ‘ideology over pragmatism’, has already been remarked upon.
What has not been said in the mainstream media is the manner in which unions such as COSATU, emboldened by socialist think-tanks such as the AIDC whose research is anything but lopsided (2), and with a culture of intolerance for differences in opinion, quixotically feed unemployment, climate change and the national debt. While the rest of the world is moving away from coal, South Africa’s coal ambitions have instead risen and include plans for at least several new coal plants such as Thabametsi, each one able to take our country into poll position as one of the top GHG emitters in the world.
Eskom’s coal-fired power plants persistently and significantly violates the air pollution limits in its licences.
“The main cause of its troubles” say Adjunct Professor Rod Crompton, is Eskom’s decision “to build two of the biggest coal fired generating plants in the world, (Medupi and Kusile). These plants are running way behind schedule, they’re over budget and the bits that are complete don’t work properly. They are probably the single largest disaster in South Africa’s economic history.”
Medupi is literally drowning in ash. The result of socialist bureaucrats implementing design changes via committee without sufficient input from scientists and engineers, whom they invariably ignore. This lack of concern for evidence-based research and scientific methodology in favour of ‘political education’ is not a new one, witness the failed Afro 4000 train debacle .
An editorial published by Engineering Weekly for example, debunks concerns from COSATU and others, surrounding loss of jobs due to renewables, and yet the union continues to demand a state-owned power utility on steroids, with little concern for loss of jobs in the broader economy and the tragic impact upon the livelihoods of those affected by outages and inefficiency.
“There is considerable support in South Africa” says Tobias Bishof-Niemz for the notion that a transition in the electricity system from coal to renewable energy will trigger a jobs bloodbath at both Eskom and the Mpumalanga coal mines. A detailed analysis of the job numbers, however, suggests quite the opposite. In fact, it points to there being at least 30% more jobs in a fleet comprising solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind farms when compared with an energy-equivalent coal fleet”
Meanwhile the brazen union federation staged a protest march this week, in response to the President’s plan to unbundle Eskom, in effect calling for Eskom and its mounting debt, to be supersized. Unbundling alone may not be enough to offset the crisis. Creating completely separate, independent and regional power utilities able to compete with each other would have a better chance of survival.
(1) See Rudzani Mudogwa’s recently published defense of coal which relies heavily on statements made by Gwede Mantashe.
(2) An article doing the rounds in the local press purporting to be by “Dr Sweeney, an AIDC visiting researcher, with the City University of New York’s ‘School of Labor and Urban Studies’,” claims splitting up Eskom ‘will result in privatization’. If one follows the logic of the argument presented, it is the West (including NY City) that is in the grip of rolling blackouts and massive debt run-up by Energy Companies since they were unbundled from the State. No citations, case examples nor evidence is provided by the ‘researcher’.
THAT IT would all go so horribly wrong for the African National Congress is best demonstrated by comments made by Moletsi Mbeki on national television. The ANC he says is really a conglomeration of competing, ‘factions acting in their own self-interest’.
What unites the party, aside from its competing sectarian and nationalist aims, is its avowedly ‘socialist character’. Problem is, wherever socialism has been tried in Africa, it has failed. Whether Tanzania under Nyerere, or Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, South Africa’s experiment with socialism and the so-called ‘mixed economy’ under the ANC has fared no better.
While a successful roll-out of a social wage, has arguably made the ruling party, the envy of the rest of Africa, the word socialism itself, does not appear in the party’s constitution as such.
Socialism so far as the ANC is concerned, and as its policies demonstrate, has more in common with the socialism (or volkskapitalisme) under the former white Nationalist regime, than multifarious examples across the continent. In both instances, economic policies aimed at reducing inequality (in the latter example, the inequality experienced by poor white Afrikaners) ended up unfairly benefiting the party faithful — well-positioned insiders who sought to ‘take control of the commanding heights of the economy’, and who in turn created opportunities for graft, self-enrichment, maladministration, corruption and ‘state capture’.
“The reason why a socialist system can never work” saysi “is the trade-off that has to happen at the heart of it – individual liberty in exchange for more power given to the state.” The fatal flaw inherent to party centrism and a dominant government promoting statism, (read ‘economic intervention’ via ‘state-owned-enterprises’) — has been endless bureaucracy, fruitless and wasteful expenditure and a never-ending litany of corrupt officialdom.
The latest revelations from the Zondo commission paint an appalling picture of a socialist-leaning administration in which political bribes of well-known politicians, cabinet members and officials have become the order of the day, and not merely during the tenure of Jacob Zuma but also under current and prior administrations and thus grand larceny by, and on behalf of, socialists — ideologically-driven corruption which continues to manifest under the Ramaphosa government.
The Bosassa debacle comes after the revelations of the VBS bank saga, and the 2018 indictment of former president Zuma on corruption charges. For analysis of the impact on the economy, one need look no further than the corruption scandals plaguing South Africa’s SOEs in effect all ‘State-owned bureaucracies’.
Eskom on its own has created a massive and embarrassing debt bubble, which risks upsetting the entire economy, and whose economic fallout is still being bankrolled by consumers locked into demands for annual 15% pa rates increases. Latest figures, show a massive impending R100bn bailout by treasury.
The central party, unable to deliver coherent economic policy, hamstrung by unions hooked on fossil fuels, oil and gas cartels, and equally inept socialist partners, and compounded by the perceived need to reign in a boisterous far-left opposition grouping, has resorted to ‘lekgotla‘ after lekgotla‘, each one promising action.
A party plenary held over the weekend, promised to finally to breakup the state power supply entity into competing parts, all begging the question as to why a lot more was not accomplished in the past 25 year of ANC rule to boost efficiency, and at very least avoid the current dire situation?
IT is easy to dismiss Donald Trump’s tweeting on ‘white genocide’ and ‘land expropriation’ as simply the result of alt-right post-truth exaggeration. A deflection of the global attention from more pressing US domestic issues. Less apparent is the impact the twitter-lead spat will have on cooling relations between the two countries, and amidst rising tensions between the BRICS bloc, and the USA over China, and also relations with EU and Turkey.
Trump has for some months now, threatened to pull out of AGOA, a trade pact formulated under Mandela involving South Africa, the AU and the US.
In a statement President Ramaphosa responded: “This is no land grab; nor is it an assault on the private ownership of property. The ANC has been clear that its land reform programme should not undermine future investment in the economy or damage agricultural production and food security. The proposals will not erode property rights, but will instead ensure that the rights of all South Africans, and not just those who currently own land, are strengthened. SA has learnt from the experiences of other countries, both from what has worked and what has not, and will not make the same mistakes that others have made.”
Both Congress and the Senate have recently shown cause to question what the US is getting in return for Africa’s unfettered access to US markets. The last round of trade wars, however saw cheap poultry being dumped on local markets to the detriment of the South African industry, with the country coming off second best.
It is therefore important to remember( in the same week that saw the demise of UN secretary-general Kofi Anan), that South African politics, often loud and boisterous, has tendered towards moderation and pragmatism at the end of the day, and that the ANC has a legacy of support for multilateral international organizations. South Africa a former British colony, still has strong ties to the Commonwealth.
In this respect, the country, one of the G20, has one foot in the first-world and another foot in the developing world, an unenviable consequence of defeating apartheid and not simply the result of a troubled colonial past. Pragmatic consensus-building and alliance-making based upon political realties may be the only path forward.
It would be a shame if the democratic order were to be upset by ideologues on either side of the Atlantic.
IT WAS the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who said: “No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.” While the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarked: “We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us” and still Thomas Mann opined: “If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it.”
The reason I take the opportunity to provide readers with some philosophizing on the ‘history of ideas’, rather than the ‘idea of history’, is that there has been a lot of solipsising lately on the issue of liberalism and its purported antithesis, socialism, in the runup to and aftermath of the DA federal conference, billed as the ‘greatest opposition event ever’.
For those who might not already know, a solipsism (or circular logic) according to the urban dictionary is also “the belief that the person holding the belief is the only real thing in the universe. All other persons and things are merely ornaments or impediments to his or her happiness.”
Just how this applies to South African politics will become clearer. To begin, there has thus been a plethora of verbiage surrounding a relatively new idea in popular discourse, that of ‘black liberalism” with equal bouts of critique from humdingers, curmudgeons and opinion-makers on the left, schooled in dialectical materialism and political economy.
Thus A black liberal is not an oxymoron was followed by Black liberalism is an apology for capitalism and Richard Pithouse The liberal licence to kill and more recently, Mmusi Maimane’s Building an African liberal agenda.
Jara opines that McKaiser’s “reclaiming of liberalism is ultimately flawed because it does not question capitalism’s core logic — the rights, freedoms and power of capitalists to maximise profits on the basis of appropriating the commons through the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the exploitation of labour and natural resources.”
Pithouse on the other hand raised an awkward caveat whilst attacking liberalism at its historical core, by listing its alleged policy sins. Despite its many problems, and yes, there are some positives, there is at the face of it, a common dilemma of seeing everything one disagrees with as mere “ornaments or impediments to happiness.” In South Africa,” writes Pithouse ” a high price has been paid for the ease and frequency with which attempts to assert principle in struggle — including commitments to feminism, democracy and, on occasion, even basic honesty — have been denigrated and dismissed as “liberal”.”
All this was water off a duck’s back so far as Maimane was concerned. A rallying speech by the leader of the old “Liberal Party” was big on building liberal sound-bites but short on substance: “As African liberals, ” he said “we have chosen a hard road. We have chosen to stand up to dictators and bullies of all stripes, even when it is politically incorrect to do so. We have chosen to defend the free expression of ideas, even for people with whom we disagree and whose views make us angry.”
One invariably gets the same point though.
Hence one of the reasons for writing this piece, partly out of respect for Pithouse, who defends civil liberties in the same way that Maimane does, but does so without suggesting any alternatives to the two dominant poles in South African politics, nor bothering himself with a critique of the abysmal track-record of the dominant political movement, is to provide readers with some all important context. That’s the ruling party whose ideological framework is abundantly socialist versus the avowed liberalism of the major opposition,
Please feel free to arrive at your own conclusions.
As “bookish revolutionaries” to use Julius Malema’s phrase were debating the pros and cons of liberalism viz. vi. historical materialism and its view of all history being the result of ‘a dialectical clash, of opposing forces’, South Africans were being entertained by the spectacle of the National Mineworkers Union (NUM) threatening to end its support for the African National Congress (ANC): “if government continues with its renewable energy programme,” said NUM, “clean power would “destroy jobs and create ghost towns in coal mining areas.” Please bear with me.
Earlier last month the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) along with Transform RSA, and the coal-truckers industry, had attempted to interdict the Dept of Energy from signing a raft of IPP renewable contracts to no avail. That ripe Marxist language and dialectical critique emanating from our unions, was geared towards a previous era of the steam engine, coal factories, fossil fuel barons, and coal-faced workers suffering under the whip of capital, and not the emerging 4th industrial revolution predicated as it is on digital innovation, open source electronics, and abundant energy distributed amongst the commons, in a dematerialised world in which the unions too, own shares, was becoming clear.
The trouble with soviet-style super-socialism and its advocates in the unions, many of whose members appeared outfitted in fatigues and whose leaders, some of whom bore a close resemblance to Fidel Castro, began with the protagonists wanting to ‘monkey-wrench the entire system’, the self-same mixed ‘market socialist’ economy which taxes and hands out benefits, and whose state owned utility Eskom and its mega-coal projects, meant that these very same unions derived further benefits from any extension of coal-contracts that were also part and parcel of the Gupta corruption schemes. It is important to note as Min Radebe did, there was no direct connection between the threatened closure of some coal powered utilities ending their life-cycle and the IPP programme.
One can see an emerging pattern here, a similar problem experienced during the Cold War 1950s, the problematic Marxist vision of ‘willing workers of the world’ uniting under a shared common cause to fight off the bosses and shareholders in any country, in order to become, what exactly?
The Soviet Union?
Here in the South Africa of 2018, a period no longer marked by communism and the Cold War, the unions were essentially complaining about the potential loss of a paltry 30 000 jobs, whilst jeopardising the creation of 60 000 new jobs in the economy, and more to boot. The unions was prepared to compromise air quality, emissions, the health and safety of millions, while ransoming the entire country with regard to climate change. One could not get more solipsistic and obstinate if one tried. In the eyes of union bosses, what mattered most in this struggle, was happy workers. The poor seeking jobs and thus a growing and sustainable economy, in which economic models were not based upon annual bailouts, but upon reality, the facts behind an economic model which worked, for these persons, the poor for all intents and purposes, did not exist.
So let’s give a bash at answering the moot question left unanswered by our nation’s critics. What are the alternatives to the liberal market economy, if any? And since I am not a liberal as such, let me explain briefly, as economic scholer Zhang Weiwei does, one such model, the China Model, significant in that it has pulled millions out of poverty and unlike the West, has not experienced successive periods of boom and bust. And before I do, let me place my civil rights cards on the table, since I don’t support many of the authoritarian elements still at play within the China of today.
The guiding philosophy behind the ‘China Model’, according to Weiwei can be summarised as “Seeking Truth from Facts not from Dogmas, whether East or West.”
Weiwei goes on to say: “From examining the facts, leader Deng Xiaoping found that neither the Soviet Model nor the Western Model really worked, hence Beijing decided to explore its own way of development appropriate to China’s own national conditions.”
The system he says is oriented towards people’s livelihood. “Whether economic, social or political reforms, they must all be down-to-earth and produce tangible benefits … in material, cultural and other terms. This is why China has succeeded in lifting over 700 million people out of poverty, accounting for nearly 80 percent poverty eradication in the world.”
Special economic zones in which economic experiments are allowed to prove themselves first before being adopted by the broader system, are another factor attributed to China’s success.
Food for thought in a country which, despite its ideological stance, is still top of the list of the Gini coefficient marking ours the most unequal society in the world.