IT HAS BEEN a busy week on South Africa’s sociopolitical scene. After a fortnight of prevaricating, the mighty unions, led by a rather disunited COSATU, meekly accepted the government’s offer of a 7.5% increase for the public sector.
At the same time, ANC has been holding its policy conference at Gallagher Estate where one item under discussion has been the economy. The party’s raucous lefties have been baying for a “developmental state”, one in which government involvement (read: meddlesome interference) is supposedly meant to kick-start our sluggish – albeit growing – economy.
This has prompted fears that we could soon be experiencing a nosedive into socialism (piloted by Zuma). There are at least two reasons why concerns like these are likely to be proved groundless over the next few months. The first is that public strike with its accompanying intimidation, bullying and violence has proven COSATU’s weakness as a tripartite alliance member. Over the past few weeks, the Congress – and its members – ground service delivery and the provision of education to a terrifying halt yet it failed utterly in its attempt to force the impervious ruling party to accede to its demands. What does this tell you? COSATU just doesn’t have the power to bring down a government or – in the context of the policy conference – radically change government policy.
The second reason is that the entire point of the policy conference is not to develop ANC policy (as in all autocracies that is the job of a select few) but rather to generate an inordinate amount of hot air in an attempt to mollify the increasingly restless grass roots-level members. With the masses satiated, the party honchos can then proceed with their own agenda.
The aforementioned agenda is not necessarily the right one, however. Government macroeconomic policy, lauded by many, has not had the trickle down effect one would wish for. Yet that is in many respects due to a number of other factors – and often very political ones at that:
Education is in shambles, standards are low and the majority of matriculants aren’t being equipped with the skills required to participate in the economy.
Delays from red tape is compounded by a bureaucratic behemoth that is slow, inefficient, corrupt and where personnel often suffer from insufficient skills and training.
Self-enrichment and patronage would appear to be pervasive amongst decision-makers in the current administration. In this climate, Black Economic Empowerment has been used as an instrument– as the President’s boet, Moeletsi Mbeki, says, “for co-opting – and perhaps even corrupting – ANC leaders by enriching them as private individuals.”
The list could go on. The point is that ditching our current free market-based macroeconomic policy is not the solution to growing our economy and eradicating poverty. We need to focus on dealing with the attending challenges which, incidentally, are by no means insurmountable. If we have an energetic and compassionate moderate in the presidency next year – and a vibrant opposition making sure he “behaves” – we should be well on our way to solving them.