Radical socio-economic transformation decoded

President Jacob Zuma tied radical socio-economic transformation firmly to the matter of land restitution, speaking in the National Assembly last week, on day two of his budget vote.

“The question of us not having jobs is a man-made problem in South Africa,” Mr Zuma said. “If you take the land of other people and take their rights – then it’s you (who did that). (Then it’s) man-made and it needs man to correct it.”

Of course, this would not be the first time that Mr Zuma has made a breathtakingly disingenuous causal leap, asserting that land restitution will solve all of South Africa’s woes, in particular poverty, unemployment and inequality. Anybody who knows anything about economics, will understand that nothing could be further from the truth.

Turning South Africa into a nation of subsistence farmers most certainly won’t achieve what Mr Zuma asserts is the objective of radical socio-economic transformation, to whit, “fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female.”

On Saturday April 1 this year, Mr Zuma launched the Westgate social housing project in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, a 3 000 apartment residential complex, for people who earn between R1 500 and R7 500 a month.

He praised the human settlements department for progressing radial socio-economic transformation in the property sector through this project, which is a little bit confusing when you consider that people will be renting the apartments. He neglected to explain how providing people with the opportunity to rent an apartment contributes materially to radical socio-economic transformation. Surely providing people in that income bracket with the opportunity to purchase an apartment would be preferable, since it would contribute directly towards changing patterns of ownership, one of the tenets of radical socio-economic transformation?

If you listen to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa talking about radical socio-economic transformation, he will tell you, that it’s all about shared and inclusive growth, which is somewhat different to the definition provided by Mr Zuma, but since Mr Ramaphosa quite often speaks to the business community, his take on radical socio-economic transformation would come across as significantly less threatening than does Mr Zuma’s defintion.

Mr Zuma justified his recent cabinet reshuffle on the grounds that he was pursuing radical socio-economic transformation. Quite how a rating downgrade by two of the principal international rating agencies, with all of the attendant fiscal and monetary impacts, is supposed to contribute meaningfully to radical socio-economic transformation, in the idiom expressed by Mr Zuma or by Mr Ramaphosa for that matter, remains unclear.

And if you talk to trade and industry Minister Dr Rob Davies, he will tell you that radical socio-economic transformation “could address poverty, inequality and unemployment”, so clearly he is less certain about this than is Mr Zuma and Mr Ramaphosa.

Dr Davies, who was speaking at the launch of the Kwa-Zulu Natal black industrialists programme on Friday, pointed out that “South Africa needs a higher level of growth and inclusivity and this can be done through radical economic transformation”. Unfortunately, he did not explain how this could be made to happen.

The ANC will have you believe that radical socio-economic transformation is officially part of ANC policy. Talking in the National Assembly last week, Mr Zuma was adamant that radical socio-economic transformation was adopted as official policy during the 2012 policy conference.

Maybe, but not in so many words, nor as simplistically.

What was resolved at the 2012 policy conference had more to do with the second transition – economic emancipation, since as the policy discussion document “The Second Transition? Building a national democratic society and the balance of forces in 2012” points out, phase one of the transition, democratising the state and society, has largely been achieved.

Specifically, paragraphs 60 through 64 of this document, which deal with the socio-economic character of the national democratic society, is significantly more nuanced than what is being touted today as radical socio-economic transformation.

It speaks of the economy of such a national democratic society being defined as “a thriving, mixed economy that reflects the natural endowments of the country and the skills of its populace”.

This economy is further elaborated as “a mix of private, state, cooperative and other forms of social ownership, with the balance between social and private ownership of investment resources to be determined on the balance of evidence in relation to national development needs and the concrete tasks of the National Democratic Revolution at any point in time.”

It also speaks of “de-racialisation of ownership and control of wealth, management and the professions, and an efficient market, free from racial and gender exclusions that characterised apartheid colonialism.”

There is a good deal more of course, all of which is considered, thoughtful and entirely appropriate considering our history. Unlike the current radical socio-economic transformation narrative, none of it is populist, exclusionary, confrontational, or self-serving.

Mr Zuma also pointed out in the National Assembly last week, that what had been resolved at the 2012 policy conference, should have been implemented in 2013 but for reasons unknown, this did not happen

Perhaps this is why, with another policy conference looming later this month, an elective conference in mid-December, and a national election in 2019, this kerfuffle has erupted over radical socio-economic transformation.

If the ANC truly wants radical socio-economic transformation to take place, it would do well to revisit the resolutions that were adopted at the 2012 policy conference, and set about implementation pretty damn quickly.

It may well not save the ANC’s bacon in the next election, but at the very least, it will go some way towards providing the economic emancipation which it undertook to do when it came to power in 1994.