Different voices in the pantheon of political and economic leadership in SA came out on opposing sides of the nationalisation debate at the weekend, demonstrating what a fractious argument it's turning out to be.
First, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema spewed forth his usual trademark convoluted logic at the Black Management Forum in Midrand, citing Botswana, electricity prices and the spirits of the dead all in favour of the nationalisation argument. Malema said in Botswana a mine could only be owned privately with a 49% stake, with 51% owned by government. In fact, Malema was confusing the private deal the Botswana government struck with De Beers with the law – but who’s counting any way?
Electricity was expensive in SA because “the people’s coal” was being mined privately, he said, and not because Eskom forgot to build enough power stations, prior to which it was producing some of the cheapest electricity in the world. Malema also focused on how “disrespectful” mining companies were, since they mined in areas where people were buried. "They don't care if someone is dead," Malema said. If the people owned the mines, they would know not to tamper with the dead and their spirits. "Capitalism doesn't know spirits, but we know spirits," Malema told the meeting.
It was left to Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni to restore a note of moderation and reality to the debate, saying he didn’t think the nationalisation issue would gain traction. "From time to time people are going to raise this for discussion and support, but I don't think it is going to go anywhere," he said in his a valedictory speech at the weekend. "The discussion will obviously take place from time to time, depending on who, from time to time, has the loudest voice ... (and) the loudest voice is not necessarily the correct one."
Yet Mboweni did in fact also go some way down Malema’s rocky road, saying authorities in emerging countries should guard against excessive foreign ownership of banks.
By Tim Cohen