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20 December 2014 10:28 (South Africa)
Opinionista Ian Ollis

Economic Codesa or bust

  • Ian Ollis
Does the ANC-led tripartite alliance really serve any useful purpose anymore? Has it not become the Ebenezer Scrooge hamstringing the most pressing economic crisis facing South Africa – creating jobs for the tens of millions of unemployed people? We need to act.

Allister Sparks and others propose a solution to our dead-end - the economic cul-de-sac of No Jobs. The 18 to 30-year-old segment able-bodied South Africans have very little chance of finding work. OECD and Stats SA figures for youth are around 45% of the total population. The number of unemployed is growing not getting less, and, in real terms, our economy continues to slide sideways. Building mega-projects such as the Gautrain, the various Bus Rapid Transit projects, the World Cup stadia and Eskom’s new power stations, provide some jobs, but simply not enough to matter. The construction industry is now bleeding jobs at an alarming rate as many of these projects come to conclusion.

So why are we in this economic cul-de-sac that not even mega projects can alleviate? The background is, of course, the worldwide economic crisis, which still has the potential for a double-dip recession. Worldwide, not even a consumer spending-led revival will not be able to help. Beyond our own shores, economic stimulus is not coming any time soon.

Internally we are in a cul-de-sac largely because of the tripartite alliance. Let me clarify what I mean. The ANC, as a unit on its own, has come up with several stimulus platforms or policy proposals for rapid economic growth over the years. From Gear to the New Growth Path, they all fail for a similar reason: Its alliance partners hamstring the project.

I was recently speaking at a labour conference with Johnny Goldberg, Richard Pike, Leon Grobler and others, and most of us had one point in common: We asked the question – who in SA speaks for the poor? (At Nedlac in particular) Cosatu has a mandate from those workers who already have jobs. The SACP pushes policy to the left and away from free-market principles. This leaves the ANC as the lone supposed voice for the unemployed poor in the tripartite alliance.  Ever tried asking Cosatu what it’s doing to create jobs for the unemployed? I tried in Parliament once – and felt like Ross Perot’s giant sucking sound from the South – no reply!

And naturally every time someone in the ANC comes up with a plan to liberalise the economy, ease legislation, produce youth wage subsidies or the like, its alliance partners cry wolf and demand closed-door discussions resulting in a policy where the job creation clauses have been suddenly excised or watered down. The economy is in a headlock and the tripartite alliance system is keeping it there. Unless the needs of the unemployed get on that table with a loud clanging sound, we are in a permanent stalemate.

So where are the champions of the unemployed? In the ANC they are muzzled with food-parcel type projects, housing arguments and land redistribution conundrums, with no strongman in the house. Allister Sparks again made the point that there is no leader strong enough to break the deadlock. Who is going to stare down Vavi, Jim, Nzimande and Jeremy, not to mention the lunatic fringe? Mbeki couldn’t. The current SA president surely isn’t going to.  Cosatu, the SACP and to a lesser extent the ANCYL and YCL have the alliance’s policy platform by the short and curlies.

So, if the nature of the alliance prevents any forward movement towards a policy platform that will unlock large-scale job creation and there is no leadership strong enough to stare down the alliance's left, how do we prevent medium term shipwreck for South Africa? Herein lies the call for an economic Codesa

The economic Codesa needs to be designed so it will break this deadlock. If the tripartite alliance can’t do it, maybe a multiparty, multidisciplinary approach can. To make this work would require the weighted influence of two important voices – the unemployed and economists of stature, education and experience.

This is where I am concerned about Sparks’ proposal. Current political parties would be dominated by the alliance again. Nedlac is a kind of ongoing policy “Codesa” and it hasn’t produced job-creating policy or legislation on the scale needed. Unless those most affected by the lack of jobs (unemployed) and those impartially able to suggest ways to help them (economists), it could just be the current Nedlac on steroids - and unlikely to break the deadlock.

But again, who would represent the unemployed? The Unemployed People’s Party is a laudable attempt to represent them, but in reality it is so tiny as to be regarded by the ANC as a fly in the ointment. At the labour broking hearings in Germiston, their poor leader was pelted with bottles and sticks by Cosatu representatives under the watchful eyes of Irvin Jim. I was trying to speak up for the poor man, but the chairman was merely amused and sat smiling. The ANC no longer reflects the voice of the unemployed, except by way of lip service perhaps. A few NGOs in the corner can’t do that job either. Who can?

What legitimate power will economists have at such an “Economic Codesa”? They may have great ideas, but Codesa itself was about powerful parties in trouble negotiating a settlement to avoid a bloodbath. How does an economist or even a bunch of them persuade the alliance partners to open up the economy? They will be there without a constituency.

Should we not ask a different question: Has the tripartite alliance not reached the end of its useful life?

Is Malema not usurping the power of the alliance by attempting to speak for the unemployed, the rural and the poor, precisely because of the growing awareness that the alliance is on life support? Increasingly he seems to be doing it without the general blessing of the alliance and with secret funders. Perhaps what the service-delivery protests, the rise in power of populists and the economy in stagnation tell us is that the tripartite alliance has no real purpose anymore and needs to be replaced with a new political alignment?

South Africa needs the formation of a new political landscape with an alliance of parties that promotes job creation and can give hope and promise to the poor - and do so soon. Is there the goodwill out there to create one? We may find that we have to look in unusual places. Very unusual places. DM

Ollis is DA MP

  • Ian Ollis
ian ollis

Ian Ollis, Joined the DP in 1999 and worked as a volunteer before being elected to political office in 2005. He was elected MP for the Democratic Alliance in 2009 and promoted in 2010 to take the position of Shadow Labour Minister. He has formerly lectured at Wits University, founded a small real estate business and worked as a Christian Minister. He lives in Craighall Park and has no dogs!

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