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January 8th, 2011: ANC finally jumps to the left

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January 8th, 2011: ANC finally jumps to the left

The ANC knows one thing is true: If it is to stay in power, it’s the jobs, stupid. And so the economy - and jobs - took centre stage at its January 8th Statement. What does this mean, and again, where’s the detail? By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The ANC’s January 8th Statement (the party’s de facto birthday) two years ago was in East London and doubled as the launch of its election manifesto. The day before it was made public, an ANC spin doctor, since defenestrated, rang to say the statement would mark “a definite jump to the left”, and he would be happy for it to be broadcast right then. It was only after talking to a shrewder and more experienced analyst the next day it became obvious I had been played. There was no huge policy shift. So you can imagine the cynicism that accompanies these big policy pronouncements. Having said that, it seems the ANC, and Zuma, are finally getting ready to change economic policy.

It is a mark of how Zuma is politically stronger now than this time last year that this year’s statement is so ambitious, and that there is clear and obvious support for it from the ANC’s national executive committee. His speech on Saturday went off without any political hitches. And while the rain forced mini-evacuations of the exposed seats at Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium, the political will for real change appears to have arrived at Luthuli House. Quite frankly, we admit we’re surprised there was so much policy and at the scope of the party’s ambition.

Technically, the statement is not about Zuma. It is a statement from the NEC, summarised by the ANC president of the day. This year the full version ran to 26 pages long (A5). But it’s well worth a read because it gives a much greater insight into what the party really wants to do this year. We were waiting to hear the words “new”, “economic” and “growth plan”, and, boy, did Zuma deliver. They comprised the main chunk of his speech. Going through the full document,  it is clear 2011 is going to be the year of changes in economic policy.

When you get right down to it, the ANC is trying to tackle South Africa’s two big problems – inequality and land. Everything else – health, education, access to justice, whatever – they all stem from those two problems. And tackling the bigger of the two, inequality, boils down to one fundamental dilemma, do you share the wealth first and then grow it, or grow it first and hope that a rising tide will float all the boats. For years this has been the biggest source of frustration for Cosatu which believes in sharing first, while the ANC’s right wing has fought hard for growth first.

Obviously, the best way to tackle it is to create jobs, to get people working, off government grants and help them to become consumers. But how?

For the ANC, it’s going to be about “identifying areas where employment creation is possible on a large scale as a result of substantial changes in conditions in South Africa and globally”. Okay, but isn’t every country in the world with a large population trying to do the same thing?

To be blunt, the best way to create jobs is probably through manufacturing as we don’t have the sophisticated economy with enough consumers to do it through the service sector. But for every person you employ in a factory, there is always a Chinese employer who can get that labour more cheaply. It’s the price you pay for freedom and democracy. We cannot see any easy way to square that circle.

You can, of course, get government departments to hire more people. There should be more porters in hospitals, more tellers at council billing centres and more workers building big dams and highways. But we all know that for this to happen, proper management is required. You get more porters, fine, then they go on strike. The more tellers there are at Jorrison Street, the more people are watching that repeat of “Isidingo” at 10:00 am instead of working. And you can’t build dams and highways forever.

As the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s CEO Nuren Rau put it, where’s the detail? He wants more information. It’s one thing for Zuma to declare “2011 will be the year of job creation through meaningful economic transformation.” It’s quite another to actually do it. The Efficient Group’s economist Dawie Roodt also pointed out that one of the major problems is government services simply don’t work; you can’t get your electricity or water connection sorted out easily and getting a bill from the local authority is a nightmare. Imagine trying to sort out a bill from a council for a big industrial plant. It must be enough for you to think about packing it all in and heading for Guangdong.

The other big issue for the ANC is, as it should be, land. Government is now looking at three forms of land holding. “These are that state land can only be held through leasehold, freehold with limited extent on private land and foreigners will be allowed to lease land, but ownership will revert to South Africans.” Remember the proposed green paper on land reform has been held under lock and key for the last eight months, despite promises it will be made public “soon”. And there’s a bad track record when it comes to drafting recent legislation. God help us if someone gets it wrong and we find that land in upper Houghton and lower Bishopscourt is suddenly affected by legislation that should really only deal with rural areas.

Quite frankly, we have the strong impression the ANC doesn’t really know what to do about the land problem. They have our full sympathy, because we don’t know what should be done either. We do believe the only way to absolutely ensure enough food is produced is through a system of experts, properly motivated, who have large tracts of land at their disposal. In other words, large-scale commercial farming (did we ever mention we’re a capitalist website?). This is how those countries with food surpluses – the US, Canada, Australia – do it (in the US only 3% of the country’s population is involved in agriculture, it’s probably a mistake to think that more people should get involved).

To its credit, the ANC is acutely aware that food security must come a long way before any kinds of  land reform or redistribution are possible. This year’s statement makes it crystal clear: “Also needed is strict production discipline for guaranteed national food security”. The party has been consistent on this. Quite frankly, perhaps they’re hoping that in some way the land question may become less acute, as people move to the cities and become more interested in smart phones than in farming. Perhaps they’re right.

When it comes to health, education and crime, the ANC’s strategies, and its promises, remain the same. Nothing has changed. Although Zuma repeated the line that “only qualified people, and not friends” should work in government hospitals. While that’s not the end of deployment and patronage, it may mark a start. The rest we’ve heard before, apart from the pledge to help students financially if they pass their last year of study.

Of course, Cosatu is thrilled at all of this and at Zuma’s statements about the importance of unity in the alliance. For unionists, job creation is meat and drink, more jobs, more union members. It goes a long way to what they’ve always wanted. We’ve said before that sometimes we need Cosatu to protect us from the dark recesses of the ANC, and that we need the ANC to protect us from the leftier parts of Cosatu’s policies. The ANC may be letting us down here.

While it is unlikely that 2011 will be the year that thousands of new jobs are created, it seems very likely it will certainly be the year when economic policy will be debated as never before. Economic development minister Ebrahim Patel’s plan is probably never going to be implemented in its current form. But it’s going to be the starting point for negotiations, and possibly the playing field upon which that debate is held.

Incidentally, that spin doctor from 2009 was seen scurrying from the lower section of the stadium after the announcement, with just a hurried “hello”. Once you are defenestrated, gravity it seems, tends to take over. DM

Grootes is an EWN reporter.

Photo: Reuters.


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