Business, Politics

Analysis: Julius Malema’s march towards SA’s ultimate solution

By Stephen Grootes 19 July 2011

Julius Malema doesn’t believe in bringing numbers to a political fight. Especially when his chosen weapon is the insult. He’s used the ANC Youth League’s website to issue a “response” to the response to the resolution of last month’s ANC Youth League conference that the mines and banks must be nationalised. It is not a pleasant or soothing read. However, it is very revealing. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The said article’s main claim is that no one has provided “an alternative” to the Youth League’s own road to SA economic Nirvana. It is 1,099 words of pure Malema. Read it aloud and you can hear his voice. 

Sometimes a politician does something that reveals the real agenda. It’s a moment when they’re caught almost off-guard, when something small can show so much. This is such a time. At the moment, Malema has all the momentum and the things that can really trip him up are mistakes of his own making. Those can be far more damaging for him that anything any of his opponents can do. This could be one such mistake. What it confirms is that this argument for mine nationalisation is not being driven by rationality, and that rational argument as a whole is not welcome at the ANCYL. Reading through Malema’s piece, it is obvious that it is simply a rant, a list of “we want, and we shall take” rather than any kind of reasoned thought.

Take his starting definition. The people who spoke about the League’s plans after its conference are defined as “sections of the media, analysts, right-wing propagandists, big-business and the questionable left”. By the way, “questionable left” is the latest in a fairly lengthy list of insults in the League’s political dictionary as part of its entry on the SACP. Having successfully tackled the man and left the ball, Malema then says the above, “casted(sic) aspersions, made alarmist remarks, spread lies and conspiracies and in most cases became petty and lost focus”.

Right.

So when Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala penned a piece in the Business Day on what bank nationalisation would mean for the economy (at 2,182 words, twice as long as Malema’s rant) that was simply “alarmist”. Tshabalala’s piece contains plenty of raw data and examples of where bank nationalisation ruined economies.

It is worth quoting from the article itself: “In Nigeria, the Federal Government took controlling interests in the major banks in the mid 1970s; more state banks were created in the 1980s. The entire Nigerian banking system was insolvent by 1994. In Ghana, the state took over the banking system in 1975. By 1984, bank deposits had fallen by 62%. By 1986, the amount of credit available to the private sector had fallen by 63%. It cost 4.4% of Ghana’s total national income in 1991 to recapitalise that country’s banks. Tanzania nationalised its banks in 1967. Just like in Ghana, saving declined sharply and the private sector found it almost impossible to obtain credit. Service fell apart: by the mid-1980s, Tanzania’s monopoly state bank had even lost the capacity to process cheques. It took 11% of GDP to recapitalise the bankrupt Tanzanian state bank in the early 1990s. There are many similar cheerless stories from the rest of the world: for example, the people of Brazil had to absorb an expense of 6% of GDP in 2001 when its two biggest state banks failed. In Uganda, the government created a state banking monopoly in 1972. By the early 1990s, this bank was struggling to provide even the most basic banking services; 75% of its loans had gone bad; and its monthly wage bill had to be paid directly from the Ministry of Finance. In 2002, as part of its programme of financial liberalisation, the government of Uganda sold this bank to Standard Bank.”

The amount of raw data in Malema’s piece? None. The total number of insults, (depending on your definition, is referring to someone’s argument as “waffling” insulting? If not, how about describing it as “hot air”?), to use his methodology, plenty.

So there’s no response to Tshabalala’s number that for “every 10% of the banking system owned by the state, a country’s annual growth rate fell by 0.25%”. It’s a crucial point and we presume we will never get an answer. Well, not from the League, and we certainly hope we don’t get to see a practical experiment anywhere near us.

Malema does make a very salient point when dealing with one his inner-alliance opponents, the SACP. You may remember that if “questionable left” refers to the SACP, they use the friendly sounding “right-wing demagogue” to refer to Malema. He says that if the SACP believes he is pushing nationalisation to bail out BEE elites, “the Party carries an obligation to propose to us a model which will not bail out black mining elites and see if we will disagree”. It’s a nice move. The SACP hasn’t proposed an alternative and this shows up that weakness rather well. It also puts the SACP under pressure to come up with an alternative. But the real cunning is in that it forces the SACP to treat mine nationalisation as a reality.

He may be insulting, but stupid Malema ain’t.

There’s also a deft move when it relates to Cosatu. He says Cosatu “raised the bar” and didn’t “play the man” at its recent central committee meeting. That’s, of course, bollocks. There’s no real difference between the SACP and Cosatu on “right-wing demagogues”. It could be the first public glimpse of a possible divide-and-conquer attempt by the Youth League to drive a wedge between Cosatu and the SACP. While in public they have very little in common at the moment, in private it would appear they have one person in common. Kgalema Motlanthe, or SA’s Keyser Soze if you prefer.

What we really learn from Malema in this document is that numbers, data and rational argument have nothing to do with his world. On his planet, it’s state-control and take-over without compensation that matter. His idea of a good debate is one in which he gets to shout louder than everyone else. The threat of physical violence is never far away, which was amply shown at the ANC’s national general council last year, when he and his henchmen tried to storm the stage because they didn’t like the final draft of the mine nationalisation policy.

So then, if this is all about emotion and rhetoric, backed up by threats, how does one oppose him? Malema claims in his piece that over the next few weeks he will be meeting with organised business, labour, communists and church groups, and that perhaps “from these forums we will hear and understand what is being said, since thus far lots of hot air was blown and we have not been told any alternative”. That is, of course, just a nonsense attempt to look as if the League really is “consulting” properly. The meetings will mean nothing. And you can imagine what will happen if at any moment, anyone dares try to bring numbers into what is really just a shout-fest.

In the past this proudly capitalist website has strongly advised capitalists, business, to get out there and argue back. Getting into a shouting match with Malema will not achieve much, so business will have to think cleverly. Tshabalala’s article was a great start by exposing a critical lack of thought on Malema’s part. Now business has to find a way to make that criticism stick with the wider audiences, ones that will decide ANC’s policies in 2012. And it will have to bring numbers, and a loud, committed voice. Politics in South Africa? For sissies, it is not. DM


Grootes is an EWN reporter.

Photo: Daily Maverick.

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