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Arrogance and dishonesty: So-called ‘Sanity Check’ of EFF manifesto is shallow and misplaced

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leaders thank supporters during the party’s manifesto launch at the Giant Stadium on February 02, 2019 in Soshanguve, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali)

The pitiful attempt by Rebecca Davis to pen a critique of the EFF’s election manifesto is abysmal, yet we will provide a clear response to what quite frankly is claptrap disguised as analysis.

The EFF welcomes and encourages engagements including disagreements with the commitments on what people said should be our plan of action when we take over government after the 2019 elections. The despicable attempt to vulgarise the wishes of the people, which they raised publicly in community meetings, letters, emails, messages and through the experience of EFF representatives in legislatures, must be called what it is, nonsense!

Rebecca Davis claims that the EFF has broken with the unspoken social contract of opposition parties’ approach of reasonable response about the policy pledges they present before elections. She goes further to make an absurd claim that the manifesto “is filled with unforgivably vague pledges, sketching the picture of a healthy, educated, employed and happy South Africa zipping along 10% economic growth with no plausible details as to how this can actually be accomplished”.

She accuses the manifesto of being a dishonest document. But in reality, she is the one who is being dishonest, because the people’s manifesto and a clear detailed plan of action has details such that it is the first of its kind, something even Davis has not seen in a manifesto. She’s blinded by class and possibly racist prejudices which seek to provide a critique before she reads and understands.

First, the EFF is unequivocal that we were not part of the 1994 elite pact, and not signatory of the Codesa compromise that handed over political power to black people, yet solidified unequal property relations between white and black people. For us to continue with the tradition of political parties to approach the election with the so-called cautious policy commitments would be to continue with the postponement of our people’s true liberation. The EFF manifesto emphasises the Now! because we are a different generation, with new demands which will not be postponed. We want our land and jobs Now!

Second, the inability to see millions of South Africans, who in the main are young and black, healthy, educated and employed — like it is the case with most European developed nations — in a plan of action from a five-year-old organisation led by young black intelligentsia, reflects Davis’s own bigotry.

On agrarian reform

Agrarian reform is the cornerstone of our agrarian vision of promoting and protecting the local agricultural industry. The thrust of the EFF’s vision is that the country must only import food products that we practically cannot produce, to supplement what is locally produced. In essence, our aim is to maximally use all arable land for food production, with the aim of building adequate capacity to fully feed ourselves. On basic food products that are essential, yet with ecological limitations in terms of production capacity, we should explore the rising agricultural technology with the aim of producing enough to feed ourselves. This is important for two reasons:

First, our country’s agricultural sector is a constricted one, controlled by only a tiny minority of players. As a result, many commercially oriented small-scale farmers are kept outside of the mainstream markets for agriculture. The EFF government commits to developing alternative markets for these growers, by obliging the state to buy from small-scale farmers for their consumption needs (food for schools, hospitals, clinics prisons and so on). Whatever is produced by small-scale farmers must find a market, and the state must buy 100% of its food requirements from local small-scale producers, except for products that cannot be produced in the country.

Second, since the deregulation and liberalisation of agricultural trade in South Africa, from the late 1970s, but intensified by the ANC after 1994, we have observed a rapid reduction of active participants in agriculture, and a reduction in production. This is made manifest by a real reduction in the number of commercial farms registered for tax purposes, from about 90,000 in 1971, to just over 60,000 in 1991, 45,000 in 2002 and to about 35,000 by 2016. Some of these farms were consolidated into single, bigger family farms, some struggled to such an extent that they were bought by bigger, more capitalised farmers who easily integrated into the global agricultural value chain.

Trade liberalisation also had an impact on the volume of food produced and consumed in the country. The percentage of imported wheat increased from 20% in 2007 to about 60% by 2007, while at the same time local production was reduced by about 54%. So, imported wheat dislodged local production of wheat. It is as a result of these dynamics that some academics have argued that South African agriculture is the “least protected agricultural sector in the world”.

The EFF argues that this is not the way to develop agriculture and catalyse rural job creation, therefore we will through tariff and non-tariff measures promote the rejuvenation of local agriculture. It’s not rocket science, it’s a basic and pragmatic programme of action, one anyone with a juvenile understanding of the country’s agrarian economy will understand, but it is clearly way above Davis’s comprehension.

One Degree, One Job

On “One Degree, One Job”, Davis radically misses the point and based on some incoherent out-of-context scenarios courageously demonstrates her ignorance when she says the EFF will need to guarantee 13 million jobs. What she does not say is that the EFF manifesto specifically says the EFF government commits to absorbing all unemployed graduates and place them into areas relevant to their qualifications.

The 13 million figure she cites is a number of mostly children who are in primary and secondary school. While our long-term objectives include absorption of all learners into quality post-secondary school education and training, the commitment about “One Degree, One Job” seeks to immediately absorb those with qualifications now into full-time employment and with the gradual abolition of tenders, such as is possible.

Furthermore, an impression is given that it is all graduates that will depend on government for employment, as if the private sector will stop employing graduates. Currently, according to Stats SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), 6.4%, or 504,000 graduates are unemployed, and not all of them have degrees. The EFF intends to abolish tenders and make it compulsory for all spheres of government to directly provide services in areas that are inherent functions of the state.

The expansion and capacitation of the state, including retaining ownership of all state-owned companies and entities, have the capability to absorb all unemployed graduates, a coherent articulation linked with state capacity which, in her vilification of state ownership and intervention, she clutches on unintelligible conclusions and misses the link. So Davis developed an illusion and criticised the imagining as if it was EFF policy. We forgive her ignorance.

On basic education

Davis proceeded to claim other significant factors related to teacher morale and training, administrative problems and the contention that Sadtu, together with inadequate infrastructure, play a role on the poor quality of education — as if the EFF manifesto does not concretely address these issues.

First, the teacher morale and training challenges facing South African education are not inherent to the system. One of the challenges crippling public services, including the education sector, is the decline in real value of public servants’ salaries, in particular teachers, police officials, soldiers and general workers, while the senior government officials’ salaries have increased drastically, matching those of private sector. The EFF government will review and upgrade the salaries of teachers to start addressing some of the challenges.

But also, to address the issues of morale, the EFF government will launch a year-long #TeachersMatter campaign, starting in 2020, to look at both professional and personal needs of teachers, including training in soft skills, emotional wellness, financial literacy, assistance with debt management, and so on. A clear and practical programme of action.

Second, Davis nit-picks the point about the appointment of one orthodontist a school, which she ridicules, insinuating that it is unnecessary and we don’t have enough through a misguided out-of-context linear calculation. What the EFF manifesto emphasises is the need to have an orthodontist allocated to each school. This does not mean that we will have one orthodontist in each school present every day of the week. What we actually mean is to have each school allocated an orthodontist, but this orthodontist may be responsible for many schools in particular districts, regions or provinces, given the available resources.

Clearly this is a level of sophistication and imagination which Davis does not have. It is practical to have one orthodontist responsible for 10 schools or even more, depending on the dental challenges of children in schools.

On fee-free education

Davis elevates the World Bank right-wing economic approach of income-contingent loans instead of fee-free quality higher education which includes free accommodation, two free meals a day, free transport and a laptop, while increasing funding for research. As the EFF, we have consistently criticised the government for relying on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which has been badly managed, instead of resolving the higher education and vocational training funding crisis.

Fee-free higher education for all deserving students is affordable through proper prioritisation. What is required is political will and a commitment to introduce free quality education for all. We make a proposal of 2% of total company revenue as education and training taxes in addition to a skills levy as one of the means to fund fee-free quality education, a proposal which Davis ignores completely, asking where the EFF will find money as if we did not provide a clear fiscal framework.

She possibly did not see this funding model because added to the budget directly appropriated for the department of higher education, NSFAS, and the 2% education tax, there will be enough resources for all students to gain access to quality fee-free higher education.

On social grants

Davis makes another incoherent conclusion that if there was money available to dramatically increase social grants, you can be pretty sure that the ANC government would be doing so. She says this as if she has been absent from the country when former Bosasa executives give evidence of grand-scale looting, the industrial-scale Gupta thieving occurred and the current theft that is taking place at Eskom through Independent Power Producers (IPPs), and as if this is not a demonstration that the money is there, but the problem is the ANC.

Davis further turns a blind eye to the EFF’s Fiscal Framework chapter in the manifesto which commits to maximal tax collection and dealing decisively with illicit financial flows, base erosion, and profit shifting. She obviously had not read the part that introduces a long-term financing structure for infrastructure in order to lessen the fiscal burden on short-term but impactful funding needs such as social assistance programmes.

Given that we come from a very low baseline, the EFF government will double social grants. Social grants have demonstrated that they have the potential to be an immediate solution to poverty in the short term, and can ignite some degree of heightened local economic activity. The money that is wasted in corruption, irregular expenditure and maladministration will be redirected to social grants. In addition, the overhaul of the fiscal framework will also expand to allow for expansion of social services broadly.

Additionally, the EFF’s cogent jobs plan will mean that the number of social grant recipients will drastically decline, so the calculation that is based on the current unemployment crisis misses the point.

On a sovereign wealth fund

Again, Davis makes another mistake of mixing issues, pretending to understand the context in which a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is created when clearly, she is clueless. In the past, we offered a comprehensive perspective, where we demonstrated that for a country that is rich in mineral resources, SWF will be a dynamic, important instrument and mechanism to save and redistribute wealth.

Countries like Norway, China, Singapore through multipronged state-led development have successfully built some of the strongest SWFs within a similar context which we are proposing, considering South Africa’s distinctive characteristics. We said a South African SWF should be established with the following features:

  • Relative autonomy from political micromanagement;
  • Account to Parliament;
  • Only 15% of gross profits should be deposited into national revenue fund;
  • A combination of shareholders including state-owned companies; and
  • An investment policy which brings about a delicate balance of asset management and private equity.

A SWF is not the same as Foreign Direct Investment, and clearly there is conceptual confusion in Davis’s critique of the EFF’s position. The SWF will fill the void of domestic investments in the productive economic sectors, because Foreign Direct Investment has largely invested in speculative and non-labour absorptive capital.

These are the details contained in the EFF plan of action and commitments to our people. However, individuals like Davis, who write some dishonest drivel, make it their mission to misunderstand the EFF so that they can spread lies, slander, gossip and pure caricature of what the economic emancipation movement stands for. These individuals and groups are often blinded by racial and class prejudices and choose to drown in ignorance even in the face of superior logic.

The EFF supporters, members and ground forces are correct to be inspired by their own voices which have been captured with such clarity. After all, it is the people’s manifesto. At best, it is a cogent and clear programme of action. The doomsayers and reactionaries will shout from the sidelines, but in the EFF, we know that for privileged groups, the call for equality sometimes sounds like calls for oppression.

We will never retreat nor surrender. Down with reactionary and shallow criticisms Down! DM

Floyd Shivambu is deputy president of the EFF.

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