A bewildering process: What the manifestos reveal about the parties’ economic policies (Part 2)

By Reg Rumney 15 April 2019
Original images: Julius Malema addresses supporters at an EFF rally in Chatsworth (Photo: Jackie Clausen) / President Cyril Ramaphosa in Cape Town, South Africa 09 April 2019. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA / Leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) Mmusi Maimane visits Princess Clinic in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, 10 April 2019. EPA-EFE/YESHIEL PANCHIA

Unpacking the economic policies in the election manifestos is a bewildering process: The EFF manifesto seems to have been written by university students, the DA’s by consultants and the ANC’s as if it was done by committee. 

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. See part 1 here:

Several observations occur to me after reading the manifestos of the top three political parties in South Africa. 

Firstly, few people probably actually read the manifestos, as Professor Steven Friedman has pointed out, so their impact on voting is limited. They are, however, an excuse to attract publicity in a big launch, where what the party leader says in a speech gets airtime and print media reaction. 

Yet the manifestos can give important insights into the kind of thinking within parties on economic issues. 

Though mostly not too badly written, the documents are not exactly thrilling reading. The ANC manifesto is 12,000 words long, 10 times as long as the Freedom Charter. The EFF manifesto is more than twice as long as the ANC’s manifesto and the DA takes 40,000 words to get its points across.

They differ in tone as well. The EFF manifesto sounds like it was dreamt up by students at the university canteen. The DA manifesto looks like it was drawn up by consultants who maximised their billable hours and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ANC manifesto was created by committee. 

Secondly, manifestos can make some extraordinarily specific promises, especially if the party has no realistic possibility of being voted into power. Yet in making those promises, the party is indicating its position and can be held to that position. So if the DA opposes measures to remove protection for foreign investors, voters can hold the party to opposing such laws in Parliament. 

Some proposals in the EFF manifesto are astoundingly specific. 

The EFF government will maximally build and support the cultivation and agro-processing of potatoes and tomatoes in the Namaqualand and Pixley regions and grapes in the Siyanda ZF Macau region in Northern Cape Province.” There are several other such statements. 

Thirdly, as Prof Friedman has also pointed out, there is a difference between party and the party in government. The realities of governing can mean that promises made by the party simply cannot be kept by the party in government, because of pressure from civil society, other parties and financial markets. 

Lastly, manifestos can also be quite unintentionally amusing. Some of the undertakings in the EFF manifesto often invite the exclamation, “Serious?” 

One is the suggestion that R1-million be paid to any black student, South African or foreign, doing a doctorate at South African higher education institutions. “The EFF government will pay a once-off grant of R1-million to all black graduates pursuing doctoral studies at accredited institutions, including overseas students, by 2024.” 

I can foresee some wild doctoral topics if this were ever legislated. Also, the stream of would-be doctoral students pouring into the country to take advantage of this offer would dwarf the migrant caravan that was said to be making its way through Latin America to the Mexican border with the US. DM


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