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Julius Malema, the walking contradiction

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

“Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” Ayn Rand could have been writing about comrade Julius Malema.

The ANC Youth League favours nationalisation, starting with the mines, land and banks. Its president, Julius Malema advocates it with one contradiction after another.

He appeals liberally to The Freedom Charter, adopted at Kliptown in 1955. It was an inspirational foundational document, and the liberation of South Africa was in many ways guided by the values of democracy and human rights it espoused.

But it was also economic pie in the sky. “Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no-one shall go hungry,” it declared, as if reality comes about by decree.

To achieve this pipedream, it relied on tried and tested (and failed) policies of the past: nationalise and socialise as much as possible. To wit: “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the [b]anks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole. All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people.” Land would be redistributed, and all the wherewithal to farm it – seeds, implements, tractors – would simply be given to “the peasants” by the state.

Malema echoes the charter’s call for nationalisation, starting with the most profitable mining houses of the most easily-accessible minerals, such as platinum in Rustenburg and coal in Witbank. (In what looks like a fit of subliminal racism, he appears uncertain that the people are capable of more complicated mining.)

When even the SACP challenged his revolutionary views, he attacked its secretary-general, Jeremy Cronin. The weekly Mail & Guardian quoted him to the effect that he did not “need the permission of white political messiahs to think”.

One wishes he would. Think, that is.

Not only did he concede to The Times newspaper that he was not an economist, and barely scraped through matric, but he followed up with the statement that: “As long as people continued to remain uneducated they stayed dependent on the state. If you don’t have economic freedom you have nothing.”

I couldn’t agree more. Problem is, progressive nationalisation of industries by the state will make people more dependent on the state, not less. They’ll rely on the state-owned companies not only for jobs, but also for the products and services they require in their everyday lives. Good thing, then, that these will by decree be plentiful and cheap, much like our electricity is today.

Consider the performance of state-owned entities. Railways hardly run unless a major client, like Kumba Iron Ore (then Iscor) not only builds a line, but proceeds to spend billions of its own money on its maintenance. Consider the case of the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, which seeks to increase export volumes, but is being let down by its rail supply and has had to resort to road transport – with trucks a thousand times less efficient than freight trains – to make up at least some of the shortfall. Consider the state of our hospitals. Consider the well-publicised losses of South African Airways, diamond-mining company Alexkor, or arms manufacturer Denel. Consider the former’s predatory approach to private-sector competition from the likes of Flitestar, Sun Air, Comair, Nationwide, Kulula and 1time.

More of these types of organisation is what Malema believes will reduce income inequality. Despite his H for mathematics (even worse than his woodwork grade), Malema’s arithmetic is, ironically, spot on. Impoverishing South Africa by nationalising key industries will indeed reduce income inequality, since the difference between a newly-reduced income per capita and abject poverty will be less. Yet even the SACP recognises that impoverishing South Africa is not a political winner.

Malema’s reference to education is itself a contradiction of his high hopes for nationalisation. Education is mostly provided by the state, but at just more than 60%, pass rates were again dismal last year, plummeting by almost eight percentage points in just the last four years. This despite the low requirements for a pass, and an alarming drop-out rate in the last few years of high school. The Eastern Cape’s education chief, Mahlubandile Qwase, declared himself “delighted” with the province’s 51% pass rate.

That’s what you get for relying on the state to provide services.

If that’s all the ANC Youth League has to offer South Africa’s young people, they’ll have to turn elsewhere to escape poverty and build an economic future that, never mind being secure, merely makes sense.

Malema once said that the ANC’s economic policy was to “put a bread on the table; we don’t want sophistication”.

Sophistication you won’t get, indeed. Challenging him on the merits, as Cronin tried to do, is pointless when Malema’s own arguments for nationalisation are so hopelessly full of internal contradictions.

In fact, Malema personifies the “wrong premise” of which Ayn Rand wrote.


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