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Reflections on the Joburg mayoral debate at The Gathering 2016


Floyd Shivambu is deputy president of the EFF. See his Wikipedia profile here.

One of the greatest achievements of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has been its ability to set and define discourse on key issues that were considered no-go areas in the past. There are many pertinent issues such as nationalisation of mines, land expropriation without compensation, the powers of the Public Protector, profit shifting, tax avoidance and transfer pricing, and many other issues which we brought into the national discourse and somewhat influenced policies, which point to a responsive, yet incorrect direction.

Whenever we lead the discourse, the media lags behind because of the deeper lack of sophistication and intrinsic understanding by members of the media on any topical issues. Media often looks for sound bites and source information with the aim of capturing sound bites. There are very few or no media practitioners in South Africa who pay detailed attention to any specific topic. This is despite attempts and offers, for instance, by progressive global Organisations such as the Tax Justice Network to train and induct media practitioners on key issues around tax avoidance.

Media practitioners’ lack of deeper understanding on topical issues or even appreciation of key economic developments in the world deprives society of an opportunity to be exposed to new and alternate ideas and information. This is starkly illustrated by Stephen Grootes’ sorry interpretation of the discourse of “cityness” and the role of metropoles we introduced during the Johannesburg mayoral debate at The Gathering, which can be a great platform for ideological and political discussions. I had initially given Grootes the benefit of the doubt and blamed his line and quality of questioning on time constraints, but now that he has written his observations, it’s apparent that we should respond to the ignorance, and enlighten society.

In my opening remarks to the mayoral debate, I spoke about the historical role of cities and metropoles all over the world and made specific reference to the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone in China, and highlighted the fact that cities should be spaces and places of labour absorptive production, not just consumption spaces. I then drew the link that what Johannesburg’s outgoing mayor claims are achievements, are actually infrastructure for the rich and malls (consumption spaces) that do not create quality jobs, but reproduce the spatial inequalities designed by apartheid.

Now, the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone in China is the most successful city development and growth metropolitan region in the world, which heralded the most decisive developments, jobs and economic expansion. The zone includes Guangzhou, Foshan, Shenzhen and Dongguan and covers a space geographically smaller than Gauteng. Despite this reality, the economic zone accommodates 42-million people in a space of 7000ha in a dynamic skyscraper environment, with excellent infrastructure which is better managed than the city of Joburg.

The Pearl River Delta Economic Zone accounted for close to 20% percent of China’s economy and close to 40% percent of total trade in 2005. What defines this zone are jobs for the people in the productive sectors and small scale trade. The interplay between manufacturing, services and consumption in this region makes it one of the most dynamic economic regions in the world.

Due to its historical development and growth, Johannesburg, in the context of the poorly conceptualised city region, could play a leading role in the growth and sustenance of Gauteng and South Africa as a whole. It was therefore within context to speak about the role of Johannesburg in the economy of Gauteng and South Africa. A debate about Johannesburg cannot and should not be reduced to typical municipal functions of robots switching off, but to the dynamic of labour absorptive economic expansion, which is beginning to be evasive in the age of what the World Economic Forum called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Instead of asking the fellow panellists about Johannesburg’s role in the region and country’s economic development, the moderator, Stephen Grootes, resorted to the lazy thinking false discourse about exploitation of workers in China, which I illustrated is a separate discourse. The principal question is on what economic development model does Johannesburg adopt to be the productive space in South Africa’s economy and how state strategic control and ownership of mineral resources and land link to that. The question is how many jobs does the city create and sustain.

Like all economic zones in the world, the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone has a set of specialised trade rules and regulations, designed to attract more productive industrialists and investors instead of consumption led investors. As a metropolis with the highest population in South Africa who need jobs, it is incumbent on Johannesburg to utilise existing infrastructure, legislative frameworks and strategic support to set trade rules and regulations that will create maximum employment to those without jobs.

Now Johannesburg is a neoliberal city where finished goods and services are dumped for consumption. This deprives the city of its “cityness”, with dynamic interplay between production, manufacturing, services and trade. Johannesburg under the ANC is modelled on the lines of the City of London whose expressed mission is to be a financial and services capital of the world.

This explains the bicycle lanes, which form part of a very dynamic and possibly the most successful public transport system in London, which links rail, bus rapid transit, airports and bicycles. The city of London bicycle lanes are within context because the city provides bicycles at virtually all major intersections and a significant number of people who work in the city reside on the immediate outskirts of the city of London. It is therefore sensible to provide bicycles because those who need the bicycles use them for reasonable short distances, and will not be delayed in the heavy traffic congestion.

In Johannesburg, the bicycles lanes in the city and in the upmarket Sandton are not utilised because they are not integrated to areas where the people live. It’s decidedly preposterous to expect residents of Ivory Park, Orange Farm, Diepsloot, Soweto and many other areas where commuters stay to rely on bicycles and the city does not provide bicycles in the same way the city of London does. Johannesburg’s adaptation of City of London bicycle lanes is the most foolish and also insensitive decision to be taken by a metropolitan council.

It is an insensitive decision because Johannesburg accommodates South Africa’s biggest number of landless slum dwellers in Alexandra, Soweto, Diepsloot, Zandspruit, Orange Farm and many other areas. It is an undeniable, irrefutable fact that people live like pigs in Stjwetla, in Freedom Park, in Hopefield and many other areas of Johannesburg while the city is busy spending money building bicycle lanes. Where is the logic in doing such? The EFF’s call is that we should build decent houses for our people and, in areas where the space is limited like Alexandra, housing should be provided in the form of decent and safe skyscrapers in the same way successful city regions have.

The RDP houses that have been provided by the provincial government are situated in areas where electricity supply is not reliable, roads and stormwater systems do not exist and basic amenities are not provided for. Johannesburg must invest in quality sewerage and sanitation to give all its residents access to flushing toilets in the city and its outskirts.

All these basic services must be provided in the context of provision of quality jobs for our people. That’s the point we made in the mayoral debate, that the city should maximally use the constitutionally provided power to regulate trade in Johannesburg. Instead of celebrating consumption spaces for rich people like Steyn City, Mall of Africa and Modderdontein, the city should be establishing and celebrating productive and protected economic zones that give jobs to our people.

The current legislation on special economic zones permits cities and economic zones to enact laws that protect and support manufacturing. This is not the creation of “Little Venezuela”, as Stephen Grootes suggests. It is a permissible economic development model adopted by virtually all successful economic zones in the world. To reduce such a discourse to Venezuela is also a reflection of economic ignorance because Venezuela’s economic expansion model is not protectionist in the manner we suggested.

To understand these basic developments does not need anyone to go very far. There are already attempts and trials in South Africa through special economic zones to protect certain industries in Coega and the automobile support programmes. The challenge with the model under trial in South Africa is that it protects export-dependent and capital-intensive industries which do not create many jobs.

On the contrary, the EFF Manifesto makes a commitment on production of a minimum of 50% of goods to be produced within the boundaries of the municipality and these should be in labour absorptive sectors. Labour absorptive sectors include textiles and clothing, food economy, plastic products manufacturing, and indeed the manufacturing and assembling of electronic products (iPhones and iPads) and many other areas.

The City of Johannesburg must deliberately protect these sectors and that is what the EFF will do when we take over Johannesburg. The economically naive and factless moderators will not understand these commitments because they are trapped in the neoliberal logic that Africa and the underdeveloped world is a dumping site for finished goods.

The EFF’s vision for a municipality is not one that focuses on collection of rates, taxes and rubbish bins only. While the EFF will maximally collect rates and taxes from those who can pay, and keep our cities and all human settlement spaces clean, we will also play a leading and protective role in enhancing and harnessing the productive sectors of the economy.

Enhancing and harnessing the productive sectors of the economy does not mean that we should condemn black people into spaza shops that sell imported goods in the same way the poorly envisaged township economy of Gauteng envisages, but by creating industrial spaces for our people to be involved in production. This should be complemented by the creation of trade spaces and markets where the people sell their products. Currently, the relationship between street traders and the Joburg municipality is that of dispossessions, where the metro police special units dispossess poor street traders of their goods.

While world-class infrastructure must be provided, jobs must not be casualties of such provision of infrastructure. Under the ANC, Johannesburg has lost millions of jobs and the number of household that have reported no income at all is increasing. Expending R100-billion on infrastructure has not given our people jobs and jobless development and growth is meaningless. It’s worse in the city of Joburg because infrastructure is delivered through tenders which benefit the relatives and wives of the political leadership. The EFF will build capacity, train our people, employ capable and skilled project managers and deliver services directly.

These messages could not cogently be presented in the Daily Maverick mayoral debate due to the lousy and mediocre moderation of Stephen Grootes. Now that he has chosen to reduce his ignorance to paper, we must then respond decisively to provide context. Perhaps it is unfair to expect depth from a Stephen Grootes who wrote, edited and even sold a book with wrong facts. He admitted in the interview he did with Mac Maharaj that he was on the other side of facts and already he had benefited financially from lies. If he respected facts, he would know that basic economic education is not economic arrogance.

The EFF is our last hope for jobs and service delivery and the people of Johannesburg must give us an opportunity to run this city. Parks Tau, the man ordained as the “right man for the job” by Stephen Grootes, has spectacularly failed to provide jobs for the people of Johannesburg and all the statistics and reality on the ground confirm this. The less said about Democratic Alliance mayoral candidate Herman Mashaba, the better, because he’s a square peg in a round hole and his confusion was demonstrated with excellence.

The EFF will take over Johannesburg and illustrate to the world that all successful economic expansion programmes need sound and logical ideological foundation – and our logic is superior. DM

Floyd Shivambu is EFF Deputy President and a resident of Johannesburg.


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