The African National Congress’s January 8th Statement is one of those events that South Africa awaits. It sets the tone for the year ahead and provides insights into the thinking of the ruling party. Those invested in the future of the country will want to scrutinise it line by line as an indispensable guide to the unfolding dynamics of our rambunctious politics. That, at least, is the theory.
And maybe that was the case a while back. Not in Kimberley over the past weekend. Carl Niehaus, the controversial apostle of “radical economic transformation”, lamented the indifferent turnout. Well, those that did not attend can console themselves that they didn’t miss much.
There was nothing new or intriguing on offer. The standard appeals to a glorious history, an ode to the ANC’s connection to the people, and then a turgid to-do list that would have been familiar to anyone acquainted with the rhetoric of the ANC and the government it heads. Just the usual tired carryings-on about strengthening, advancing, speeding up, mobilising, struggling.
And we gather the food wasn’t that great either.
The problems facing the country are, of course, clear enough — as they are to everyone. It’s certainly not as if some of the ANC’s leading lights are oblivious. In the run-up to the statement, Twitter-happy Finance Minister Tito Mboweni went on the offensive, warning that the situation was dire:
“If you cannot effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over! Stay as you are and you are down graded to Junk Status!! (sic) The consequences are dire. Your choice. Yep!! Askies!!”
One has to wonder whom that was directed at.
Cyril Ramaphosa himself admitted to an audience in London in 2019 that time was running out. The “Long Game” is now well into overtime, and the scoreboard doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor lamented the prospect of war between the United States and Iran and the fallout for South Africa.
“It’s a threat to our fragile economy,” she said.
True enough. But perceptive observers might retort that concern for our economic wellbeing has not always been a major lodestar of the government’s foreign policy in the past. It was willing to court considerable opprobrium to support Zanu-PF in power in Zimbabwe. (Well, at least there was consistency in pledging to “work to strengthen” — phew! — “the liberation movements of the region and the continent.”)
Astute observers will note that many of the pledges made have a curious ring of familiarity about them. The cost of doing business will be lowered, and small business will be encouraged. A capable state is in the works, excised of corruption, and empowered to handle its very considerable developmental responsibilities. Old news.
Not much is said of how this will be done — although we do know, for example, that “steps have been taken” to counter corruption. On the real, politically charged issues, hardly a word. The future of the ANC’s counter-constitutional programme of cadre deployment? The perverse incentives created by race-based empowerment policy? Nary a word.
It will also be apparent that the January 8 Statement recommitted the ANC, and by extension the government, to a raft of policies that have already meant much damage to the country. Foremost here is expropriation without compensation — explicitly endorsed in the statement — which has already soured investor perceptions about South Africa. And, again, there is the promise to do this “in a manner that promotes economic growth and sustains food security”.
Although how undermining property rights and scaring off investors will achieve this, is, as ever, curiously unexamined.
The struggle to liberate the country “from all forms of oppression and economic exclusion” might fruitfully begin with some inspection of the ANC’s own conduct. Unfortunately, the January 8th Statement showed a political movement out of its depth, failing to realise that the country is drowning, and how it is pushing it under. DM
The Queen technically owns all of the swans in the Thames.