THE African National Congress (ANC) on Monday outlined plans for a new state-led drive to raise South Africa’s growth rate and bolster investment from the private sector.
Warning that South Africa risked being "left behind" and could not afford to "debate until we are blue in the face", ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said a new presidential task team on the economy would be set up to try to remove obstacles to growth.
"The lekgotla acknowledged the impact of the global financial crisis on the performance of the global economy and the decline in the GDP (gross domestic product) growth," Mr Mantashe said.
"We wanted a committee that will not wait for the normal day-to-day work in the state in facilitating whatever permissions or what should be done for a sector," he said, speaking after an ANC lekgotla. "We want these sectors to move with the necessary speed."
Mr Mantashe also signalled ruling-party impatience with its allies’ objections to the National Development Plan (NDP).
With elections due next year, the ANC is under pressure from its allies to take interventionist steps to buoy the economy, while investor analysts warn repeatedly that South Africa’s rigid labour market and worker unrest, especially on the mines, compromise growth.
The work of the weekend-long lekgotla and the outcome of the coming Cabinet lekgotla would contribute to the final manifesto to be launched ahead of the polls.
Last month, Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus called for decisive leadership to meet South Africa’s domestic challenges, which she said had reached "crisis proportions". She also cut the growth forecast sharply for a second time, to 2% from 2.4%.
This followed the International Monetary Fund in April cutting its forecast to 2% this year, from 2.8%. In May, the World Bank too slashed its forecast to 2.5%, down from 3.2% last July, and to 3.2% next year, down from 3.5%.
The presidential task team on the economy — whose composition and mandate is to be refined at the Cabinet lekgotla — would aim to effectively remove bottlenecks in implementing existing government policy.
"The sluggish performance and low levels of private sector investment were a source of major concern, hence the proposed presidential task team," Mr Mantashe said. It would support the work of the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission.
This initiative to stimulate the economy follows on scant progress with similar attempts over the past year.
In October, after the Marikana tragedy, an agreement was struck in a social dialogue meeting on the state of the economy hosted by President Jacob Zuma.
Another intervention came in May, with the announcement of a process facilitated by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to bring stability to mining.
"We are looking into all the major sectors, mining of course will be one of them," Mr Mantashe said, adding that "any disaster in mining affects our capacity for foreign earnings. It’s the biggest foreign earner, it’s the biggest sector in terms of foreign earnings and therefore it’s an issue for us."
The work of the team would be extended to other sectors, including energy and information and communication technology, which are being viewed as "catalyst sectors".
Citing fracking in the Karoo as an example, Mr Mantashe said the government had been in talks for years whether to push ahead.
"At one point are we going to take a decision and say, listen, go ahead? Those who are against it can take us to court and that’s it. That’s what should happen if we want the economy moving," he said.
South Africa risked being "left behind" by other countries as it spent years debating the issue.
Mr Mantashe said the NDP had to be implemented with speed, despite opposition from the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. However, he acknowledged that the ANC itself had "issues" with some of the plan’s chapters.
"We can only see what is working and what is not working in the course of implementing. If we are sitting back and want to correct concepts, we will never implement. People don’t eat ideas."
Economist Mike Schussler of Economist.co.za on Monday suggested a host of areas that should be tackled by the proposed task team, including labour legislation, getting harbours moving by unclogging them, tax breaks and transport infrastructure.
"The task team should have no holy cows … there is a whole host of things it could look at, even within the private sector itself, such as rentals for smaller shops, why they pay so much more than supermarkets," he said.
Black Business Council general secretary Sandile Zungu said guided by the success of last year’s "social dialogue", business would be happy to participate in the task team, if it were invited.
To achieve its aims, the task team’s terms of reference would have to be broad in scope — to address the failure of government to allow small business to thrive, to address bureaucracy over bylaws at local government level to facilitate the functioning of small and medium enterprises, to address labour relations and enhancing access to ports to allow for exports.
"Basically, to cut red tape, to make it easier for business to do what they are good at," Mr Zungu said. He reiterated a call for the setting up of a dedicated ministry for small, medium-sized and micro enterprises.
The ANC’s national executive committee lekgotla received reports from various subcommittees of the party. It assessed the progress registered by the government in delivering on its 2009 election promises and finalised its priorities for the final nine months of the current administration’s term.
The party’s 2014 election manifesto would be finalised and presented at its anniversary in January next year.