IT IS time to debunk two dangerous myths currently doing the rounds. One, that the African National Congress (ANC) forfeited economic control to a corporate elite at a secret meeting and secondly, that the so-called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are to the "left" of the African National Congress. Bear with me as I explain the reality of the situation, as I know it and to be frank, I know what leftward politics are.
My fellow comrade in the ANC National Executive Committee writes in BDlive, October 17 2013, as follows: "The EFF poses an interesting dilemma, especially for those of the ANC’s critics who hate it for destroying the white minority’s monopoly on political power. The EFF speaks of the seizure of the economic assets, especially the land, now owned by whites, without compensation. If, as seems likely, the EFF wins a seat in the next Parliament, South Africa can look forward to an interesting five years. An ANC facing an effective opposition to its left might opt for more radical policies, realigning South African politics in directions that few will have anticipated".
Earlier on in the said offering, Comrade Pallo Jordan repeats this often said allegation that, "The ANC leadership, or at least a decisive faction within it, were BOUGHT OFF (my emphasis) at a secret meeting with the corporate elite before the 1994 elections.... At that meeting, the ANC was talked into abandoning the social democratic elements of its political programme in preference for the Washington-imposed neoliberal agenda.... The deepening poverty of the African working poor is the outcome of that shoddy compromise."
He is referring here to the writings of Sampie Terreblache, professor emeritus at the University of Stellenbosch. The best and quickest way to understand Prof Terreblanche’s logic or lack thereof, is to read his booklet: Lost in Transformation, South Africa’s Search for a New Future Since 1986, KMM Review Publishing Company, 2012.
Firstly, Prof Terreblanche’s assertions are in my view baseless and the musings of latter-day idealism. His arguments that the transitional executive committee-sanctioned compensatory and contingency financing facility (CCFF) was a secret agreement is not true. South Africa faced a balance of payments difficulty in 1993 which was the result of a long history of poor economic management and a siege economy. A solution to that impending crisis had to be found. It was clear then that the first democratic election was fast approaching and that the new ANC government would have to deal with this historic problem. This, to some of us who had campaigned tirelessly for financial sanctions, was the clearest manifestation of our success, but we were going to inherit the problem. So when the transitional executive council was approached with the view to applying to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the CCF, we agreed to it. I was on the transitional executive council subcommittee on finance and it was this committee that made the recommendation to the transitional executive council to accept this facility.
Within the ANC, this matter was handled by the ANC delegation to the transitional executive council and I presume that they consulted with their principals. It was not a secret deal as so loudly pronounced by Terreblanche and parroted by many these days. And in the order of things, this was a tiny loan. To make a huge issue of the statement on economic policy that was submitted to the IMF as part of the application for the facility is in my humble opinion, extreme political childishness. There was no secret deal. If there was any, I should know about it as I was the ANC person who had the unenviable but informative task of editing the damn thing! So, please, let’s leave this matter alone if the bland facts of it fail to satisfy our hopes for political drama. Rather, look into the future of policy because that is, in any event, where our immediate power bears relevance.
In that spirit then, I would like to deal with the core assertion from which the nostalgia for the drama that never was arises: that the EFF is to the left of the ANC. I have perused whatever documents that I could lay my hands on which belong or purport to belong to the EFF. I cannot find anything there that convinces me that this organisation is so to the "left" of the ANC, unless I have missed something in the development of political theory.
In this day and age, advocating the kinds of things that the EFF advocates, is to me far removed from left-wing politics and is more towards political adventurism ... I mean, if you look into what President (Robert) Mugabe has done nearby in Zimbabwe, you cannot come to any other conclusion than to view the roots of these actions as a narrow nationalism which has served an elite grouping while successfully destroying the Zimbabwean economy and bringing untold misery to the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. What economy is there in Zimbabwe today except for a tiny elite whose convoluted poverty reduction strategy can be successfully titled, "let them eat ideology!" Words are elusive indeed, but rhetoric won’t put bread on the table.
Sadly, the seduction of land grabs conceals the fact that the "Jujus" of such ploys are never the ones to go hungry in the name of short-term pain. "Who pays?" is a standing question, even if the means of payment is not money per se. So if Zimbabwe 2.0 is what the EFF wants to do here in South Africa, the answer should be, "hell no!" And from a political theory perspective, the entrenchment of poverty through programmes that overtly serve elite interests — with the buy-in of the poor, as is often curiously the case — is actually the far right and destructive, devastating at worst, despite the language they appropriate. Let us call that narrow nationalism at its worst.
But here’s the thing: the EFF is partly the ANC’s own creation. The ANC left Julius Malema and his clique to run free and amok for many years. And during those years, their ways of doing things became entrenched among a section of the youth in South Africa. They were the ones who were given free rein to launch an open season on former president Thabo Mbeki; they were the ones who were allowed to mobilise freely for as long as it served the purposes of some. Whatever those were. Now, these chickens have grown and are here to crow all over the place. But to the "left" of the ANC, I do not think so!
But I welcome their appearance. They will most certainly shake things up. They are young, energetic and have nothing to lose. They draw their support from among the long-term unemployed and can be very irksome. But welcome on board boys and girls! You will soon discover that real politics is tough. Good luck.
The South African economy and society have changed. The world has changed. In 2012, the concentration of gross domestic product (GDP) contribution in South Africa had shifted as follows: agriculture (3%), mining (9%), manufacturing (12%) and construction (3%). The rest of the contribution to GDP was in the tertiary sector of the economy. Now, that is a very scary scenario for any potential political leader. The education system is not producing the skills needed for the tertiary sector. The logical consequence of all this?
The concentration of employment is now naturally in the manufacturing, construction and the tertiary sectors of the economy. In the second quarter of 2013, there were 13.7-million employed people, agriculture employed 700,000 people and mining, once the bedrock of employment in South Africa, employed just slightly above 370,000 workers. The rest were in the household and tertiary sectors of the economy. The total economically active persons in June 2013 was 18.444-million but only 13.721-million were employed. That leaves 4. 723-million people unemployed and looking for a job. So, 25.6% unemployment rate! Now, if you disaggregate this further, the labour absorption rate is about 41% and the youth unemployment rate is about 52%. By youth, I refer to those between the ages of 15 and 24. That is the fundamental political question of the day!
I don’t want to use the old Marxist term of the "lumpen proletariat", but that is the question. Which political home answers to the needs of these young people? Is it any surprise that within the context of a weak ANC Youth League, or the one these young people weakened before they left, young people would naturally gravitate towards something that promises heaven on earth? Certainly not! Then there is another challenge for political parties in the coming elections: the first-time voters.
The EFF is not to the "left" of the ANC, the South African Communist Party is. The challenge that faces the party is to develop a detailed programme of action which answers the youth question.
• Mboweni is former governor of the Reserve Bank and a fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies, STIAS.