AS A repeller of traditional investment, foreign or local, African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has few peers. He savages business leaders who speak out against reckless ANC behaviour, but he reached new heights of foolishness last week after Amplats, to the surprise of no one but the ANC and its government, announced a huge brake on platinum production in the face of strikes and a global slump in the price of the metal.
Despite a hysterical response from Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, our Gwede managed to top even her, with a threat to "auction off" the mines Amplats was planning to mothball. So there’s the confident new post-Mangaung ruling party — you do business the way it suits us or we’ll take your rights away. Investment turning away never makes a sound, but if it did, Gwede would long be deaf.
What does Cyril Ramaphosa do now? Does he join the threatening chorus ignited by his very senior colleague in the ANC leadership? He’s deputy leader now, so surely he has to say something? Or will his views pop up in an e-mail in a few months’ time?
Businessmen hide easily. But not politicians. Right from the start, Ramaphosa’s tenure and his effectiveness will be hobbled by thoughtless hacks such as Mantashe and most of the rest of the "top six". He either stops that rot immediately or he will sink like a stone.
Still, I was able to discover something about our economy on holiday that I haven’t really appreciated before. The discovery is that we’re not only not on the brink of a revolution of the poor (I already knew that) but that there’s a booming economy among some of the poor that Business Day doesn’t cover, economists don’t know about and that many political analysts miss.
Wherever I went in Transkei, people are taking down their mud and straw huts and building homes with foundations and bricks and corrugated iron. In Pondoland and throughout Tembuland (where many of 2012’s dead and striking miners come from), whole hillsides of huts seem to have vanished, replaced by houses. In the dirty, teeming towns — Libode, Lusikisiki, Mthatha, Mqanduli, Ngcobo, Elliotdale — the dominant shops now are hardware stores, bursting with bricks, cement, corrugated iron, green plastic water tanks, windows and doors. Next to them, Bangladeshi-owned stores sell faux Louis XIV bedsteads and mattresses.
And it all sells like hot cakes. Here’s a cash economy we don’t see and can’t measure. I reckon rural SA adds an invisible percentage point to our gross domestic product. So as not to confuse Mantashe, let’s call it the grey economy. It’s big and black and doesn’t pay taxes, and while the ANC should be proud of itself for helping to make it happen, it prefers not to talk about it. That’s because it needs constantly to threaten the middle classes about the country teetering on the brink. To keep us scared. But I can report that there’s no revolution in sight. Those hillsides are positively bursting with hope and determination.
What I need to understand better is the violence many of the people from these areas perpetrate when they displace to the mines or farms to work. For these hillsides also provide the faces of Marikana and De Doorns. What is it about the nature of modern migrancy that makes the result, so often, so foul? Are people lied to? Are expectations too high? We will spend a lot of time this year trying to answer those questions.
A QUICK point about the president. He won re-election squarely (and reasonably fairly) at Mangaung, so well done, sir. And I don’t think his comments on business joining the ANC were meant in a sinister way. Around the democratic world, party leaders say the same things to business leaders at fancy dinners paid for by the guests. Try to imagine a Republican candidate or a Tory prime minister hosting such an event. Of course, they’d go on about the business benefits of funding their party. They’d just do it in better English. You try to be bright and breezy in your second or third language. It’s really, really difficult. The only scary thing about the president saying businesses would "prosper" if they joined the ANC, is that he may believe himself.