Contested terrain

26th May 2017 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Contested terrain

So what precisely is radical economic transformation? The answer, in an era of factional African National Congress (ANC) politics, depends very much on the speaker and the audience. Indeed, the definition is more hotly contested than this season’s Premier Soccer League, which ended on a spectacular high for the ‘Clever Boys’ of Bidvest Wits Football Club.

For Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba – desperate to build some form of credibility after accepting the poison chalice of replacing the highly regarded Pravin Gordhan in the wake of President Jacob Zuma’s controversial March 31 Cabinet reshuffle – the safest answer has been to blend radical economic transformation with the concept of ‘inclusive growth’.

In fact, in a recent Parliamentary reply, Gigaba offered the following official (market-friendly) response to Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, who questioned the extent to which the inclusive-growth agenda incorporated Zuma’s vision for radical economic transformation.

“Economic transformation requires improved education and skills development, deconcentration of monopolised industries, private-sector participation in sectors dominated by public enterprises to promote competition and reduce costs, city reform to expand urban infrastructure development and regional integration. South Africa needs transformation that opens a path to inclusive economic growth and development. Government’s objective is not merely to transfer ownership of assets or opportunities to contract with the State; it is to change the structure of the economy. These reforms have the potential to double South Africa’s ability to grow and create jobs.”

Now juxtapose that response with Zuma’s version as outlined in his February State of the National address: “What do we mean by radical socioeconomic transformation? We mean fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female, as defined by the governing party, which makes policy for the democratic government.”

The President elaborated further: “The skewed nature of owner- ship and leadership patterns needs to be corrected. There can be no sustainability in any economy if the majority is excluded in this manner . . . Today we are starting a new chapter of radical socioeconomic transformation. We are saying that we should move beyond words, to practical programmes. The State will play a role in the economy to drive that transformation. In this regard, government will utilise to the maximum the strategic levers that are available to the State.”

Confused? Well, so are all potential investors – domestic and foreign. Without the reconstitution of the ANC’s political centre – which is unlikely ahead of its policy and elective conferences, and possibly beyond – an intelligible definition is likely to remain elusive. Until then, even South Africa’s ‘cleverest boys and girls’ will be at a loss.