Like a Mamelodi Sundowns striker against a hapless Orlando Pirates defender, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan skilfully took the gap left by President Jacob Zuma in defining what is meant by “radical socioeconomic transformation”.
Only days earlier, the President had a real opportunity to use the same Parliamentary platform to shape the concept in his image and likeness. Instead, in a poorly delivered address – preceded by the now customary, yet increasingly disturbing, brawls, walk-outs and insults – Zuma failed to provide a coherent definition, or a compelling vision.
He reduced the concept to a tool for dealing with the undeniable racial imbalances that persist in the South African economy, broadening it slightly to include the use of competition legislation to “open up the economy to new players”.
Gordhan, by contrast, took a more holistic approach, framing the concept as one that arguably has the potential to galvanise all South Africans, not only a chauvinistic elite.
“This is not a transformation to be achieved through conquest, conflict or extortion, as in our past. We do not seek to reproduce the racial domination that was the hallmark of apartheid nationalism. Our transformation will be built through economic participation, partnerships and mobilisation of all our capacities. It is a transformation that must unite – not divide South Africans.”
The Finance Minister did not skirt the issue of ownership and control, which featured so prominently in Zuma’s address. Transformation, he argued, must result in an economy that belongs to all, black and white, where the legacy of race domination is no longer visible. It should also achieve a more balanced structure of ownership and control in the economy.
However, the “litmus test” of its success should lie in whether the interventions created jobs, eliminated poverty and narrowed the inequality gap. In other words, it should be mass-based, “benefiting the most disadvantaged South Africans through the creation of new assets, capabilities and opportunities to build livelihoods”.
Transformation, Gordhan argued further, should build on and strengthen democracy and entrench open, transparent governance and the rule of law. It should build self-reliance of South Africans and be pursued in a way that mobilises both private and public investment in social and economic infrastructure, while embracing new technologies and new activities that help build a modern and diversified economy.
“Transformation must unleash growth, establish a new economic direction, mobilise investment, empower the masses and create new resources for social change.”
It sounds like a goal worth striving for. Or are we simply going to keep letting them in?