Talking about a revolution


As the ANC election nears, Mphuthumi Ntabeni takes a closer look at the two campaigns and considers which would better serve South Africa and would most likely lessen the impact of the economic depression the country is fast headed towards.

It is towards the elective conference of the ANC that you realise the great hold the party of our Liberation Movement still holds over many South Africans. Even the opposition political parties suspend their activities to comment on the presidential contest within the ANC. When you listen to the top contestants of the ANC you realise that the party is so comfortable it feels at ease to act as its own opposition. They speak as if they are reading from different (not one party policy) script.

Globally, the political economy is the last hinge by which politics are hanging on for relevance. Economics, the step-relative, has assumed such influence over political economy that it has become, not just the nerve centre of its definition, but the description. Eliminating poverty is not just a national, but a global challenge. This cannot be done without economic growth and sustainable development. And to be egalitarian in distributing economic gains, thus creating jobs and value based entrepreneurship. We know this duty can no longer be left to the invisible hand of the market whose priority is to maximise shareholder profits, thus exacerbating, instead of eliminating, inequalities. The difference is the how, or rather, the know how in achieving this.

The DA has hoisted its mast on the Cyril Ramaphosa 2017 (CR17) camp, claiming that they pursue similar policies. Looking at its policy direction I suspect the UDM will prefer CR17 group too. Policy wise the EFF should be closer to the Nkosazana  Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ17) group, but they’ve locked themselves into - sometimes irrational - hatred for president Zuma to an extent, I suspect, the very fact that he backs NDZ17 is enough for them to prefer 'the lessor evil’ of CR17, in the manner they’ve been doing in the metros.

How NDZ17 sees things

The NDZ17 group emphasises the egalitarian economic distribution without dwelling much on the how. They talk about Radical Economic Transformation (RET), which at any given moment each one of the "team" has a different meaning or definition of what this should entail. Copying the EFF, they talk about the land issue as being paramount, but are unable to move the sterile into practical proposals. The NDR17 group has actually been the savvier of the two competing groups in refining and updating populist ideas. Their preferred formulation is passé and clumsy socialist talk about “revolutionary reformism”. This, of course, is the Marxist idea of appropriating reforms into drastic changes of tomorrow, that is to tweak the revolution. It is the neoclassical notion of pragmatism applied on a socialist revolutionary stage, and an old trick the young Marx used to reconcile contradictions within his Communist Manifesto theory. It has the practical tendency of  making sophisticated socialist permanent policy peddlers of hollow radicalism. This allows them to survive, through symbiotic existence that feeds on the contradictions of capitalism without necessarily coming up credible alternatives to it. Thee NDZ17 group usually gains momentum and speed towards election - only to melt, as seasonal snow, with the passing of election fever when the socialists go back to their champagne drinking ways. When you try to tease out its depth, it often just leads to mushiness , or abstract sloganeering about the Freedom Charter in our country.

The CR17 standpoint

The CR17 lot regard themselves as more practical, visionary, pragmatic and such useless terms you receive from proponents of the business class promulgation. They’ve just learned how to obfuscate to impress you away from messing up their wishes for financial profits. Their lingo is designed to impress through vague exhortations of economic growth they treat, not just as pinnacle of socio-economic factors, but as the answer to every life ailment - what the Xhosas call uzifozonke (heals all things). Economic growth, according to them, must inform your community, your religion, your educational aspects, your life values and all. The Catholic Social Teachings might agree about profit being incentive for innovation and hard work, but it disagrees with it being put at the centre of human relations.

What we can see is that the economic question has returned, if it has ever left, with a ferocity that is making people - left, right and centre - dizzy. Capitalism, now stripped of its explicitly socialist connotations, has become a staple in the rhetoric of both left and right. Where the NDZ17 group is dangerous is in its hallowed populist language, designed to stir the emotions of the poor they won’t be able to control once they flare. The CR17 group is dangerous for its accompanying business class leeches, the revanchist ruling capitalist class, which is seizing  the moment of our economic dislocation and working class disarray to roll back the meager gains of our political freedom. The sheep clothing in their wolf tendencies is the adoption of the social protection mechanisms in their so called New Deal, which I suspect to be empty rhetoric of concern for the poor. Introducing the New Deal in Soweto, in the company of big business owners, Ramaphosa waxed lyrical about how the next phase of our economic transformation must emerge from places like Soweto who have been marginalised. But even I have to submit that he got the tone right:

"There is a need for a decisive new approach. We need a new deal for South Africa. A new deal for jobs, growth and transformation that will turn the economy around and build a more equal society. This new deal will and must bring together government, business, labour and civil society in a meaningful and effective social compact to construct a prosperous, just society founded on opportunities for all...This is why we need to do something new, something bold, to strike a “new deal” among all stakeholders that are committed to accelerating radical economic transformation. This should be a new deal that has a clear action plan with defined timeframes and a clear set of enabling conditions."

Will all of this end in much needed dramatic reordering of the South African soci-economic status for the poor? It’s difficult to tell, because none of the group manifestos explicitly reveal the details of their plans. Will it manage to fight our greatest scourge, inequality? Let’s look closer in order to make our final determination.

A closer look

Politics constitute a sphere of choice in which people come together and decide their fates. But there are certain laws that not even the unanimous will of the people will repeal, according to Thomas Piketty, in his seminal book,  Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The tendency for inequality to rise when the return on capital exceeds growth is one of nature’s laws that cannot be changed, not by democracy anyway. It’s realities are beyond the scope of political equality, hence they persist despite the trappings of democracy. This is where our country is at the moment. And we all realise that the solution will not materialise without the upliftment of the hordes left to wallow in poverty, especially in the now seething township. Piketty’s requirements for successfully dealing with inequalities, from his study of western economy (I emphasise this because it has not been necessarily so for the Asian tigers and China), are grim. In a nutshell, he says, it can only be achieved by war-driven economy, or economic crisis, which always leads to some form of a Marshall Plan – this what the CR17 is safe hinting on with the New Deal title. The unfortunate part is that we kind of fulfill Piketty's requirements for dealing with gross inequalities of our country. We are definitely going for economic depression, perhaps as early as mid next year. Worst still, when I listen to the seething sounds from our township I am convinced that the lead there will soon bubble over into what we can call: Mzantsi Spring.

Which, between the NDZ17 and CR17 groups, looks capable to turn things around for us? I would hatch my bets on the CR17 group, with a proviso that they should include all the country’s stakeholders in populating their New Deal, and not allow it to be dictated only by big business. We need to take serious the UDM’s call for an economic and constitutional indaba next year, because no one group posses solutions to lift us from the mess we are in. If we all unite behind a nationally agreed economic strategy that involves regional industrialisation plans; then, most probably, we would limit the damage of the crisis. Economic crisis can be gainfully utilised if, because of them, we innovate ways to change things for the inclusive economic growth. But this requires a proper vision and means. It also requires the collective thinking caps of all the stakeholders, regardless of party political affiliation. SA.

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