ANC dithers while unemployment rises

Labourers desperate for short-term work opportunities wait in vain. Pressure is on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni over plans to deal with unemployment in his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement today. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

The unemployment rate at nearly a staggering thirty percent announced a day before, finance minister, Tito Mboweni, in his Mid-Term Budget Policy Statement did very little to dismiss the growing policy uncertainty within government and provided hardly any impetus to boost confidence within our markets.  

At Luthuli House, the ANC has just launched its commemorations of the momentous Morogoro conference in 1969, with the themes renewal and revitalisation. May be they should suggest a bit of renewal and revitatlistaion within the National Treasury. Yet the ANC is also starting the journey towards the organisation’s mid-term review, the National General Council (NGC).

NGC’s are not to be underplayed. It was at the 2010 NGC that the ANC Youth League first pushed for the nationalization of mines. That debate has somewhat quietened down and could be considered buried since the 2017 Nasrec outcome.  The question however remains whether, given the sluggishness of our economy, the ANC led government has implemented any of the resolutions taken at its 54th National Conference at Nasrec. Those deployed to government by the ANC will have to answer this question. 

Addressing the “Sunday Times Top 100 Companies Awards” on 25 October 2011, then minister in the presidency, Trevor Manuel, said:  “The global crisis is actually not about economics. It exists because of the deep fragmentation in political systems that make finding solutions so excruciatingly difficult. The US battle over the deficit ceiling and more recently over the Jobs Bill is evidence of the inability of the political establishment to lead, to find each other in the interests of their people and the world at large. The unwillingness of European leaders to take bold, decisive and clear action to prevent another meltdown in the global economy is further evidence of dysfunctional political systems.”

We would not be far off, as South Africans, if we were to suggest, as Manual did, that our country’s economic crisis is not actually about economics. Rather the unemployment, poverty and inequality crisis exists because of the deep fragmentation in the ANC that makes it difficult to find solutions. The fight in the ANC and the Alliance partners in view of Mboweni’s recent economic policy document, the spat in regard to the role and mandate of the SA Reserve Bank and quantitative easing measures as well as the so-called prescribed assets debate are all examples of, as Manual puts it, “the inability of the political establishment to lead, to find each other in the interests of their people.”

We may continue that the unwillingness of ANC “leaders to take bold, decisive and clear action” continues to perpetuate a stagnant economy and this hardly attracts investor confidence. The Chinese ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian, mentioned in 2017 that in the previous five years, 2012-2017, alone and “faced with weak global economic recovery and sluggish demand”, China had introduced and implemented in the region of 1200 new reform measures. What was the result of this boldness in decisive action? More than seven percent annual growth rate on average during those years and fifty million people lifted out of poverty.

Recent indicators show that by the time delegates for the ANC’s NGC gather next year, all of China’s 1.4 billion people would have been lifted out of poverty. South Africa, and the ANC in particular, must learn from China and the Communist Party of China to be resolute and determined in their implementation of reform policies. This was the boldness showed by Deng Xiaoping forty year’s ago and which ANC leaders must possess today in order to turn our economic fortunes around. Indeed the political systems of the two countries are very different but there is little doubt that with a parliamentary majority, and in some instances seeking alliances with opposition parties, the ANC too can be bold and decisive in implementing reform policies, starting with its Nasrec resolutions. 

Many would suggest that we have some of the best policies in place but the challenge comes with the implementation. However, the recent fragmentation and unwillingness by various groups within the ANC has shown that it is not implementation that is the first hurdle but that lack of political will remains the stumbling block. While the ANC dithers, the unemployed grow impatient. We have only to look to Chile and Lebanon to see what will eventually happen.

Wesley Seale taught politics at UWC and Rhodes University. He is currently a PhD student in China.