EFF election manifesto is devoid of economic substance

2019-02-11 23:22

With the EFF leadership having been born from the ANC, it is perhaps no wonder that the package offered to its constituency strikes an all-too-familiar chord

The EFF’s 2019 election manifesto is crafted in beautiful language that is similar to that of the Freedom Charter, adopted in Kliptown in 1955, which called for a fundamental restructuring of South Africa’s oppressive apartheid laws.

It seems as if the EFF has adopted the Freedom Charter and the economics that appear to have been abandoned by the governing ANC.

The EFF understands that the promises of freedom have not changed the material conditions of the majority of South Africans, particularly black people.

The nationalisation of banks and mines, and the proposal of land expropriation without compensation are what the ANC and its alliance partners presented up until the late 1980s, with some sticking to these positions even today.

For example, in the ANC/Cosatu proposals for an economy beyond apartheid during the 1990 to 1994 transition period, this was said: “The transformation of the economy will require a viable state sector. Nationalisation would be an essential part of the reconstruction programme of such a state.”

This statement by the ANC/Cosatu alliance was in contrast to the economic reforms proposed by the National Party which had been articulated by then state president PW Botha in 1988.

These reforms, which included a proposal for privatisation, were devoid of a realistic appreciation of the depth of the economic problems South Africa was experiencing.

In 1989, the ANC released a document authored by Laurence Harris titled “The Mixed Economy of a Democratic SA”, which he presented at a colloquium held in Switzerland.

In the paper, Harris posited that there were two points underlying the discussion of a mixed economy.

“The first is that, just as there are many different types of mixed economy, the existing system is a ‘mixed economy oriented towards capitalism’. The ANC’s strategy is to build a ‘mixed economy oriented toward socialism’.

“The second is that South Africa’s future economy cannot be considered from the point of view of its internal effects and dynamic alone, for South Africa cannot escape the influence of the world economy or its position in the southern African region.”

Harris indicated the Keynesian roots of the ANC and its leaning towards the ideology of a better life for all.

However, his paper also shows a lack of appreciation of how serious the economic crisis was that forced the apartheid regime to negotiate a democratic order.

The above resonates with the EFF as its election manifesto puts the state at the centre of economic development.

In trumpeting late African leaders such as Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, the EFF seems to be adopting a form of socialism that was unsuccessfully implemented in Tanzania.

In addition, the current developments in countries such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe only work against the EFF’s stance in advocating a bureaucratic authoritarian regime.

Should the EFF assume power using this ideology, the Constitution would wither away as the party reigned supreme.

Its economic policy is also informed by the ANC’s poor performance, brought about by sheer incompetence.

It is no wonder, then, that the EFF has stressed the importance of education to develop capability in preparation for it to govern.

This is backed by shocking statistics, of dropouts at school and tertiary level, as well as of poor marks, which highlight the fact that countless South Africans have been left behind under the ANC.

A 2018 World Bank study, based on consumption expenditure data, shows that South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world and that inequality has increased since apartheid ended in 1994.

An analysis of the distribution of consumption expenditure per capita in the recent Living Conditions Survey 2014/15 found that the country had a Gini coefficient of 0.63 in 2015 – the highest in the world, and an increase since 1994.

Further analysis of consumption expenditure trends provides evidence that the situation is worsening.

If you compare 2006 to 2015, the money being spent by the poorest 10% of South Africans grew more slowly than for everyone else.

South Africa also lags behind its peers on the inclusiveness of consumption growth.

In this case, inclusiveness is examined by comparing the rate of consumption growth for the bottom 40% of the population to that of South Africa’s peers in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world.

The result: the bottom 40% had consumption growth of 3.5% between 2006 and 2011, with a deceleration of 1.4% for the period between 2011 and 2015.

This does not compare well with the median for the world (3.9%) or, in the later period, with sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of South Africa’s partners in Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) — in this case Brazil, Russia and China — fare better than we do in terms of inclusive growth.

It is the unjust nature of a transition from apartheid to democracy that makes the EFF revert to old-style ANC policies that are devoid of these economic realities.

The EFF’s election manifesto on the economy will be well received by its young black constituency for its detailed analysis on where the budget should be spent – but it lacks detail on where money will be sourced from.

This is not dissimilar to a long-held belief by some ANC members, who seem convinced that there is lots of money available that can be redistributed to the masses of black people – whose lives have worsened under ANC rule.

The reality is that the ANC has mismanaged the economy to a level where alternatives have to be investigated.

These include relooking at the affordability of the party’s promise of housing for all, finding ways to ensure payment for services such as water and electricity, and disincentivising corruption by arresting crooked politicians.

This is a structural adjustment programme, associated with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

There is not much to go around, so the EFF needs to offer a better alternative to people than reverting to the ANC policies it ditched once it established itself in Parliament.

Perhaps to get into higher office, a dose of populism and promises of milk and honey may do the trick at the polls.

The EFF is offering the electorate an economic package that it understands because party leaders are rooted in ANC tradition.

Mondi is a senior lecturer at Wits University’s School of Economic and Business Sciences

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February 23 2020