Governance Watch

SA reverting to failed ideology and policies

Blade Nzimande next deputy president?
Blade.jpg

According to energy sector analysts the recent announcement by government that it has created a “war room” to deal with the growing electricity supply crisis in the country, in practice could become direct political control over the management of Eskom.

Although government is the only shareholder in the utility company the established policy has been to allow it to function as an independent company. Suggestions to at least partly privatise the company as a means to involve the private sector in solving the energy crisis continuously get the cold shoulder.

At the same time government is tightening its direct control over the running of the company. The latest example cited is the replacement of Andrew Etzinger as “acting” Eskom spokesperson (after filling-in in the position for 10 months) with another “acting” spokesperson from outside.

This follows on the appointment of the previous director general of the department of public enterprises, Tshediso Montana, as Eskom’s CEO late last year.

These moves at Eskom fit in with a growing trend in the ANC alliance to return to policies driven by a central planning model, as opposed to free market-driven development. Increasingly the thin line between central planning and state development planning are breached in new laws and declared policies, with the market mechanism being compromised.

Examples

Some recent examples of this trend include:

• A proclamation in terms of the National Health Act that regulates where doctors may work and require all health establishments, from general practitioners to private hospitals, to obtain a certificate of need – presently being revised after a Constitutional Court ruling and to clean up legal flaws and technicalities.

• The land Expropriation Bill approved by cabinet and now before parliament that will discard market principles in favour of the expropriation of white-owned farm land for redistribution to black South Africans;

• The ‘50/50 policy’, aimed at creating a form of cooperative farming, giving farm workers a 50% ownership of the farms on which they work, plus plans to limit agricultural land ownership (to a maximum 12 000 hectares or two farms), and excluding foreigners from land ownership;

• The policy plans to introduce a media tribunal or similar body, giving the state greater regulatory control over the currently independent media, while at the same time using state resources to (both directly and indirectly) establish ANC-friendly media outlets;

• Talk of “transforming” the judiciary after both the ANC and President Jacob Zuma have been stung by a string of court decisions that went against them.

The ANC NEC’s January 8 statement this year also unambiguously called for “those who interpret the law” to change their “attitude” and for those in the judicial system to undergo a “mind-set change”;

• The replacement of the independent Scorpions investigative unit with the Hawks, controlled by the SA Police Service (SAPS), which is politically compromised and controlled;

• The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) subjected to political interventions aimed at control;

• Appointments to the Judicial Service Commission – which appoints judges – now overwhelmingly aligned to Zuma and the ANC;

• The intelligence services being directly under political control and frequently engaging in the domestic political terrain counter to their mandate while the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is already substantially controlled by President Zuma.

• The Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, to be introduced in parliament soon, aimed at giving the president and justice minister even more oversight over the SIU;

• The declared ANC policy to merge the public service function of the three separate tiers of government into a single centrally-controlled public service;

• The declared ANC policy to do away with the decentralised provincial system or to substantially alter it and reduce provincial powers in favour of a system that will effectively centralise all political administration and control, confirmed at the ANC’s most recent national and policy conferences;

• The ownership and rights pertaining to mineral resources already effectively nationalised. While it decided against outright nationalisation of the mining industry, it decided in favour of substantially increased central intervention through proposed increased taxation, a much bigger role for a state mining company, and declaring certain natural resources as being strategic and regulating them tightly.

Historical background

The inclination towards a central planning model has been in the ANC’s DNA since the post-1950s, and is embedded in the ambiguous language of the Freedom Charter.

The Freedom Charter is, again, after a brief interlude guiding ANC’s programme and policies. The interlude came when both the ANC’s socialist vision and the Freedom Charter lost traction during the Mandela/Mbeki era in favour of a market-led approach.

It was an approach advocated by the likes of former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel. But the economic policies of that era have been scathingly rejected and discredited by the South African Communist Party (SACP) as the failed “1996 class project”.

It was also a time during which the SACP lost much of its influence as Thabo Mbeki sidelined the party. In the end it would cost Mbeki his presidency.

Change in direction

There has been a dramatic change in direction since the ascendancy of Mr Zuma as the SACP central influence returned with, in its wake, the idea of a developmental state with a concurrent expansion of direct state intervention in many spheres of national life.

Back on the table came the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as core of the central strategy and tactics programme of both the ANC and the SACP since the ANC’s 1969 Morongoro conference.

The central goal of the NDR is the transformation of property relations and the redistribution of wealth and is behind the slogan of “radical economic transformation”.

Since 2012 it has found expression in among other things, the following:

• The Employment Equity Amendment Act;

• The Women Empowerment & Gender Equality Bill;

• The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act;

• The Promotion & Protection of Investment Bill;

• Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill;

• The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill;

• The Property Valuation Bill;

• The Expropriation Bill;

• The Private Security Regulation Amendment Bill;

• South Africa’s cancellation of the bilateral investment treaties with the EU;

• Attempts to limit intellectual property rights; and

• Major aspects of the proposed National Health Insurance scheme.

Besides interference with market mechanisms, in many other facets of national life direct state intervention and control has been strengthened.

Delivering this year’s January 8 statement President Zuma unambiguously reasserted that “the ANC is a disciplined force of the left and remains an internationalist movement of the left”. He also embraced a return to the Freedom Charter as the ANC’s guiding platform.

Both these aspects are key to the growing tendency in the ANC of central intervention, along with the extent to which the SACP has strengthened its influence and presence in the Zuma administration. Some ANC insiders are even tipping the SACP general secretary, Blade Nzimande, as the ANC’s next deputy president, come the 2017 party’s national elective conference.

Prominent SACP members also control the economic cluster of ministries and have a strong presence in the presidency.

Communists played a key role in drafting the final adopted version of the Freedom Charter in 1955. Although the SACP does not view it as a programme for socialism in itself, it does in its own programme view it as laying “the indispensable basis for the advance of our country along non‐capitalist lines to a communist and socialist future”.

For the SACP many of the developments listed are part of “work in progress”. The trend can be expected to continue. Campaign rhetoric focused on next year’s municipal election might confuse matters. But the scope of the trend could well expand in the near future to include additional sectors, areas or spheres, including the banking sector, singled out for criticism in the January 8 statement.

by Steve Whitemen

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