President Cyril Ramaphosa in his ‘From the Desk Of The President’ statement on Monday (April 12) said:
“… our economic recovery plan is not about a return to what was, but about transformation to what is next.”
That is all good and well Mr President, but a plan doesn’t manifest simply because it is stated.
What is its implementation process? And what are the time frames – what part of the plan will be prioritised?
A cynic might ask what is left to transform if the economy has been decimated by (i) the pandemic, (ii) power supply shortages, (iii) subsequent load shedding, (iv) electricity price increases, and (v) not-so-friendly investor policies due to ideologies that are out of touch with the reality of the global economy.
If the dynamics of the economic wellbeing of the country are judged by its record, then the past five years have succeeded in transforming the economy into junk status.
Read: SA descends deeper into junk after two downgrades (Nov 2020)
It has made little difference in the short term that the administration of former president Jacob Zuma was replaced by Ramaphosa’s New Dawn, because the same political party is still governing.
Change without change
The changes in government have not translated into actual changes in government policies.
Yes, Ramaphosa recently denounced the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) rhetoric after his triumph in the party’s national executive committee meeting. However, in politics victories are rarely long-lasting – and in the ANC politics now characterised by the adage that an enemy of my enemy is my friend, victories are very short.
For all the talk about forging a new economy and placing it on growth trajectory that is distinct from the current one, our leaders still favour left-leaning socialist-sounding politics.
In their view this appeals to the people on the ground; in reality, however, their ways of thinking reveal a political class that is behind in the forward march of the world economy.
The battle between left and extreme left
For example, in his statement this week, Ramaphosa talks about harnessing the job-creating potential of the digital economy.
Yet in his party and within the alliance there remains this ideological contestation that makes policy formulation a battle between left and extreme left ground.
By that I mean that as the President of the Republic, Ramaphosa seems to be confined by the politics of the party that has deployed him, for the party’s policy concepts are determined to override the economic reality.
Missing from the patter about transforming the economy is the recognition that other states in the international system have an interest, and they are not inclined to wait for South Africa to refine its idealist approach to the state as put forth by the ANC and whoever it deploys as president.
In recent years South Africa’s policies have not lacked potential, but they have lacked good sense, good judgement, prudence, good leadership and foresight – all of which are important economic policy virtues.
The government’s consequent failure to act intelligently and responsibly can be seen in its three economic policy blueprints: the National Development Plan (NDP), the New Growth Path (NGP) and the Industrial Policy Action Plan (Ipap).
These blueprints all have recommendations or actions that, at times, are contradictory.
Of course now there is the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP), which has shown the fissures between government’s vision for the country and the ANC’s priorities, which are often inspired by the ideas of national democratic revolution.
Over the years this in turn has morphed into the quest for a developmental state.
These often-bewildering contradictions explain why the party’s leader, the president of country, can on the one hand recognise that globalisation characterised by technological advancement is reconfiguring the nature of work and economy. This is evident in his comment that to tackle the challenges afflicting the economy, South Africa must look to the digital economy as the way out of its constraints.
On the other hand, again in his statement on Monday, he lauded the ranking as “first in the world as a destination for global business services” bestowed on South Africa.
Yet virtually his entire party and its alliance partners constantly lament neoliberal policies because they see them as a hindrance to the socioeconomic challenges faced by the country.
Indeed, if the tripartite alliance had its way, a socialist-peppered-with-nationalist approach would frame the country’s future.
I guess, like many South Africans, I am trying to understand what the misadventures of the ANC, unfortunately for us, our governing party – a party that speaks left, acts right, rhetorically rejects capitalism, but loves the wealth it has created for its members – has brought for us?
It is clear that its main political objectives are not about reducing inequality and poverty, but maintaining them – a strategy that offers no answers to the country’s problems.
No matter how much we wish we could get on the digital economy bus and ride the high of that global business service prestige, our political elite will not let us.