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Racialised rhetoric will do ANC, SA no favours

How to win friends and influence people is not a philosophy holding sway over our ruling party. Both the action and the rhetoric, spewed mainly at press briefings because commission sessions at the policy conference held this week at Gallagher Estate were closed to all but delegates, has been unfriendly to those who do not have a natural affinity to the ANC.

Gone are the days of the Madiba magic when the doors of the organisation were open to all who wished to enter them. This week business leaders – many of whom have paid vast amounts for stands in the business lounge – and media personnel were turned away repeatedly.

Some time ago SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin warned that there were Zanu-PF tendencies lurking in the ANC. He was quickly rebuked, but he was quite right. There is now an unfriendly response to questioning and the race card is whipped out with alacrity.

While much of the media said this week that the “second transition” document had been rejected – interpreted to mean that President Jacob Zuma will now have an uphill battle for re-election at the elective conference at Mangaung in December – party spokesman Jackson Mthembu argued that there had been quibbling about certain words in the document but this did not mean wholesale rejection.

This may be the case as insiders attending the commission considering state intervention in the minerals sector reported that even the idea of nationalisation received a favourable response from a large minority of the delegates. However, there was strong, probably majority, support for a super-tax on the profits of mines. Thus, it is unclear whether Zuma has lost the ideological war.

What is true is that the non-racial ethos and reconciliatory theme of the Nelson Mandela era, and to some extent the Thabo Mbeki era, is firmly something of the past.

Zuma and ANC deputy general secretary Thandi Modise made no bones about the fact that the grip of “white males” on the commanding heights of the economy and the grasp of white South Africans in general on the country’s wealth needed to be tackled. It is populist rhetoric of the worst kind.

Apart from the fact that black business has notched up major successes and the the black middle class has had a meteoric rise under ANC rule, dislodging whites from the economic cake will not help it to rise. Take a look at the consequence of farm invasions in Zimbabwe. Output has not recovered and wealth has not been redistributed, rather it has been lost.

The rhetoric of the ANC should not be racialised and negative. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at a Progressive Business Forum breakfast pointed out that working together to resolve the apartheid economic legacy, with the private sector firmly on board with the government, labour and civil society, was the way to go. He said he had joined the organisation 40 years ago because of its non-racial stance: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. One suspects he is a little uncomfortable in the current ANC political climate.

Growing black business and making all minorities feel part of the national fight to eradicate poverty and unemployment should, surely, be the mantra of the government. If this recipe includes a greater role for public enterprises to provide necessary competition in key sectors, where private oligopolies operate, it would be a positive development. No doubt even business would support well-directed and effective state intervention in the economy.

Working together for change is supposedly the mantra of the ANC, but the new Gallagher rhetoric does it no favours.

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