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‘You stole my thunder,’ came the plaintive cry last week from expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, on hearing President Zuma talk of bold moves ahead towards economic and social change.
No, he did not. Zuma was against nationalisation of the mines. And he was against land expropriation without compensation. As was the ANC at its policy conference at Midrand last week.
But Malema had a vague point: Zuma was, in a far less incendiary way, stating the need for “a giant leap” in this country to address poverty, inequality and unemployment. The elder, knowing that the upstart had struck a seam of popular sentiment, had nudged into Malema’s territory.
Most surprising, though, was the ousted firebrand’s apparent indignation. It was merely vintage politics, at which Zuma is well practised, where filling all the spaces one can is a rule of survival. In doing so, Zuma said the approach of willing-buyer, willing-seller in transferring land to the poor would have to be reviewed. Farmers were pushing prices up, and slowing the process, he said.
Is it really all down to greedy farmers? Is it a case, rather, of tardy bureaucrats unequal to one of South Africa’s most important programmes? Or a mix of both? If the latter, then Zuma must be extremely cautious in the remedy the ANC chooses – because solutions will be elusive without the necessary skill and application to pilot them.
This prompts the wider question of how many of the shortfalls in liberating the country have been due to a government that is wanting. Are the unresolved issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment the fault alone of history, as Zuma seemed to suggest? Or is an under-performing government to blame?
There is ample evidence that it is, partly at least. Zuma is entitled to play politics with Malema, but he should not when it comes to diagnosis and solutions for this country – the stakes are too high.