By Ngoako Ramatlhodi
Recently we argued that the ANC had to be reconstructed into a liberation movement it purports to be and that it could not be renewed in its current form. We shall elaborate on this matter further in another article. For now one wishes to reflect on the revolutionary tasks a reconstructed and rejuvenated ANC is expected to carry out.
Once again we refer to the recent World Bank classification of South Africa as the most unequal society in the world. How did this come about given that South Africa is one of the two richest countries on the continent? The answer lies in the type of colonialism that prevailed in our country until 1994.
We have characterised that colonialism as the colonialism of a special type. Its main characteristic being that the coloniser and the colonised were citizens of the same country and sharing the same borders, at least since 1910 when Britain created the white union of South Africa, a union which conferred economic and political rights to whites while denying the same to blacks.
It was that white union which passed the infamous land Act of 1913 which condemned the black majority to a twilight existence in the remaining 13% of the land while giving 87% to a white minority.
This historic injustice prompted Sol Plaatjie, the first secretary-general of the African National Congress, to proclaim that: “…one day the Native woke up and found himself a pariah in the land of his forefathers.” This Act gave whites equal status as owners of the land against the disposed Africans, even though the English occupied a much higher position in the economic and political and social ladder as compared to the Afrikaners, at least until 1948 when Afrikaners won political power under the leadership of General Malan.
The main characteristic of the South African economy under colonialism of a special type was white and male-dominated. This economy remains intact and as it was before 1994. The only difference being that the removal of sanctions allowed that white economy to flourish while condemning blacks to even more excruciating poverty. The term “most unequal society” captures this reality. This is the basic and main contradiction manifest in our country.
However, post-1994 we have seen the emergence of a nascent black economy, albeit subservient to the dominant white economy. As it struggles with labour pains, the black economy is being smothered by the dominant white economy. The current situation is, therefore, a struggle between the white economy and the black economy, with the state as a midwife. Hence the notion of a developmental state which must use all levers of power at its disposal to ensure the successful delivery of the black economy. Bearing in mind, the reluctance of “mother white economy” to give birth to an infant black economy.
Left unchanged, the current situation is not sustainable in the long term, as it carries with it seeds of its own destruction within its own womb. Recent riots and lootings in some parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are a clear and poignant pointer to the pending revolution that is about to come, with or without the ANC.
In this regard, the developmental state must be activist and take out scissors to perform the necessary caesarean birth. This defines what the role of the State should be at this juncture. It cannot remain passive and allow white-dominated, market forces to give birth to a stillborn black economy, as a stillborn black economy is not an option at this juncture.
In this regard, the ANC has its job cut out for it, willing or unwillingly. Therefore, the first basic and urgent task is to dismantle the white-dominated economic and social structure and replace it with a new and democratic one. In this regard, the essence of the 1913 land Act retained under the New Constitution in section 25 must be reconsidered. The principle of willing seller willing buyer has not worked. Fortunately, most of the political parties were in principle agreeing on the need for the required legislative amendments to be made. The difference being on how it should be done. Some argue that land should be owned by the State while others insist that it should be given to individual ownership.
Once the legislative amendment is carried out, that must be accompanied by a relook at the role of the Land Bank and related institutions in order to make it easier for black farmers to access funding. Of course, money alone will not solve the problem. Education in agriculture aimed at producing extension officers and equivalent relevant skills on a mass scale must be embarked upon urgently.
The entire agriculture value chain from production to marketing has to be opened up to allow black farmers to compete on an equal footing with their white commercial farmers. In this regard, we have to lift a page from the National Party on how they managed to rescue the poor white Afrikaners from poverty to become some of the most successful farmers on the continent. Here we must see the equalising acts of an activist state, intervening in favour of the nascent black economy, as there cannot be fair competition between unequals.
This intervention must cut across the entire economic front and not be limited to land reform. As one of the most industrialised countries on the continent, we must feel its thunder in mining, manufacturing, service industries and indeed everywhere else. In this regard, the last ANC national conference passed a resolution that the SA Reserve Bank should be 100% owned by the State, given the strategic role that it plays in the economy.
This is one of the most important resolutions which remains unimplemented, and it cries out for implementation in the context of these discussions. Simultaneous with the implementation of the resolution on the Reserve Bank, it is here argued that the State should develop an alternative banking system by investing money of the fiscus in an alternative bank, such as the African Bank combined with other banks like the Land Bank.
This would open competition in the market and, most importantly protect the State against possible collusion of the established banks, as and when they do not like what the State is doing at any given time. Recent behaviour by established banks points to the possibility of these banks shutting down government accounts should they so decide. They could invoke the principle of reputational risk, as the government decides to nationalise the Reserve Bank or implement affirmative action, for instance.
Another front requiring urgent intervention is the affirmation of black professionals under the democratic order. A brief survey suggests that black professionals continue to suffer massive discrimination in the representative professional bodies, be they lawyers, medical practitioners, accountants, engineers and others.
An aggressive reconstruction of these bodies is an urgent task, to be legislated if need be. The State must intervene in and force these bodies to be more representative. The briefing patterns of the government for State work in favour of white professionals must change immediately. Sometimes we wonder why the black middle class refuses to vote. The answer to this is found in their alienation by the ANC- led government.
The schooling system is calling out for serious review. The distinction between private schools and public schools is an interesting area for the writer. In particular, the role of school governing bodies in the former Model C schools. This issue should not escape the conversation we are engaged in.
As we speak of a beachhead landing by the National democratic revolution; the afore-going is an indication of some of the steps in the long journey awaiting those who must do the march that still must be done in order to reach the political objectives of that Revolution.
* Ramatlhodi is an ANC National Executive Committee member and former Cabinet Minister.