By: Lebogang Maile
During his inspiring maiden State of the Nation Address (SoNA) president Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa, correctly observed that “we remain a highly unequal society, in which poverty and prosperity are still defined by race and gender”. This was a very commendable and bold statement coming from president Ramaphosa, given his standing and position in society, which signals a “new dawn” in tackling the serious challenges faced by our country and its people, with poverty, inequality and unemployment still at unacceptable levels.
President Ramaphosa’s bold statement also affirmed the governing party’s seriousness and commitment to advancing a more radical socio-economic transformation agenda, informed by resolutions taken at the watershed 54th national conference in Nasrec.
Interestingly this “new dawn” and refreshing leadership, emerges at a time we are celebrating Nelson Mandela’s centennial birthday and looking to honour and uphold his great legacy, as part of a generation of leaders that ushered us into a democratic era. One of the main areas of contention that we must of necessity consider, is the socio-economic impact on contemporary South Africa, of the compromises that were reached in order to bring us to the post-94, democratic dispensation.
In his seminal work, A History of Inequality in South Africa: 1652-2002, recently deceased academic and renowned progressive political economist professor Sampie Terreblanche argues that, “a momentous political transformation should be urgently complemented by an equally momentous socio-economic transformation in order to deracialise the economy, get rid of the ugly remnants of racial capitalism, and end poverty and destitution.”
An objective analysis of the socio-economic situation in contemporary South Africa leads one to conclude that this is one of the things that we have not managed to achieve in this new period, despite the many advances that we can be proud of. Since 1994, we find ourselves faced with the problem of a new political system, which to a large extent still maintains the old economic order.
Professor Terreblanche further posits that in order to bring about this socio-economic transformation, white South Africans (corporately) should acknowledge that they were beneficiaries of colonial segregation as well as apartheid and as a result they should be prepared to make the necessary conciliatory and restitutional sacrifices that will redress past imbalances and help us build the united, prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous South Africa that Mandela gave his life to creating.
He further argues that the democratic compromises that ushered us into the post 94 era, fundamentally consisted of a pact between the new political elite and the old corporate order, which in effect led to the increased marginalisation and pauperisation of the impoverished black majority. His solution is that we should launch new and radical economic policies whose primary aim will be to redress the hundreds of years of racial oppression that have led to the subjugation of the black majority.
It is in line with this reasoning that at its 54th national conference, the African National Congress resolved to commit itself to, “fundamental and radical socioeconomic transformation of society to create a better life for all South Africans.” This is a renewed commitment to fundamentally, systemically and structurally transform the economy of South Africa so that it loses its colonial era racial and gender composition of ownership and management of our economy.
Radical socio-economic transformation is an existential necessity for us as a people, if we are to ever uphold and honour Nelson Mandela’s nation building legacy. It should not be seen as divisive, or as a threat to one race as opposed to another, but a necessary evolution in the life of this young nation as we continue on this nation building project we have been embarking upon.
Radical socio-economic transformation is about economic inclusiveness, historical redress, redistribution (income, wealth and asset redistribution). It is not a zero-sum game where we have to choose between the interests of business as opposed to the interests of the rest of society or between those of blacks and whites. It consists of a social compact, as stated by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address between the various stakeholders and interest groups within society in order to build a new economic order that will offer opportunity for advancement and upward mobility to all, and not just an elite few.
In his well-known speech, The Historical Injustice, delivered in Ottawa, Canada in 1978 former President Thabo Mbeki highlights this fact when he states that, “the anti-thesis to white supremacy, exclusiveness and arrogance is not a black version of the same practice. In the physical world, black might indeed be the opposite of white, but in the world of social systems, social theory and practice have as much to do with skin pigmentation as has the birth of the children with the stork. To connect the two is to invent a fable with the conscious or unconscious purpose of hiding reality. The act of negating the theory and practice of white apartheid racism, the revolutionary position is exactly to take the issue of colour, race, national and sex differentiation out of the sphere of rational human thinking and behaviour and thereby expose all colour, race, nation and sex prejudice as irrational.”
It is not that we are trying to posit black capitalism as the anti-thesis to white capitalism, as neither of these have any redeeming features as Mbeki highlights in this epic speech. Rather, we want to break the power of monopoly over all sectors of our economy, with highly concentrated ownership patterns where a few large firms (mainly white-owned and controlled for historically obvious reasons) control entire value chains and leave no room for small businesses to be able to enter and compete. This of course stifles innovation and keeps our economy from growing, diversifying and transforming as well as creating jobs so that we can give our people the better life that they deserve.
Through radical socio-economic transformation we want to use the state as a vehicle to advance the National Democratic Revolution and build the South Africa that Mandela and his generation gallantly fought for so many years to bring to pass. It is about bringing about the quickest and most fundamental social and economic change so that we can indeed become a “Rainbow Nation” on “whom the sun never sets” to use a phrase from Mandela’s 1994 inauguration speech.
- Lebogang Maile is Gauteng MEC of Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development as well as a Provincial Working Committee (PWC) member of the ANC in Gauteng.