Radical Economic Transformation: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

    By Rich Mugobo

    In 1994, the euphoria of “freedom at last” engulfed the majority of South Africans who had waited for the end to the brutal era of apartheid. The “last domino to fall” was a country pregnant with expectations whilst at the same time, gripped with apprehension of what the future held. A new nation, full of unbridled promise was born – the rainbow nation .It was to be an inclusive nation that recognised the unalienable rights of everyone, regardless of colour, religion, ethnicity gender or any other persuasions. Nelson Mandela, with his magic and infectious smile, held the image of a new South Africa. An image of hope, reconciliation, Ubuntu and every positive virtue the mind can conjure.

    Years after 1994, South Africa is a noisy democracy. The political landscape doesn’t look good from the outside. The constant heckling and verbal abuse in parliament speaks of a microcosm of the bigger picture, the politics of paranoia that has gripped this nation. The chaotic political landscape speaks of a nation in turmoil. The tragedy is that the majority of South Africans, politicians included, cannot see the storm that is beckoning. Those who see it, have chosen to ignore its existence.

    There is an elephant in the room. It has nothing to do with Jacob Zuma and the Nkandla upgrades. Those are just symptoms of a larger malaise older than Zuma and his tenure as president .It has nothing to do with the sacking of Pravin Gordon or the allegations of the Gupta’s state capture. The Guptas are late entrants in this centuries old drama. The Guptas are riding and capitalising on the spirit of the moment .Beneath the Gupta saga are unmistakable birth pangs of a new dispensation laboriously approaching. It’s not about the fees must fall movement. That and other hashtag promoted movements were just little fires that speak of the brewing tensions about to erupt. Forget about the sex scandals that have followed some key political figures. That too was a political sideshow to the main plot unfolding.

    South Africa is reaching a moment in history where the majority are starting to take stock of the gains of a post 1994 era. For the majority black South Africans, economic transformation has travelled at a snail’s pace. The apartheid legacies of unemployment poverty and inequality have thrived. The BEE schemes have benefited a small segment of the population and empowerment remains a mirage.

    It is against this backdrop that calls for radical economic transformation have become more pronounced to the extent of occupying the daily lexicon. This presents a dilemma for the ruling party. ANC is trapped in a tight corner. They can’t afford to ignore the need for urgent radical socio- economic changes whilst they must be seen to be pursuing a neoliberal path in the eyes of the foreign investors.  The re-emergence of liberation rhetoric and leftist messages from the ANC is in part an appeasement to the growing frustration amongst its increasingly discontent support base which is worried about the slow pace of the transformation agenda. This poor large segment of the population do not give a hoot about Moody’s downgrades. They are too financially excluded to worry about the country’s credit ratings or current talk of junk status. After all, financial figures have been of little help to their cause in the past. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain from radical economic transformation.

    Lessons from Zimbabwe, South Africa‘s northern neighbour are telling. Whilst some would want to amplify the differences between the two states, South Africa and Zimbabwe are only divided by the Limpopo. Both countries share a history of a racial settler minority regime, with South Africa having a more entrenched system. They both experienced a special type of colonialism – endogenous in nature. In practice, economic self-determination has become a lived reality for most Zimbabweans despite notable challenges the country is facing. Economic freedom remains a big illusion to the majority of South Africans, who although they are politically independent still find themselves in the vicious entrapment of monopoly capital. Real economic power remain vested in the hands of a privileged, mostly white class. And that’s a sobering fact.

    Although there are noteworthy historic and geographical differences, there are close resemblances between South Africa of now and Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium. Then, like South Africa today , Zimbabwe experienced widespread and crippling labour and student protests, food price riots, civic society demonstrations and a growingly popular opposition that threatened to upset ZANU PF ‘s hold on power. In response, ZANU PF resorted to a combative approach and revolutionary rhetoric. The eventual result being the invasion of white run farms as landless black people had grown frustrated with the slow programme of land redistribution. Zimbabwe is South Africa’s warning sign.

    One hopes the ANC’s gospel of radical economic transformation is not just sloganeering rhetoric or a populist knee-jerk response to its waning support. Radical economic transformation, whatever form it assumes, must be under a culture of accountability, transparency, sustainability and free from politics of patronage or cronyism. South Africa needs a sustainable economy that spreads wealth to all regardless of race or political affiliation. ANC would be damned if it does not seek a redress of the distribution of the national cake .The poor majority cannot wait any longer. Soon, the ANC’s strong belief in radical economic transformation might lead to the death of reasoning. At the same time it would be damned if it upsets a centuries old monopoly on the economy by a wealthy, entitled minority class. Either way, something has to give.

    1994 put a lid on simmering tensions and internal contradictions. The Mandela magical effect delayed an inevitable economic revolution and gave monopoly capital short lived respite. The country’s internal contradictions are a ticking time bomb. Now the ordinary man is frowning. Anything can happen now.



    • Richard Mugobo| writer | blogger| researcher || Email |[email protected], Twitter| @Rmugobo,  Facebook| Richard Mugobo



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