An ideological Cold War turns hot

Flip Buys writes on three interpretations of the intent of the lockdown

The devastating effect of the protracted lockdown on the livelihood of millions of people is leading to unedifying debates on the government’s true ideological objectives in this regard. This could be simplified to three schools of thought.

The first is that the government is deliberately using the extended lockdown to weaken the middle class so that the government may erect an “equal and just” economy on the ruins of the old one. If this is true, it is a disturbing theory, because it suggests a kind of socialist revolution under the pretext of the state of disaster.

The second school of thought does not believe that the middle class is being targeted deliberately but that the economic devastation rather has been the unintentional result of one of the strictest lockdowns worldwide. This theory is equally disturbing, because it implies that the government does not understand, or cannot manage, the workings of a modern economy.

The third school of thought is that the lockdown has been necessary to flatten the curve of infection and to prepare hospitals. The protracted extension, however, has resulted in support for this school of thought evaporating because the peak simply has been moved to the more dangerous winter period, and government “by" the people then became government “over” the people.

These look more like political measures rather than health measures.


It is inconceivable that the mainstream thinking in government could be aimed at the deliberate destruction of the middle class. It is inexplicable that the government could not foresee the extent of the economic damage, and the lengthy extension of the lockdown is inexcusable.

All three schools of thought, however, agree that the government is using the crisis caused by the lockdown to reshape the country’s political economy. Significantly, President Ramaphosa has stated that the Covid-19 pandemic is presenting a strong justification to transform and restructure the economy.

He raised eyebrows when he said the economy was still “colonial and racist”. He said the economy should now be reshaped and reconstructed through radical transformation for “inclusive growth, empowering to women, young people and to black people in the main”. These and other statements made by the president are barely concealed socialist code language, mixed with a race policy that the ANC was not prepared to relax even during the crisis.


It sounds incredible that there still are strong factions within the ANC who firmly believe in socialism and even communism in spite of the failure of these ideologies. Socialism, however, has undergone huge changes since the fall of communism. This reform was not aimed at abandoning socialism but reforming it to survive.

Numerous socialist parties have changed their names, policy, symbols and idiom. Socialist objectives currently are mostly couched in human rights terminology, and few socialists these days want to be known as such. This has led many observers to believe that former socialists are now all supporting the market economy and liberal democracy, but as Twain would say, reports on the death of socialism were greatly exaggerated.

Socialist reformers post 1990 accepted that communism could no longer be an alternative to capitalism and that nationalisation and a centrally planned economy were unworkable. This has led many people erroneously to believe that socialism has become extinct.

Socialist reformers, however, still believe in their main objective of equality (equal outcomes), and are still sticking to the state as the means to bring this about. The major shift in their thinking has been that capitalism now should be used to achieve socialist objectives. Capitalism should create wealth, which then should be “justly” distributed in a socialist way through state power to bring about “equality”.

Socialists’ acceptance of a constitutional democracy was conditional. They do not see this only as a "procedural book of rules" that determines how a country should be governed, but as a "substantive democracy" that should directly benefit its supporters economically.

From this arises a rigorous redistribution system of government that enriches the elite by BEE legislation, benefits the black middle class by race quotas and helps meet the basic needs of the poor by a welfare system. The state, therefore, is seen not only as housekeeper but as breadwinner.


The ideological unanimity within the ANC goes much further than the obvious pursuit of economic upliftment of poor black people. The economy, property and resources also have to be redistributed proportionally according to the population composition before true “equality” can be achieved. The focus here is not on essential economic growth to make the poor richer, but on redistribution to make the “rich” poorer in order to reduce inequality. Their main target therefore is not poverty but inequality.

The ANC believes it is a constitutional requirement to achieve “transformation objectives” according to race formulae. This arises from the equality provisions in the Constitution, such as the socio-economic rights in sections 26 and 27. State power must be used to bring about this equalisation. The state ideology of radical economic transformation, moreover, is shared by the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The “voice” of the Constitution, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, declared from the bench that “the Constitution explicitly requires that inequalities be addressed actively through the radical transformation of the entire society”.


This system of government was established on the basis of reformed socialism, as opposed to the revolutionary socialism of the EFF or Western social democracy. The faction fights within the ANC are not about differences with regard to equal outcomes, “substantive” democracy or radical transformation.

There is only “one” ANC, not a “good and honest” free-market wing and a "bad, corrupt” socialist wing. Churchill said any party is a coalition of fighting factions. These fights are fuelled by a power struggle, personalities, control of state resources, issues about forms and degrees of socialism, and corruption.

President Ramaphosa is opposed by even more radical and corrupt cronies in his party. He obviously is unable to reform the ANC because the party is so fraught with incompetence and corruption that any efforts to do so could compromise his own position.

Modern socialists believe that the government should use its state power to empower supporters economically. It was hoped that President Ramaphosa had become a “capitalist” because he had collected a fortune of more than R5 billion by cleverly making use of BEE.

However, he still is a socialist, advocating a major role for the state in the economy and supporting socialist policies such as the National Health Insurance system, expropriation without compensation, radical economic transformation, racial legislation and state enterprises such as Eskom and SAA.

The wellbeing of a country is determined by the wellbeing of its workforce – the majority of the population. The question is: What economic policy will be to the best advantage of this group? The black American economist Professor Thomas Sowell has the answer: “What do the poor need most? They need to stop being poor. And how can that be done, on a mass scale, except by an economy that creates vastly more wealth? Yet the political left has long had a remarkable lack of interest in how wealth is created. They think that wealth exists somehow and the only interesting question is how to redistribute it, by turning money and power over to people like themselves.”

The ANC cannot solve poverty by staring at the causes of poverty. They should rather study the causes of prosperity. The only solution to poverty is genuine economic freedom. It is the freedom to create value and wealth, and not, as socialists think, the freedom to consume what has been produced by others.