Speaking in Parliament earlier this month, Cyril Ramaphosa said that “we are in rebuilding mode and correcting the mistakes of the past”. The government had learnt its lessons and South Africa was on a good trajectory. President Ramaphosa was clearly also encouraged by pledges made at last week’s investment conference.
But “mistakes corrected” and “lessons learnt”? Hardly had he spoken in Parliament than Raul de Luzenberger, chargé d’affaires of the European Union (EU) in Pretoria, identified a series of South African “challenges” facing European companies. They included the “particularly problematic” BEE ownership target, uncertainty over public procurement, costly localisation requirements, and the “new and significant risk” arising from this year’s employment equity legislation.
“For most EU investors,” said Mr de Luzenberger, “the overlapping and cumulative requirements of these multiple and changing policy frameworks make investment or expansion decisions particularly complex and, in some cases, prohibitive.”
The African National Congress (ANC) and its communist and trade union allies show less willingness to learn from their mistakes than did the National Party (NP). Barely two decades after they came to power in 1948, the “Nats”, as they were often called, began making pragmatic adjustments to their own apartheid policy.
Limited adjustments to segregated sport were made by John Vorster in 1967, the year after Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated. Six years later Prime Minister Vorster lifted a ban on strikes by black African workers. His initial response to the revival of black unions was to ban their leaders, but in 1979 PW Botha’s government granted black African unions the same rights as had long been enjoyed by white, coloured, and Asian/Indian unions. By then the retreat from job reservation laws, formally signalled by Mr Vorster in 1973, was gathering momentum.
Tax incentives were introduced to encourage the training of black workers. Also in the early 1970s, the Vorster government began to narrow the 17 to 1 per capita state expenditure gap between black African and white schoolchildren. Legislation in 1959 imposed apartheid on universities. But racial quotas and other segregationist measures in higher education were formally lifted in 1988, having earlier been allowed to erode.