What does the ANC mean by transformation?

George Palmer and Stanley Uys explain what the ruling party is currently up to

Stanley Uys: These days the ANC is talking a lot about ‘transformation'. What exactly does the word "transformation" mean?

George Palmer: It means a complete change --- of style, policy, belief, outlook, behaviour etc., etc.   

SU: But what do the ANC and its Alliance partners mean when they talk about pursuing transformation? 

GP: As far as I can tell the ANC intends to renege on the historic compromise reached in 1994 between the National Party government and the ANC to end apartheid and to change the Constitution. In broad terms, in 1994 both parties agreed to a democracy with universal suffrage in which every citizen would have a vote regardless of ethnicity. Since the new 1996 Constitution would mean that Black voters would be the majority it meant that the ANC and its Alliance partners would dominate the political arena. 

The quid pro quo was that it would also safeguard individual freedoms and property rights of the White, Coloured, and Asian minority. That implied the minority would continue to play a leading role in the economic life of South Africa through ownership and management of the nation's resources. The new Constitution would also ensure the rule of law and freedom of speech and assembly.  

Nelson Mandela, then ANC President, had a vision --- a South Africa in which individual achievement would replace race discrimination regardless of ethnicity and where equality before the law under the new Constitution would safeguard democracy, freedom of expression, justice and the right to own property. He called it a "Rainbow Nation."

SU: So among other things the Constitution was designed to heal the divisions of the past. But now I see in discussion documents for the ANC's Policy Conference in June that Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe proposes multiple government  interventions that would dilute many of the protections guaranteed by the Constitution. How does the ANC justify this about face? Last year, as president of the ANC, Zuma stated at Polokwane  that "Political emancipation without economic transformation is meaningless. That is why we have to commit ourselves to economic freedom in our lifetime". This sounds rather ominous?

GP:  In its policy documents the ANC now offers two justifications for reneging on the terms of the agreement reached in 1994:

  • "... our First Transition embodied a framework and a national consensus that may have been appropriate for political emancipation, a political transition, but has proven inadequate and inappropriate for our social and economic transformation phase".
  • " Second, the balance of forces at the time of our transition "had ruled out some options and weighted choices towards others. Thus the negotiated nature of the transition meant that capital reform would necessarily be an incremental, market-focused process, engaging with the current owners of capital. This meant an implicit bargain involving the ANC committing to macro-economic stability and international openness and White business agreeing to participate in capital reform to modify the racial structure of asset ownership and to invest in national priorities. Thus the 2000 NGC document in Port Elizabeth already asked the question:  ' Should we be satisfied with merely maintaining and tinkering with the so-called modern sophisticated economy and infrastructure that the White man bequeathed us or should we search for bold and creative solutions?' ".

SU: Not surprisingly many may dismiss that mumbo jumbo as no more than cover for a transparent attempt to grab more power and control over South Africa's economic sector, minority rights and their accompanying economic and personal freedoms.  As former president F.W. de Klerk believes:

" ... the ANC plans to dispense with some of the cornerstones on which our new society has been established, including the present role and powers of the provinces ... property rights would also be at risk". So would choice of language, land ownership, mining industry licensing and product pricing". 

In addition, says De Klerk, "the government is maneuvering to limit the role of the courts". 

That's Transformation on steroids!

GP: Currently the pace of economic growth and job creation is faltering despite booming demand for resources such as coal, gold, platinum, grain, and other raw materials. South Africa, with a population of 50 million, needs an economy that expands, year in and year out, by at least 8% (compared with its current 3%) if unemployment is to decline significantly from its current 25% of the workforce. In the key 16-25 age group a staggering 61% are without jobs and there is growing pressure on the government to tackle widespread misery more effectively.

A year ago Zuma promised he would create 5 million new jobs by 2020. He obviously sucked that number out of his thumb.

Meanwhile millions of Black South Africans languish in poverty surviving on handouts from the state on a scale far beyond the capacity of tax revenues to finance. 

Another way the ANC is seeking transformation is by mandating that the racial profile of high level employees in large and medium-size companies should mirror the racial profile of the country as a whole.

Since that stipulation disregards availability of the skill-sets that management needs, one can imagine the damage it does to business confidence and to the productivity, competitive ability and profitability of the private sector. 

That's akin to demanding an urgent reallocation of the deck chairs on the Titanic!

SU: But there's worse. Minimum wage regulations and restrictions on laying off under-performing workers put a premium on replacing employees with increasingly sophisticated capital equipment. The Free Market Foundation argues that post 1994 labour legislation is killing jobs not creating them. Perversely "... from the viewpoint of the unemployed, the landscape is beginning to resemble, more and more, the working environment of the old apartheid South Africa" in which the National Party sought to protect skilled and semi-skilled White employees from competition from cheaper, job-seeking Blacks.

GP: But what perhaps puts the most severe brake on generating more wealth-creating job opportunities, better wages, and providing an escape from poverty is the ANC's split personality when it comes to ideology:  It has a profound reluctance to acknowledge that the main source of a country's wealth-creating capacity is market-driven investment in the private sector, not the state. Meanwhile, for the foreseeable future, innovation and risk-taking investment will remain overwhelmingly the province of Whites and Asians in a country governed by a power-hungry Black ANC elite.

All the policy documents in the world are not going to change that reality. 

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