/ 29 October 2003

ANC MP tells of Gear battle

A leading member of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, Professor Ben Turok, has provided a new account of the battle within the party to accept the current economic policy, called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear).

In a candid account in his new book Nothing But the Truth — which will be officially launched in Parliament on November 20 — the Member of Parliament, who sits on the finance and trade and industry portfolio committees, says of

Gear: “Many of us were nonplussed at the manner of its introduction and found great difficulty in reconciling its assumptions with those developed by the movement over the years.”

Referring under a chapter subtitled “Battle over economic policy”, Turok said one afternoon in June 1996 about 20 ruling party MPs were invited to a meeting room where “we found Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel waiting to address us”.

“He announced that a new economic document had been prepared called Gear.

“Some questions were allowed but access to the document itself was refused on the grounds that it might be leaked to the press prior to its presentation to the whole of Parliament the next day.”

Gear was drafted, he noted, by a team led by (now Standard Bank Group economist) Iraj Abedian “but with Richard Ketley, a seconded official from the World Bank, as the principal author. It immediately evoked a storm from Cosatu [the Congress of South African Trade Unions], who complained that it was a form of structural adjustment and that it was being imposed on the movement without consultation”.

“They also argued that it flatly contradicted the [previous policy position the] RDP [the Reconstruction and Development Programme],” reported Turok.

Turok, a leading member of the South African Communist Party and the first white political prisoner under apartheid, said differences on economic policy “have driven a serious wedge between the ANC on the one side and Cosatu and the SACP on the other, with many non-partisan economists holding serious reservations about the degree of austerity we have adopted, given the social legacy of apartheid”.

Turok said while the ANC continued to maintain the high profile of the RDP in the first years of rule after 1994, “the Treasury was actually implementing an austerity programme designed primarily to reduce the cost of servicing the national debt and hence reduce the budget deficit. The argument was that the domestic debt was too high and had to be brought down to sustainable levels.”

Thus as each budget was brought to the finance committee of the National Assembly “we had to disentangle the rhetoric about spending on jobs and poverty relief from the hard numbers of reduced spending”.

In most cases “we were given nominal rather than real data which disguised the actual spending because one had to strip out inflation”.

The official line, he said, was that “we must rid ourselves of the culture of entitlement” and fiscal discipline was called for instead. — I-Net Bridge