The South African economy was back on the policy frontburner this week with two major documents emerging from the ANC.
First, at the weekend, there was the declaration of the alliance economic summit. Then, at mid-week, the medium-term budget was released.
There is hardly anything wrong in churning out documents and statements on the economy. In fact, the more the merrier, except here the two could hardly be more different.
The first, which appears to have been scheduled to pre-empt Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s budget update, is the kind of wish list the ANC put out in the days before it came to power. It brims with noble, worthy ideas and goals, yet lacks any detail as to how these aims can be achieved.
For instance, it calls for five million new jobs. This is laudable but the document gives no clue as to where these jobs will come from and what the investment cost will be. It has all the hallmarks of a struggle document, a wish list of the disenfranchised, rather than a working plan of an elected government.
Manuel’s budget, of course, is exactly the opposite, being detailed down to the tiniest footnote on how the revenues and expenses of the country will be managed in the next three years.
Next year’s national election is only six months away. The country is in election mode. What possible gain could Luthuli House get from trying to undermine Manuel a few days before him giving the updated budget numbers to Parliament?
If the ruling party did not believe Manuel represented it, it could have recalled him with former president Thabo Mbeki. Or it could have negotiated terms with him so that he had to implement post-Polokwane policies as determined by Luthuli House.
But the strategic leadership of the new ANC led by Julius Malema’s proxy, Jacob Zuma, is now so poor that it could think no further than exacting political revenge on Mbeki. It recalled him, suddenly realising that it would have to appoint a whole new Cabinet and opting largely to keep the show as close to the Mbeki model as possible.
More honest would have been to fire Manuel with Mbeki and put Blade Nzimande in the job so that voters could have seen between now and April what kind of job he could do. Would the country want Blade in the job after April? Would Blade want Blade in the job after April?
Based on the summit declaration released at the weekend, finance minister Nzimande would have stressed the need for both continuity and change and then introduced a new set of interventions by the state “to create decent work for employed and underemployed South Africans”.
We unfortunately have a recent case where the state in the form of Eskom has not even managed to keep the lights on, never mind help create decent work, so it is a leap of faith to see the state playing the lead role in coordinating a set of interventions to create more jobs.
I think it is fair to say that most government departments put in sub-standard performance, at least in part because the private sector has sucked the best talent out of government. To somehow see them playing the lead in driving higher economic performance is more than a touch unlikely.
It is also a little fanciful to believe that in the current environment you can “calibrate” (the alliance’s term) interest rates and exchange rates to achieve your desired economic outcomes. Tell that to foreign investors, desperately fleeing anything that looks like risk, anywhere.
Not that the private sector has covered itself in glory locally. Given half a chance it has sucked its sector dry through cartel-like behaviour or running rings around hapless regulators. The result is that almost everything costs too much, restricting the growth of small businesses, exports and jobs.
The mid-term budget must be one of the key events of the year for Parliament with most of the heavy hitters present, yet President Kgalema Motlanthe (discussing Zimbabwe in Swaziland?) was absent, as were other ANC notables.
Manuel was on the defensive on specific items, saying in the case of the basic income grant, for instance, that this was not a policy position agreed at Polokwane. His job, he said, was to implement the decisions of the national conference.
All of this is very confusing. Is Manuel his own party? Will he join the Shikota party or will it join him? Is the government the government or is it in Luthuli House? Is Luthuli House the real opposition and if it is, why did it essentially rubber stamp the continuation of the Mbeki cabinet? Will the ANC always see itself as an oppositional force even when it is both the government and ruling party?
If Luthuli House finds itself in disagreement with the finance minister on the direction of the economy, could it not wait a while to put out its own position on how things should be done? This would help keep voters less confused, increasing the chances they will vote ANC next time around.
Through the layers of confusion, though, three things are really clear:
1. Julius Malema’s proxy, Jacob Zuma, is not up to the job of running the ruling party, nor the country.
2. Julius Malema’s proxy, Jacob Zuma, is not up to the job of running the ruling party, nor the country.
3. Julius Malema’s proxy, Jacob Zuma, is not up to the job of running the ruling party, nor the country.