Malema falls short in nationalisation debate

Noticing that the debate on the nationalisation of the mines did not take off as well as he hoped it would, African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema took it upon himself to organise a debate on the issue this week—complete with analysts harbouring dissenting views.

The trendy Atlas Studios in Auckland Park served as the venue where Malema would outline the reasons why the state should own 60% of all mines and why this would be good for South Africa and everyone who lives in it.

His sparring partners were Business Day columnist Tim Cohen and the chief executive of Old Mutual, Kuseni Dlamini. The 300-odd students who came to listen were obviously not there to see them—they went wild at the sight of Malema, with his now trademark Gucci cap.

It was clearly Malema’s platform and his first venture into the world of debate—where you can’t say to the person with a different viewpoint “you are racist” and then declare yourself the victor.

Malema tried to spark the debate on the nationalisation of mines when he opened the ANCYL’s political school in July this year, but couldn’t manage to get a fire started.

Predictably Cosatu, which has been struggling through a tough strike season, supported his call, but otherwise Malema’s comments did not really make anyone stand up and take notice.
Even the ANC couldn’t be bothered—to appease him they asked Malema and the youth league to prepare a report on the issue. They were so unconcerned they made 2012 the deadline for the report.

But on Thursday night he upped the stakes in that very uniquely Malema way, by using threats.

“Whoever says ‘I want to be this or that’, we say he must first pronounce ‘nationalisation’. If he cannot pronounce ‘nationalisation’, he will not be qualified to lead the ANC.”

In short: Support this or you won’t get elected.

This is Malema using the only currency he has: the youth league’s ability to play kingmaker. And his threat is not meaningless, as President Jacob Zuma (and, on the other side, former president Thabo Mbeki) realised—if you don’t have the ANCYL on your side, your ability to become or stay president is highly compromised.

Interestingly, Malema and the youth league have yet to pronounce whether they will support their former president, Fikile Mbalula, to become the secretary general of the ANC in 2012 when the party chooses its new leaders in Mangaung (Bloemfontein). So youth league endorsement for wannabe leaders these days comes at a price to the highest bidder—and not just the usual “payment”, which is to keep the Youth League leaders in fine style, wine and whiskey. The price is to support nationalisation.

But Malema broke one key rule in his debate on Thursday. He tried to defend the critique against nationalisation instead of saying why and how nationalisation will work—he explained how investors will not be scared off, they even invest in countries with civil war. One has to ask: Are these the kind of investors we want?

Furthermore, he said those who say government doesn’t have the capacity to run mines are mistaken. The apartheid government managed just fine, he argued, so why can’t we?

Has the wheel turned so much that we can use examples set by apartheid without blinking an eyelid?

He wants South Africa to improve on the Botswana model, where all mines are part-owned by the state. But at the same time he argues that Botswana is a “sweetheart of the imperialists”.

So is it also OK to follow the example of those who pander to the West these days?

In his argument he leaves some major gaps. He doesn’t say if the state should appropriate the mines or pay for the 60% stake? If the former, there is no doubt investors, even the dodgy ones, will be on the back foot. If the latter, where will we get the money from?

Further, once the mineral wealth is in the hands of the state, how will it be effectively used given we are in a country of roll-over budgets and underspending?

So, in his first debate Malema did not quite convince, but his supporters definitely didn’t mind. They just wanted to see their man, laugh at his self-deprecating jokes about his lack of university education, and maybe later shake his hand.

We can worry about the mines in 2012, when everyone starts throwing their designer hats into the ring.

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