Letters to the Editor: July 1

Mail & Guardian readers share their thoughts on capitalism, the late Kader Asmal, nationalisation and more.

Rampant capitalism the source of crisis
Debates about deindustrialisation and the decline of employment in South Africa (“Economy needs a big dose of tough love“, June 17) are vacuous because they are conducted by people who don’t want to acknowledge the cause of these crises.

The cause may be summarised in one word: capitalism. Under capitalism, capitalists seek to maximise perceived profit on investment. To list economic activities in increasing order of perceived profit on investment: farming, manufacturing, mining, retail and financial activities.

It has always been more profitable to speculate on wheat futures than to grow wheat. What has changed is that capitalists have created a global system discouraging people from investing money in anything except investment banking, which is why virtually all financial institutions, and most corporate bodies, have an investment-banking element.

This explains the sharp decline in farming and manufacturing and the stagnation of mining: capital is not being invested in these activities. Since these are the activities most likely to create employment, jobs are not being created outside the retail sphere, which sells imported goods and is increasingly foreign-owned.

Hence economic inequality is increasing and the nation as a whole is impoverished. This is an inevitable product of unregulated capitalism. Capitalists’ publicists distract us by blaming the problem on education (what use is a vast reserve army of educated, unemployed people whom nobody intends to employ?) or on “big government”.

Those such as the ANC Youth League who call for the nationalisation of mines and agriculture have a point insofar as these activities are not being run in the interests of the country. But there are less drastic ways to change the situation.

Protection of agriculture and industry, through control boards, tariffs and sensibly targeted subsidies, could increase the profit on investment in these fields. Unfortunately, the global trade system (the Word Trade Organisation) exists to prevent industrialisation and encourage economic dependency. Therefore the WTO must be bypassed, ignored or challenged.

Even more so than the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which once had useful functions but lost them after the system they were set up to maintain collapsed in 1971, the WTO is a destructive force.

It is not enough to improve the profit on investment in fields such as industry and agriculture, because the profit on capital speculation is stratospheric. Thus it is necessary to reimpose the capital controls that were originally imposed to protect our economy and the relaxation of which showed that government was more concerned with corporate profit than with the nation.

By discouraging the free flow of capital across our borders, we can oblige capitalists to invest some money in South African agriculture, manufacturing and mining. This is how development has happened everywhere else in the world, a fact carefully concealed by corporate propagandists.

We also need to nationalise the Reserve Bank and place it under state control. The Reserve Bank can be given the power to control the flow of capital in detail (as in Korea and Japan during their most rapid growth) to promote the activities particularly needed for economic growth. If we really believe, for instance, that we need a new rail network, then the Reserve Bank can direct capital towards it, rather than waste its wealth on futile currency speculation.

These are not massive changes, and are not controversial to anyone except the beneficiaries of the current socioeconomic crisis. Yet they make other policies meaningful. For instance, a basic income grant (BIG) would at present be wasteful because it would promote the consumption of imported consumer goods. If imports were discouraged, then a BIG could encourage domestic farming and manufacturing and have a Keynesian “multiplier effect”.

Likewise, if capitalists were discouraged from investing in overseas finance capital, they would invest in labour-intensive manufacturing, promoting employment. Why is nobody campaigning for these simple measures, which could make so much difference to our country? — Mathew Blatchford, Fort Hare

Land a bedrock political issue
Nationalisation and the land question, as ways of emancipating the oppressed in South Africa, started long before Julius Malema was born. The ceasefire that led to 1994 gave us a window to address them soberly. Now there are serious questions about what was made of that opportunity.

The issue at stake requires no prevarication: the central challenge is that South Africa is a nation with a horrid socioeconomic configuration, which cries out to high heaven for correction because it’s untenable.

Some have been smartly getting themselves on the favourable side of that configuration rather than changing it and have thus hastened the moment of truth. Malema puts an alternative on the table and directly confronts the central challenge. To his constituency, this is an attractive alternative to the pain of the present. Any serious opponent must put something else on the table that deals with the central challenge directly.

The threat of investment flight won’t wash with people who are already in the fire — the destitute citizens of a prosperous country who see no prospect for change in their lot. — Masitha Hoeane, Pretoria East

Thank you for allowing members of the working class to express themselves in this paper because government does not care about us. Business Leadership South Africa says: “Nationalisation would not solve South Africa’s problems [such as] youth unemployment or insufficient growth.” But for 17 years we have been living with privatisation, jobless growth and super-profits.

The ANC is implementing the neoliberal agenda of the bourgeoisie and the imperialists (global transnational corporations). Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma have betrayed us and sold us to the highest bidder. The South African Communist Party is not doing anything for the working class except lobbying for self-enrichment by being government-employed.

We are not liberated yet and the limited democracy we achieved was the result of our own actions. Now, when we engage in political activities such as protests, we are criminalised just as we were during apartheid. When we protest, we are prepared to die because we know the police are employed to kill us.

The nationalisation of land would ensure land for building to address the present backlog of 400 000 houses. In a country where corruption is a disease, representative democracy does not lead anywhere because those representatives become corrupt as well. The working class wants full responsibility for making decisions. We are opposed to the Secrecy Bill. We want investigative journalists to warn us about mismanagement and corruption. — Mhlobo Gunguluzi, Social Movements Indaba of Western Cape co-ordinator, Gugulethu

We will remember Asmal’s vision
Another spear has fallen with the death of ANC stalwart, Professor Kader Asmal. He was the legal architect of our democracy, the advent of which will remain a monumental milestone in history because it brought pride and honour to South Africa and its citizens.

Asmal should be revered by all as one of the founders of our nation and should be immortalised in our psyche as a courageous, inspirational and visionary leader of unparalleled selflessness, commitment and dedication. We cherish his intellectual prowess and his incisive vision. To him our nation owes so much.

He was immensely gifted and used every bit of his talent to address, improve and dignify the conditions of human life. He leaves South Africans a powerful legacy of commitment to freedom and integrity. Whatever he did or said, he did or said with fervour.

How may we best remember him? Not for his rhetoric, although as a member of Parliament he was his party’s most formidable speaker. Nor will we remember him by any physical edifice on which he etched his own name. We will remember him by his contribution to the institutions of the democratic society we inhabit every day, as a leader, a man of principle, unstinting, unselfish, unfettered and undefeated. — Farouk Araie, Benoni

All I know about Asmal is the legacy of outcomes basic education, which left our country with semiliterate youth. — Mario Rocha Pires, Bedfordview

A criminal state of things
The statement by Moeletsi Mbeki (“Weak elites stand in way of progress in Africa“, June 17) that “the greatest threat facing the people of Africa is the possibility of state failure” echoes the observation made by Garth le Pere and Brendan Vickers in their chilling account of rising crime and the increasingly sophisticated criminal networks that pose a threat to Africa’s development (published in The Thinker magazine).

They write: “In Africa, the manifestations of ‘uncivil’ society such as piracy, money laundering, the plunder of natural resources and trafficking in drugs, arms, and humans are closely interwoven with the weakness and vulnerability of the state. Indeed, it can be argued that politics in many African countries is so closely interconnected with these forces that, de facto, the state has become criminalised.”

There are solutions to this parlous state of affairs, as Mbeki says. Jack Lewis (Letters, June 17) argues in part for a national-service scheme for all graduates, a massive literacy and numeracy project along the lines of the highly successful Nicaraguan model, which would support scholars as well as communities.

Unemployed graduates turning their misfortune into something positive by imparting their knowledge would revive the tradition of hard work in our communities. But we cannot implement these ideas without financial and institutional support from government and business.

If we could promote the idea of having to work hard for success in life and the primacy of education over political popularity and political connectivity among our youth, I believe we would be able to save our country and continent from possible ruin for the benefit of future generations. — Vusumzi Nobadula, Cape Town

Outsider better equipped
Farieda Kahn and Martin Nicol (Letters, June 17) have contributed usefully to the debate regarding Andile Mngxitama’s review of Anton Harber’s book Diepsloot (June 10).

I read this book with interest and respect. As the author of another “outsider” account of sociocultural, political and economic dynamics within an African urban community, I suggest that “black reality” may actually be more knowable to well-qualified investigative journalists and anthropologists making use of traditional “participant observation” than to most insiders who live within but may not necessarily reflect much about their own culture.

Without me as interpreter, Grahamstown’s ghetto-dwellers could not communicate the reality of ways of life and world views infinitely more complex and sophisticated than what is depicted through the lens of poverty, even by so-called “real blacks”.

South Africa in 2011 could have been less fraught if many more “real whites” and “real blacks” had been allowed access to studies ringfenced for more-or-less exclusive use within the ivory tower. — Mercia Waring (ex-Wilsworth), author of Strategies for Survival, published by Iser, 1980

Educational inspiration
Thank you, Raenette Taljaard, for an inspiring article (“Youth Day: Challenges for a new generation“, June 17). I am going to use it in my classes’ reading-reaction tasks. I hope my students will find the inspiration I did in the article. On reading it, I felt like a youthful 56-year-old, if this is the direction our youth is taking nationally. — Benjamin Seitisho, Phuthaditjhaba

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