Mbeki, a political economist, on Thursday delivered a lecture at Wits as part of a joint venture between Wits/Wiser and the Mail & Guardian.
During his address, “What has the ANC achieved in nearly two decades”, Mbeki said the country needed a new system of politics that didn’t exclude anyone.
It needed to be “more inclusive [and] not dominated by the black elite and the poor”.
“The formal sector workers of [the Congress of South African Trade Unions] and capitalists must be included. As long as they are out of the political loop, we’ll never have economic growth. They control the productive assets of the country,” he said.
“We have a unique political system in South Africa. It’s controlled by the black middle class [political elite] but it has an alliance with the poor or the under-class,” he said.
“The under-class are the single largest voting block of South Africa … Cosatu are not part of the ruling elite – the unemployed are. Cosatu are part of the [tripartite] alliance but not part of the power structures.”
Mbeki added this was what the Democratic Alliance was starting to notice, which had caused them to shift their focus from the employed to the unemployed.
“The ANC has been driving a consumer revolution at the expense of production and [has] increased consumption of the black masses. This is causing the de-industrialisation of South Africa.”
Prior to 1994, South Africa was run by Afrikaner nationalists who owned assets such as land and capital, Mbeki explained. This gave them profits to run the state. But with the onset of democracy, South Africa’s consumption became increasingly funded by state money and the Afrikaner rulers were replaced with an elite African class who don’t own assets, but are the people who rule the country. This left less for investment.
He told the audience that this “over-consumption” originated from slavery where black people were forced to under-consume while the country was built on the backs of hungry black people.
“Massive consumption by the black elite is not sustainable. Wealth is being diverted … to welfare spending which reinforces their poverty,” he said.
“Social grants are not sustainable. I angered President [Jacob] Zuma when I said this earlier but we will have what happened in north Africa,” the 67-year-old said, referring to the region’s Arab Spring.
Mbeki all but accused the government of betrayal, drawing comparisons between South Africa and its Brics counterparts, China and India.
“We sold the textile sector. We killed our own industry because it provided cheap consumption,” he said. He explained how China had not allowed companies from the US into the country without a promise to train Chinese people in the industry.
“[South African Breweries] is only 49% owned by South Africans. The rest is owned by the Chinese, who we had to teach to brew beer,” he added.
In closing, Mbeki offered three proposals which would help the country develop, including his call for different politics.
He said South Africa needed to develop entrepreneurs, “not an administrative class like the ANC has been doing” and needed to educate more people in the science, maths, engineering and management fields.