/ 23 April 2014

Soapbox: Radical economic change should be the focus of this election

Soapbox: Radical Economic Change Should Be The Focus Of This Election

What are the 2014 national and provincial elections really about?

Many in the opposition and the media would have you believe it is a referendum on Nkandla, the popularity of e-tolls or the realignment of opposition parties, which remain far apart from one another and protective of their own fiefdoms.

In our campaigning in every corner of the country, we find that our people have fundamentally different concerns. They are concerned primarily with their ability to participate in the economy through employment or business ownership. Equally, they are concerned with their ability to access and enjoy the basic building blocks of a dignified and empowered life as envisioned by the Freedom Charter: a house to live in; water, electricity and sanitation; safe and vibrant communities; good schools to send their children to; health care when they are sick; the ability to move around freely and affordably.

These are the aspirations of ordinary South Africans, and the discourse around the 2014 elections should be about the best way to realise them. Which party's policy proposals will be most effective in achieving their aims? Which values and ideas does each party espouse? What is each party's track record in relation to all of the above?

Unfortunately, that is not the conversation many in the opposition and the media want to have. For our part, we as the ANC remain focused on the policies, programmes and leadership that will create a better life for all. We believe this is what the majority of South Africans care about, although they may not be the most vocal in the opinion pages of newspapers, on Twitter, and on radio call-in shows. Achieving the aspirations of our people will remain our focus, regardless of what others choose to focus on.  

Accordingly, I would like to focus here on the ANC's approach on the economy and jobs. We firmly believe the ANC is best placed to transform and grow our economy, because of our: unassailable vision as outlined in the Freedom Charter; depth of leadership; commitment to radical and fundamental change; experience in democratic governance; promotion of inclusive policies and programmes; and track record of service delivery rooted in a deep concern for the poorest of the poor. 

In the ANC's analysis, the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality experienced by the majority of South Africans are due to both the racialised, exploitative nature of the South African economy, and the country's gearing towards extraction of natural resources for foreign beneficiation, which undermines the establishment of local manufacturing capacity. These features persist despite the ANC having fostered in, from 1994 to today, a period of consistent growth and expansion of employment that is unprecedented in the country's history. Our economy remains one that excludes the majority of our people, besides those who are included only because they provide cheap labour that cannot be replaced by technology.

This is why the ANC has identified radical socioeconomic transformation as the next phase of our democratic transition, and the most critical task before us. Addressing the triple challenges requires us to restructure our economy into a more labour-absorbing one that is characterised by deracialised and widespread ownership, and employment equity,with a far greater degree of local beneficiation and value addition. Indeed, inclusive and equitable growth is the only way to create the millions of sustainable and decent jobs that will bring dignity to our people.

One of the levers we are using to restructure the South African economy is infrastructure investment. The Zuma administration has accelerated work begun under former president Thabo Mbeki to reverse decades-long underinvestment in the country's social and economic infrastructure. Our approach is to deliver the infrastructure the country needs to expand the economy and improve citizens' quality of life, and to do so in a way which maximises the developmental impact of these investments.

There are at least three major innovations the ANC government has introduced in this area: 

  • a long-term plan designed to create new capacity, rather than simply maintain existing capacity; 
  • co-ordination between different spheres of government, departments and state-owned companies; and
  • strategic integration of projects, ensuring that each effort is not viewed in isolation, but considered in respect to how it impacts the broader economy, as well as other projects that benefit from or add value to it.

We have spent R1-trillion on infrastructure investment in the last five years, and the presidential infrastructure co-ordinating commission (PICC) is has in the pipeline up to R4-trillion, which it will manage over the next 15 to 20 years. What is important here is less the scale of these figures, but the fact that we now have a mechanism to anticipate the nation's long-term infrastructure needs, which enables us to plan accordingly, prioritise the most critical and catalytic investments, and co-ordinate their efficient delivery.

Prior to the recent administration's creation of the PICC, national government did not have a single view of planned infrastructure projects in the country, as these were owned and planned by a patchwork of national, provincial and local authorities, and state-owned companies. The PICC has analysed hundreds of planned infrastructure projects and organised the most critical of these into 18 strategic infrastructure projects (SIPs). The delivery of these SIPs will place South Africa on a higher growth path by unlocking regions and industries; increasing competitiveness (such as by lowering transport costs); and removing growth constraints, such as by improving export capacity. Citizens' quality of life will be improved by social infrastructure, such as new and upgraded schools, clinics and hospitals, and improved basic services such as water and sanitation.

We are leveraging the infrastructure build programme to re-industrialise South Africa. For example, Transnet is investing hundreds of billions of rands in rolling stock over the next five years as part of its market demand strategy. Improving local manufacturing capacity is an explicit part of its investment strategy, as mandated by the recent administration. By the end of the investment period, Transnet, in partnership with local suppliers, will have the capacity to build world-class, South Africa-made locomotives and will be well positioned to be a leading supplier to other African countries. Similar industrialisation strategies are being pursued as part of the infrastructure investment programmes at Eskom and Prasa.

We are using the state's buying power to insist on local procurement and employment. Our manifesto proposes to direct large investors such as Eskom and Transnet to buy specified goods for their infrastructure build programmes locally. We also propose that 60% of employment in infrastructure and other projects be set aside for youth. In state procurement more broadly, we propose that government procure at least 75% of its goods and services from small enterprises, co-operatives and broad-based black economic empowerment entities.

These are but a few of the bold and decisive steps we are taking to radically transform our economy to work for all South Africans. Do you agree with these programmes? How would you improve them? What would you propose that we do differently, or in addition? In the remaining weeks of the campaign, I hope to continue to engage with Mail & Guardian readers and South Africans everywhere on how best to move South Africa forward, next time focusing on issues of ownership and employment equity.

Malusi Gigaba is an ANC national executive committee member and chairperson of the party's elections sub-committee

In the interest of fairness, Soapbox is a regular feature on the M&G website, which allows all political parties, regardless of standing and size, to express their views on policy and governance in the run-up to the 2014 elections on May 7. To have your views published, send an email to [email protected] with 'Soapbox' in the subject line.