/ 22 October 2021

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC election manifesto

Defending his own administration’s stance on Zimbabwe
Former president Thabo Mbeki. (David Harrison/M&G)

What would a speech from former president Thabo Mbeki be, without mention of a social compact? 

Addressing a live audience of business people and other professionals in Johannesburg on Thursday night, ahead of 1 November local government elections, Mbeki said the quality of leadership in the ANC — some of whose senior officials have been implicated in graft — had degenerated.

He said only a social compact between the government and business would address South Africa’s nagging shortage of sewerage, housing, jobs and roads.

“We must urgently finalise the social compact between the social partners to achieve our country’s fundamental social transformation to reduce and eradicate the plague of unemployment, poverty and inequality,” he said, quoting from the ruling ANC’s 80-page  manifesto for the elections.

Mbeki has been speaking about such a cooperative agreement from as early as 2003, when the ANC-led government released its evaluation of a decade of policy decisions under majority rule after the fall of apartheid. The review proposed “an encompassing framework coordinating action between the government and social partners”.

Mbeki said one relatively positive outcome from Covid-19 was that, for the first time since 1994, all of the social partners had banded together to chart what needed to happen for the country to survive the economic effect of the pandemic.

But he noted that South Africa had been in trouble prior to the pandemic: “What is it that we need to do together to address, not just the consequences of the pandemic, but to go beyond that? It is time we get together to do something about the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality that we have failed to solve.”

Mbeki hailed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s South Africa Economic, Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, which he said contained important commitments about what needed to be done to resuscitate the ailing economy. He also applauded Ramaphosa’s Economic Advisory Council, which produced briefing notes on key policy questions for South Africa’s economic recovery. 

“It discusses at great length, and quite correctly, what is meant about the district development model and its relevance in terms of local government,” said Mbeki. “It would be very good if people look at it because it properly explains the need for us to have a look at the system of local government.”

Under the district development model initiated by Ramaphosa in 2019 and adopted by cabinet in the same year, all three spheres of government coordinate and integrate development plans and budgets and mobilise the capacity and resources of the government and civil society, including business, labour and residents, in pursuit of inclusive growth and job creation.

The ANC has faced criticism over implementation of the model. A recent article published by EyeWitness News said local, district and metro municipalities and provincial governments had been working in isolation and the ruling party was struggling to get its act together at local government level.

Mbeki also spoke about the dwindling calibre of leadership and corruption that has plagued the ANC.

“Who are these people that we elect to be councillors? What is the quality of this leadership that we are encouraging everybody to vote for?” he asked, making reference to a warning by Nelson Mandela in 1997 of greed and careerism among some ANC leaders since the party came to power.

Mbeki said the ANC must ensure that the people it selected to manage resources emanating from the social compact were not “thieves”. 

“Over the years the quality of the membership of the ANC has degenerated … there must be renewal of the organisation so that the ANC becomes what it ought to be,” Mbeki said. 

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.