/ 10 June 2024

Will socialism work in South Africa?

Eff Launches Election Manifesto At Moses Mabhida Stadium In South Africa
As the formation of a government of national unity becomes more clear it will be interesting to see how willing the EFF will be to concede its socialist stance in the interim in hopes of achieving it in the future. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the aspiration to form a government of national unity. The mentioning of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) to co-govern was quite peculiar considering they are diametrically opposed. But beyond that, they advocate for opposing principles because the DA looks to protect the Constitution while the EFF continues to advocate for amendments in hopes of fulfilling its socialist agenda. As a country, do we fully understand what socialism entails? 

The DA during this election cycle has openly advocated against a left-leaning government in South Africa. It termed a coalition between the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, the ANC, and the EFF as a doomsday coalition, recognising that if these parties were to come together, the interests of the private sector are likely to be ignored. There will be a desire for quick revolutionary change, and amendments to the constitution will be proposed in hopes of mobilising socialism. But also, as a means of giving the people what they want access to resources and land. 

In understanding what socialism is, we have to understand what socialism aims to do as a system of governance. It aims to have a collective shared investment and interests in the economy through means of production through labours, with exchange and distribution all done through state-owned enterprises. This is not in the complete absence of the private sector but rather in parallel with the private sector. Thus, where there is a private bank, there should be a state alternative. Uniquely, it gives states significantly more control over resources as they are owned by the people, but distributed through the state. This is different to communism, which advocates for complete state ownership and removal of all private industries. 

The EFF continues to advocate for the return of wealth to the hands of South Africans. The mining industry is worth R654 billion, according to Statista, employing just under 500,000 people. The distribution of wealth remains favoured towards white minorities and tends to not trickle down to black people. Thus, the aspiration is that through breaking down monopolistic industry, establish state-owned infrastructure and making markets more equitable with government distributing contracts and wealth there is an aspiration that their will be overall upliftment of those who are most vulnerable as it forces those who have a hold on wealth to share more equitably with their counterparts. But there are many laws that hinder the implementation of these policies. 

With the EFF desire to reclaim the land as a means of increasing the fiscal budget of the government to invest in social development and upliftment programs. They continue to advocate for “expropriation of land without compensation”, which would require amendments to section 25 of the Constitution. This would require an amendment bill to be passed in the National Assembly and two-thirds to agree on the bill. With the EFF holding only 9%, but simultaneously only making a collective 49% with the ANC, it would have to lobby other political parties in parliament to vote in alignment with them. Already, with there being rumours about a division in the ANC based on the coalition decision

The EFF recognises that there are people who are unable to access funding from banking institutions and earn too much to be considered in need of government assistance. This leaves them unable to access loans for education, housing or a vehicle. The party hopes to establish a bank that can fund these people and allow them to economically uplift themselves as they access land and resources through government-funded loans. Well, this sounds prosperous; the government tried to establish a state bank VBS Mutual Bank and R2 billion was stolen. Additionally, the EFF deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, was implicated for not declaring R180 000 he received from the bank. Moreover, his brother Brian Shivambu was implicated in the theft of R16,148,569. Thus, there is fear that the bank without the right accountability measure may never be established. But, it also shows that many of the proposals made by the EFF have been implemented to a less extreme extent but have failed the people. 

There aren’t many success stories regarding  state-owned entities, with most SOEs having poor management, and degradation of infrastructure due to the culture of corruption and crime. There is a fear that giving more money to state incentives will lead to more ill-disciplined behaviour. Additionally, in socialist states there is significantly more reliance on state provision of services. If they fail it means significantly more people are negatively affected because of a diminished private sector, which tends to be the alternative for services in South Africa. 

But socialism is not all doom and gloom. Already, South Africa has many established SOEs and has infrastructure in place to distribute services to all South Africans. A commitment to rid of corruption and fix management in the SOEs is likely to increase the efficiency and their output. Which means more South Africans will be given state-subsidised services rather than relying on the private sector to remain ethical and price fairly. Unlike the incentives of the government, the private sector has no obligation to provide services to people. Their relationship with people is that they provide a service on the condition it is paid for. With 55% of the population living below the poverty line, it is impossible to expect people to pay for services when they can’t even find means to source a stable income.

Therefore, the likely outcome is that in the coming year unless South Africans see a direct improvement to their livelihoods, it will result in civil unrest. The MK party and the EFF represent just under a quarter of the voting constituency there is a growing desire for a more equitable society. The civil unrest in July 2021 was a direct result of people’s circumstances being so desperate that resulted in criminal activity to survive. So if not done peacefully and in parliament the route to socialism has the potential to be violent in South Africa. 

In evaluating a timeline for socialism in South Africa it is likely to not come to fruition in the coming years. But will become a growing consideration over the next three to four electoral cycles as South Africa continues to battle with situations that seem more hopeless from year to year. 

As the formation of a government of national unity becomes more clear it will be interesting to see how willing the EFF will be to concede its socialist stance in the interim in hopes of achieving it in the future.

Khumo Kumalo is the founder of Misunderstood and a student at Morehouse College, studying political science. He is the author of the newsletter 94 was Misunderstood, which unpacks social, identity and economic issues in South Africa.