What happens if December's ANC Elective Conference collapses?

Radical Economic Transformation: Why you shouldn’t believe the hype

Our economy needs to be more inclusive. But for the current regime, RET is just a politcal tool.

What happens if December's ANC Elective Conference collapses?

Listen, something is clearly not going right in South Africa. More than half of our citizens live in poverty, and almost a third are unemployed. Apartheid tore apart the fabric of society, and SA still pays the price. In theory, we do need ‘Radical Economic Transformation’.

It’s a buzz-word that has been thrown about a lot this year. It has almost gone under the radar, given that we’ve had ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘motion of no confidence’ and ‘cabinet reshuffle’ all filling our news feeds with dread and anticipation.

But it’s been there, patiently waiting for its stint in the limelight – which seems to be right about now. Front-runners for the ANC Leadership are polishing up on their ‘radical economic transformation’ policies as we speak.

But what’s it all about?

What is Radical Economic Transformation?

RET was officially introduced to South Africa back in February 2017. Before Jacob Zuma’s SONA address, he and the ANC had drafted an ‘urgent task list’ focused on delivering sweeping changes to how the economy is controlled.

According to the party, Radical Economic Transformation would ‘overhaul’ South African society. It aims to pump money into townships and settlements, redistribute land to black citizens and provide free higher education to the poor.

Hilariously, the last of the ANC’s ’12 commandments’ also promises to ruthlessly combat corruption. Our irony-detector has just exploded. However, on paper, most of the core principals do seem to be quite fair.

The policies of Radical Economic Transformation:

  • Return land to the people in a constitutional manner
  • Invest money in township and rural communities
  • 30% of ALL government spending must go to black-owned businesses
  • Provide affordable basic services to all (broadband, schools, hospitals)
  • Ensure 10% of GDP goes towards agricultural development
  • Turn South Africa ‘into a construction site’
  • ‘Diversify’ the ownership of the financial sector
  • Implement an official ‘National Minimum Wage’
  • Increase black-ownership in the mining sector
  • Implement free higher education for the poor, produce 5,000 PhD grads by 2030
  • Review SA’s trade policies to protect small businesses
  • Mercilessly fight against corruption

So what are the problems with RET?

Let’s start straight away with what’s happening in the mining. If Radical Economic Transformation isn’t introduced responsibly, it isn’t worth pursuing at all. Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has made a real pig’s ear in trying to reform the industry.

Hastily announced plans to increase black ownership of mines to 30% within in 12 months (a move which would require 1 in 25 companies to make sweeping changes at the top) wiped 2% off the country’s GDP, such was the shock of the statement.

It’s already been a shaky start for RET, the brainchild of Jacob Zuma and co. Honest questions have to be asked about why it is being implemented. Did JZ, the most self-serving man in politics, genuinely decide he wanted to spend his last two years overhauling an economy he’s been defrauding for years?

No. Of course he didn’t. It’s all political bluster to him. Analyst Prince Mashele went as far to label the policy as a ‘looting mechanism’ for the elite. Economic change is needed, but Zuma certainly isn’t the guy who should be in charge of it. Nor are his cronies.

Who else has criticised Radical Economic Transformation?

Basically, everyone who isn’t part of the ANC. Hell, even those who are affiliated with the ANC have expressed their doubts. The SACP – once key Zuma allies –  and their leader Nzimande Blade described the notion as an enrichment tool for ‘narrow black elite accumalation‘.

More predictably, leader of the opposition Mmusi Maimane has his stern criticisms of RET, too. He believes the term is merely a tool for the Guptas, looking to make their lives easier as owners of mining companies that benefit from the transformation.

Johann Rupert, SA’s richest man, has blasted the proposals. He branded Radical Economic Transformation as ‘a codeword for theft‘, allowing those high-up in government to raid the state for all it is worth.

The most brutal assessment of RET comes from another former Zuma supporter now turning his back on the president. Mathews Phosa went one better, and simply refused to acknowledge the concept even exists:

“There is no such thing as radical economic transformation. Many countries and politicians have tried to change the natural dynamics of the economy, all of them have failed.”

In defence of RET…

The candidates to replace Zuma as the ANC President are all big supporters of Radical Economic Transformation. Both Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are advocates of the change. So are Lindiwe Sisulu and Zweli Mkhize, but they are in favour of ‘less radical’ transformation.

Interestingly, Lindiwe Sisulu’s leadership manifesto includes finding more jobs for women in desperate need of work. It’s a transformation approach that isn’t essentially rooted in race, and could certainly breath life into the much-maligned policy.

Is it something to fear?

It’s so indicative of this current regime, but the answer is a yes. It’s simply in the wrong hands at the moment. For the first time in our modern democracy, the ANC are in danger of losing their place as the ruling party.

Radical Economic Transformation is something that needs to be seen through and fostered at the beginning of a Presidential term. Not half way through a f***-show that requires soundbites to keep voters distracted.

SA is certainly once bitten, twice shy with the movement. Minister Zwane’s early attempts to switch up the economy caused chaos. With Gupta tentacles writhing around the ANC, it’s impossible not to treat RET with abject suspicion.

It’s genuinely upsetting. Everyone should have access to influencing our economy. Those without land deserve repatriations. We do need to empower our impoverished citizens. But we can’t do this whilst the notion of transformation is simply a political bargaining chip.