Malema asks the right questions

2011-11-22 00:00

NATIONAL Planning Minister Trevor Manuel created some of the problems in the country and now he wants us to believe he has the solutions, author and analyst Moeletsi Mbeki told a packed gathering at the Hilton Hotel on Friday.

According to Mbeki, when Manuel was Trade and Industry Minister, one of his biggest achievements was to destroy the manufacturing industry in South Africa. To illustrate his point, Mbeki used the example of the breakdown of the footwear industry, which was once at the heart of a flourishing Pietermaritzburg economy. He said that according to the South African Footwear and Leather Industry Association, in 1991, South Africa was manufacturing 80 million pairs of shoes. By 2005, the figure dropped to 20 million pairs and the country was importing 160 million pairs. The consequence for employment was that in 1997, 23 000 people were employed by the footwear industry, this figure dropped to 10 000 by 2006.

“The minister who oversaw the destruction of the footwear industry wants us to believe he has the solutions in a national development plan that will take the country to 2030,” said Mbeki.

“These guys have been in power for 17 years. I was asking myself what is it they didn’t do in the last 17 years that they are going to do in the next 19?” he added.

Mbeki was a guest of the local branch of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), and the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business. He is the brother of former president Thabo Mbeki.

According to Mbeki, when Manuel was Finance Minister he cut subsidies to commercial farmers, an act that resulted in 600 000 farm workers losing their jobs and homes. In turn, it meant the eviction of over two million people from these farms. “Where are these people today? Virtually all are living in shanty towns that encircle every South African town and city,” he said.

Mbeki said the one person asking the right questions is ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema, who wants to know why the government and big business are running the country into the ground. The private sector is contributing to the downward spiral by sitting back. Mbeki added that he is aware that the sector is under attack in terms of increasing tax burdens and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) requirements, which he has long advocated should be scrapped. However, business needs to stop cowering in a corner. Mbeki cited the example of Harry Oppenheimer and Anton Rupert setting up the Urban Foundation after the 1976 Soweto uprising. “They realised that South Africa had no future under apartheid and if children were showing that they were not afraid of dying, then the country was heading towards civil war,” he said.

He said the first thing business demanded was legislation to allow trade unions to operate freely. Another was that they sent a delegation to meet with the ANC in exile in 1985. “An outcome of that meeting was the suspension of the nationalisation clause in the Freedom Charter. The exiles did not tell the people of South Africa about this compromise and now they are afraid to tell the truth to Malema,” Mbeki said.

He said an issue a proactive private sector would have to address urgently is the huge income gap that exists in the country. If we want this country to come right and if we want to be economically competitive by 2030, we will have to reduce the massive salaries of the upper echelons, both in the private sector and within the civil service. He pointed to the top managers of the Johannesburg municipality, who can’t even run a billing system yet they are earning salaries of R1,5 million each.

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