Max du Preez

Why has Chris Malikane not been fired yet?

2017-05-09 08:19
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and his new advisor, Chris Malikane at the IMF/World Bank Spring Meeting.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and his new advisor, Chris Malikane at the IMF/World Bank Spring Meeting. (Mayihlome Tshwete)

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Imagine the coach of the Springbok rugby team appointed a boxing or badminton coach as his principal adviser. We would all choke on our mieliepap.

Now imagine a minister of finance, one who tells the world every day that he wants an economy that is attractive to investors and that he wasn’t going to deviate from existing monetary and fiscal policy, appoint a radical socialist as his principal adviser.

It makes no sense, does it? They would be extreme opposites and their (stated) views would be mutually exclusive.

Yet that is exactly what Malusi Gigaba did when he appointed professor Chris Malikane as the adviser to the national treasury.

Malikane’s model is simple: nationalise the banks, the financial institutions, the mines and industries and confiscate all land without compensation.

Yes, he says, this move would most likely mean the collapse of the economy as happened in Venezuela and Zimbabwe, but that doesn’t bother him all that much. Eventually a black-owned economy will rise from the ashes and all will be well, and so on.

(I suspect Malikane hasn’t been to Zimbabwe recently and that he doesn’t follow the slow-motion train smash that is Venezuela. I suppose he reckons his cosy jobs at the treasury and at Wits University would make him immune to the inevitable extreme poverty.)

The professor has, in the few weeks since his appointment as a key person in national treasury, grown to become something of a folk hero, a cult figure in some circles. A Gucci version of Hugo Chavez.

Malikane isn’t at fault. He’s been talking this crude, populist stuff for a while now. As an academic and a citizen he’s entitled to any view. (Though I have to add that his statement that a new socialist state could be attained by violence if a two-thirds majority in Parliament can’t be achieved, was pure recklessness. Not much of a democrat, our professor.)

It’s Gigaba’s fault. There isn’t one iota of the Malikane dogma that he could find useful as minister of finance and still talk about “inclusive growth” and an economy that is attractive to investors. If you nationalise and grab, you can’t grow and you automatically exclude investors.

So what use is Malikane then? What does he provide that is worth the fat cheques he’s getting from the taxpayer?

He has embarrassed Gigaba and national treasury on several occasions, so much so that Gigaba had to become his spin doctor and explain him away.

Why has Chris Malikane not been fired yet?

The fact is that Gigaba will have to stop talking with a forked tongue.

Malikane’s disciples firmly believe, and I have reason to think that Malikane is encouraging this, that when Gigaba talks like his predecessors it’s because he wants to softsoap investors and the grading companies, while he actually wants to eventually implement the Malikane model.

Many potential investors and economists, of course, fear that this may be true.

The danger is that Malikane’s cheap populism is beginning to dominate the mainstream discourse about the way forward for the economy. It is going to become more and more difficult to avoid this model if this continues.

The man who had appointed Gigaba, President Jacob Zuma, has been singing in this choir for a while, although not as explicitly.

He’s been beating the land drum quite a bit and his acolytes, like Cabinet minister Lindiwe Zulu, KZN ANC leader Sihle Zikalala and ANC Youth League leader Collen Maine, are demanding changes to the Constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.

Anyone making the point that Venezuela and Zimbabwe are still getting poorer and more unstable seventeen years after their versions of radical economic transformation were implemented, are dismissed as reactionary and a tool of white monopoly capitalism.

Anyone pointing out that land ownership doesn’t automatically equal wealth or that the wholescale nationalisation of agricultural land would spell disaster for food production and jobs in the rural areas is accused of protecting white interests.

I am astonished that the business and coporate sectors still don’t fully realise that the winds of change are again blowing in South Africa.

They criticise Zuma now and then, yes, but what we need from them are ambitious, concrete proposals to build a more just society and hugely increase black ownership of the economy in the shortest possible time without hurting economic growth or stability.

It is not only the right thing to do for people who earned their wealth here, it is actually in their own interest. It will buy them a stable, predictable evironment to do business in.

Our economy has to be transformed, and radically so, but not the Hugo Chavez or Robert Mugabe way.

The factured, tired ANC will talk and talk about radical transformation and issue threats to divert attention from its incompetence and corruption, until the powder keg catches fire.

Then South Africa will become a Malikane republic. Soon after that more millions will lose their jobs; there won’t be enough money for proper health care, education or institutions such as NFSAS; we won’t be able to pay social grants and millions will go hungry; crime and gangsterism will increase a hundredfold; we will have runaway inflation (Venezuela’s is heading for over 1000 percent) and the shelves will become emptier and emptier; and we will in all likelihood experience dangerous political instability and even bloody racial and ethnic conflict.

This worst case scenario can of course be avoided, but only if we come up with and implement other ways to urgently deal with inequality. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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