Ralph Mathekga

Is Zuma's transformation plan radical enough?

2017-03-06 08:44
Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma

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Since President Jacob Zuma announced that his government will pursue ‘radical economic transformation’, different versions of what this means have been brought forth. 

For Mr. Zuma, the issue is clear and simple: South Africa needs to do something drastic in order to overhaul its current economic structure which does not support equitable distribution of opportunities across society. 

With our unemployment rate sitting at 27%, indeed something drastic has to be done to address this. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan cautioned that the idea of radical economic transformation should not be used to agitate the masses with an intention to drive the populist agenda by exploiting the plight of the people. 

Gordhan is right to be suspicious about his colleagues in Cabinet; that some of them only want to use this radical transformation mantra to line their pockets. 

I would like to sound another warning regarding what radical economic transformation ought not to be about. 

Firstly, it appears that radical transformation has been reduced mainly to the issue of land restitution. Indeed our inability to deal with the question of land has created another bottleneck in our society and created many lost opportunities to use utilise land to spearhead agricultural production and subsequently address part of the unemployment scourge. 

However, I am no longer fully convinced that the historic land issue remains a stumbling block to involve the majority of poor people in farming. 

The world is experiencing major shifts in terms of farming methods and ways of pursuing agriculture as an economic activity. We are shifting towards technology based farming to an extent where ownership of vast land would soon no longer be a factor when it comes to who farms. 

Further, the manner in which land restitution has been pursued and talked about in South Africa has nothing to do with farming as an economic activity, but only focused on land ownership as part of restoration of people’s dignity.  I have no problem with this approach because indeed people have been dispossessed of their land as a means to take away their identities and dignity. Historically, this has resulted in structural impoverishment of the majority of black people. 

What we are dealing with now should not only be the restoration of that dignity and identity, but we should also focus on ensuring that the process allows for economic inclusion in the form of pursuing agriculture. This is partially what I think President Zuma means by this idea of radical transformation. 

The problem, however, is that returning the land to the people – suppose this can be achieved within the next 50 year period – will not guarantee that land is also used for agricultural purposes to ensure economic inclusion of the marginalised. 

This is where I think the radicalism of Mr. Zuma and his fellow comrades seem to run short of creativity. There is a need to also engage in the radicalism of ideas; instead of only focusing on recycled ideas that have passed their shelf lives. 

Indeed we need to restore the dignity of people by restoring land to them, but we should acknowledge that this does not on its own address the questions of economic exclusion. It is not sufficiently radical. 

What I think would be sufficiently radical is to engage in the process where people in rural areas get back to working on the land that is already there, so we do not wait for that which will only be redistributed in the next fifty years. 

We need to understand that we have a more urgent problem that needs to be addressed by involving people in technology based farming. This can be pursued while we dream about bigger, radical transformation. 

My fear is that if we do not pursue some of the already existing methods of farming at a slow space and use technology, by the time we achieve full land restitution it would already be economically nonviable to farm on bigger land. 

At some point in the near future, people will be producing more food in smaller spaces due to technological innovations such as vertical farming. We can start working on this approach in some rural areas. That will be more radical than the much talked about radical economic transformation, which is based on soon to be outdated methods of farming. 

We should be so radical to an extent where we can think of farming without using tractors, as the world is moving in this direction.    

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

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.

Read more on:    farming  |  radical economic transformation  |  agriculture
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