An economic ‘Codesa’ must have real value

2011-08-13 13:35

In response to the ANC Youth League’s “economic emancipation” agenda, which has the ­entire country talking either in confusion, agreement or disagreement, some have proposed an “economic Codesa”.

They argue that the way we ­accumulate and distribute income is the fundamental reason we have the problem the youth league claims it wants to solve.

To anyone who has read Professor Sampie Terreblanche’s A ­History of Inequality, or Martin ­Meredith’s Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa, among others, the call for ­inclusive economic growth to ­reduce inequality is fully justified.
The wholesale looting of the wealth and liberty of indigenous South Africans, and their consequent suppression by successive colonial and apartheid governments, created social and ­economic structures that ensured most blacks would be at a disadvantage for generations to come.

This is a fact we’ve been ­encouraged to forget since we set about our acclaimed reconciliation project.

If we’re to have any gathering ­resembling Codesa, the real ­effects of this history and how to address them can’t be ­addressed by sugar-coating them as we did at and ­after Codesa.

One of the potential deal breakers at Codesa was whether a ­democratic government could ­effect laws that acknowledge and redress the grand theft and wholesale murder that had preceded Codesa.

In the end it was agreed that whites would hold on to what they already had, while ways had to be found in which blacks could be ­introduced into the “white” ­economy.

That gave us black economic empowerment, a piece of social engineering that was quickly ­hijacked by clever politicians and their cronies – who became ­almost instant millionaires by ­using their proximity to power.

It was a sickening spectacle which, in true South African fashion, is coated in political correctness and swallowed whole as it continues today.

This political compromise also placed obligations on future ­democratic governments to enact programmes and find resources that would improve the quality of our education so that blacks could better participate in the country’s economy.

Outcomes-based education, conceived and delivered on Madiba’s watch, was an abject failure that continues to haunt us ­today, with children unable to read, write or count.

Some of our university graduates can’t even think properly, let alone produce profound original ideas.

Complicating matters further is an environment that has pupils staying in class while teachers go on strike and assault teachers who dare not participate.

We all remain silent in the face of such actions, yet we hope for economic emancipation in our lifetime in a global economy ­increasingly demanding of technical skills.

Widespread, politically sponsored corruption ensures that citizens’ tax contributions disappear into the pockets of individuals who buy protection by donating some of these stolen funds to political parties and factions.

Citizens have become accustomed to newspaper revelations detailing wholesale looting followed by arrogant dismissals of such allegations, or empty promises of action that fizzle into a damp squib.

How can we expect to reduce poverty and inequality in such an environment?

If we’re to have a “Codesa”, we have to ensure it asks and answers several searching questions ­relating to why we continue to have ­entrenched poverty and ­inequality.

We have to examine whether the business sector has really accepted our “transformation” imperative for what it is, an effort to give meaning to the political solution found before the 1994 elections, so that we don’t have racial polarisation because of poverty.

We have to ask whether ­politicians have demonstrated the necessary leadership and integrity to make sure this happens, or have used their power to ensure it ­benefits them and their cronies first.

Business leaders must indicate whether they will continue getting salaries that are beyond obscene in an economy where some workers earn only enough to travel to and from work.

Trade unions must search their souls to answer valid accusations that they have offered nothing in the way of solutions and sacrifices that would give those who don’t work a chance at employment.

Already we’re the strike capital of the world and one of the least productive countries.

Our political leaders must say whether they’re prepared to hold themselves accountable to the people and stop standing idle while taxpayers pay unofficial rent in the form of corrupt tenders.

The problems we face are many, and the risks they pose are grave.

They’re not the fault of one ­sector but an indication of a ­collective ­national failure to wake up from self-induced slumber.

If we continue being politically correct, this Codesa will achieve nothing.

» Zibi works in communications and is a member of the Midrand Group. He writes in his personal capacity

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