EFF's land of promises

2014-03-02 14:00

I was entranced by the Thembisa manifesto launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) last Saturday. The audaciousness.

The symbolism. Party leader Julius Malema has reinvented himself from the Breitling- and Carducci-donning businessman with urban swag into our very own Hugo Chávez, the late Venezuelan leader he reveres so much.

Look at the worker overalls, the now iconic beret, the leader’s seat, the fiery red of everything.

The EFF is rapidly the story of Election 2014 – the phenomenon – although most pundits predict a voting outcome of about 7% for the party.

The EFF filled the stadium with none of the big guns, the big cars, the beautiful girls and the pop glamour of the ANC shindig down the road. Malema’s message of a final freedom, a real freedom, has caught a spark.

His manifesto drew audible gasps in our newsroom for its audaciousness and the politics girding it. It is a careful manifesto meant to speak to distinct constituencies: the ragged end of the working class that trade unions have eschewed – security guards, domestic workers, farm hands, shop assistants.

The EFF has resuscitated nationalisation and put it back on the economic policy discussion. Land expropriation, too.

The manifesto was well received by those gathered at the launch; like a Freedom Charter dusted off for the 21st century.

But I got the SA Institute of Race Relations to cost the manifesto. Here’s the sad news. If the EFF were in power and if Floyd Shivambu were finance minister, we’d be bankrupt in a year.

How? The cost of nationalising the targeted industries – including the mines, banks, Sasol and ArcelorMittal South Africa – outstrips the value of our gross domestic product.

Then, assuming Andile Mngxitama, who is expected to head land affairs for the EFF, were to pay for expropriated land, the bill would run to trillions of rands we don’t have.

By now, we’d be bankrupt. It’s unlikely that foreigners would buy government bonds (purchases have already tapered) because, ninnies that they are, they would have taken to the hills after seeing the likely plummet in credit ratings.

The institute’s chief economist, Ian Cruickshank, says business will ramp up mechanisation to ward off the minimum wages the EFF wants to impose.

Pump jockeys will be replaced by self-service pumps, robots will do the work of deep miners, and you and I will buy vacuum cleaners to replace domestic workers we can no longer afford to pay.

Industries that don’t make a profit because of rising production costs will go to the wall.

The fiscal decline will make it hard to meet social promises like a decent house for each of our 14 million households. But if we deficit spend, a debt trap beckons.

“Wherever you go with this manifesto, you end up bankrupt. I think it’s terrifying,” says Cruickshank.

The EFF’s grand plans

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