Clem Sunter

Time for a third vision

2010-09-22 13:20

At the moment the electorate perceives that there are two competing visions for the country: the ANC’s vision of state-sponsored redistribution and the DA’s vision of protecting the free-market status quo. I know the latter would argue that this does not reflect the true extent of their vision, but that is how they are seen. In Zimbabwe, it is the same duality with Zanu-PF representing redistribution and the MDC perceived to be sponsored by colonial reactionaries. Sadly the black/white division is also part of the party branding among the voters of both countries.

There is now room for a third vision which was originally formulated by the black consciousness movement and which was particularly well articulated by Steve Biko. It rests on a simple assumption about human nature: hand-outs don’t improve your self-worth - doing it for yourself does. Liberation in this vision means liberation of the individual human soul to pursue his or her own goals as he or she defines them. It means, for example, that welfare initiatives and public works programmes to reduce unemployment are viewed with mixed feelings. On the one hand, you have to be realistic about reducing human misery; but, on the other hand, these actions do nothing to promote the independence and feelings of self-worth of the recipients.

Translating this third vision into a party manifesto is not difficult. Obviously, the quality of education which gives young people the ability to fulfil their individual goals is paramount. However, what interests me would be the economic recommendations basically to support an affirmative action programme for entrepreneurs where colour is not an issue. I would propose the following:

1. A venture capital fund of R100bn would be established and funded by a one-off turnover tax on big business, the percentage being determined by whatever figure raises that sum. The fund would be spread between the provinces and administered by venture capitalists with proven small business experience. The large companies would each have a shareholding in the fund commensurate with their contribution.

2. The scorecard for banks would be amended to include points for setting up a small loans division and points on the volume of business executed. The same would apply to the JSE in terms of the number of small businesses listed.

3. The scorecard for big business would include percentage targets in their procurement programmes in terms of contracts with businesses below a certain size.

4. The scorecard for accounting firms would be revised to allow for a certain amount of auditing and accounting services for small businesses – albeit at lower charge rates and less stringent standards.

5. The scorecard for business schools would reflect the amount of training and mentorship that they would do for entrepreneurs.

6. Rural communities would be allowed to set up local energy transfer systems whereby local citizens could barter goods and services between one another without having to pay VAT.

7. All small businesses would be exempt from tax (except for VAT) up to an annual profit of R1m. This would immediately legitimise virtually all entrepreneurs as well as provide them with compensation for the risks they take – including the fact that they have to put their own money aside for a pension in old age. The shortfall in tax would be met by introducing a graduated system of company tax similar to the one that operates for income tax.

8. Labour laws would be simplified to allow small business owners to hire and discharge employees with more flexibility. This would not apply to households employing domestic workers.

9. Large agricultural enterprises would be encouraged to transform themselves into networks of small farms which can still achieve the economies of scale and efficiencies of the larger units. Land redistribution implemented in this way would not harm food security.

10. Campaigns to celebrate South Africa’s individual pockets of excellence would be undertaken to create a bandwagon effect with the message that if this person can do it, so can you. In this regard, I always invoke the name of Siya Xusa, the young man from Umtata who now has a minor planet named after him by Nasa for the advances he has made in rocketry science.

There you have it. My campaign would focus on getting ordinary people to do extraordinary things with the slogan: “I will empower you to be who you want to be!” Is there any reader 20 or 30 years younger than me out there willing to step up to the plate? You will certainly obtain my vote.

Send your comments to Clem

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