Guest Column

The unengaged complexities of radical economic transformation

2017-05-16 11:10

Oliver Dickson

Our political engagement can be characterised as a litany of ad hominem fallacies, and this is particularly true for our engagement around the recently amplified debate on radical economic transformation. An ad hominem fallacy is when you respond to an argument by attacking not the substance of the argument but by trying to discredit the person who made the argument.

Granted, “who” makes the argument is often as important as “what” the argument is because it exposes things like motive, context and positionality. But often times, simply dismissing an argument because you don’t like the person who made the argument is lazy engagement and intellectually bankrupt.

This has been the case with the detractors to the ANC’s radical economic transformation narrative. People often dismiss the argument, not for what it is – or for what it’s used for, but because of who it’s made by. The post-reshuffle Zuma faction are trying everything they possibly can to sell this narrative to ANC branches across the country and poor people, so much so that Ace Magashula gave an hour long lecture on the matter upon Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s visit to the Free State. And simply because these people are in defence on Zuma when they make this argument, they are summarily dismissed.

But let’s evaluate the substance of the argument on its own merits, regardless of who is making the argument.

Importantly, we have to then ask, what is radical economic transformation? The answer here is, the ANC does not know. They have no idea how to define the concept, and as Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out recently during a speech, the definition on radical economic transformation is one that continuously finds new life and develops into something new.

The ANC doesn’t actually care what radical economic transformation is, because they don’t actually mean it. They’re abusing it to defend Zuma. But presumably, to the ANC, radical economic transformation is just a more aggressive continuation of everything they’ve been doing for the last 23 years. This is because they actually don’t want to do anything more radical than what they’ve been doing all along. In fact, Cyril Ramaphosa even went as far as saying that radical economic transformation is no different from what’s in the National Development Plan and their existing conceptualisation of “Inclusive Growth”.

More recently, Prof. Chris Malikane, Malusi Gigaba’s economic advisor – and lecturer at Wits University alongside Former Reserve Bank Governor, Tito Mboweni – came out strong in defining what radical economic transformation is. His contribution, however, tows the same line that the EFF holds in their economic policy manifesto.

In their definition of radical economic transformation, they imagine a South Africa where the land is owned by the state and leased out to South Africans equitably – this puts the means of production directly in the hands of the people, through the state. More than that, they imagine a South Africa where the state has a substantial share in key industries, more boldly, they imagine the state to own mines and play in banking.

The backlash that Prof. Malikane and, by extension, the EFF receives take various forms.

Firstly, and most aggressively, they’ve been told that land reclamation and redistribution will invariably lead South Africa down the path Zimbabwe took. This hasty generalisation could not be more false because this argument is incongruent with the execution processes that drove the land reclamation project in Zimbabwe. What happened there was uncoordinated land grabs by political elites and war vets. That is unlike how Julius Malema describes the South African land reclamation project. The land will be owned by the people through the state. The state gets to regulate, administrate and delegate land – presumably by a legislative framework conceptualised in the National Assembly. Respectfully, even Max du Preez was wrong in his critique of the land reclamation debate.

Secondly, Afriforum’s rejection of anything radical is that the problem in South Africa is that black people don’t have access to the economy because they aren’t educated. So we must fix education. While is it true that we need to fix education, it is false to assume that education will solve the economic disenfranchisement of black people, particularly at the level of urgency it needs to be solved at.

There are more than twice as many black graduates in South Africa than there are white graduates. In fact, black people make up 60% of our graduates while white people only make up 25% of our graduates. Despite these numbers, the average white household still makes 8 times more than the average black household, white people still make up the majority of management posts in South Africa and unemployment among white people pales in comparison to that among black people. So the problem is not education – because black people are clearly educated, the problem lies in how the economy is structured. Afriforum insincerely engages the problem.

Beyond that, Julius Malema and Chris Malikane argue that it is crucial that we nationalise the mines and put its hands in banking. The unsubstantiated response is that this will chase away foreign investors. Importantly, those who purport this argument never seem to give the analysis for why it would in fact chase investors away, that argument remains speculative, at best. But more than that, why is that necessarily such a bad thing? When the state has new and bigger income streams, it becomes an investor in itself.

While Jacob Zuma may be preaching radical economic transformation insincerely and for his own selfish reasons, the debate remains an important one. I am willing to respectfully and sincerely debate and engage anyone on this matter, without dismissing the debate simply because of where it comes from. We all should participate in this conversation because it will undoubtedly be the most important issue to the electorate at the ballot in 2019. 

- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.

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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