Finance Minister Tito Mboweni emerged from his kitchen this week with the kind of recipe that South Africans had been waiting for: the recipe for fixing the country’s ailing economy.
Mboweni, who has been criticised for not taking his stewardship of the economy seriously, and instead, flooding Twitter with examples of his culinary skills (more like the lack of), hit the nation with a huge surprise this week. He released a discussion document on economic transformation, inclusive growth and competitiveness.
It appears that he and his economic policy team at National Treasury have been quietly hard at work, searching for a way to save the country from economic Armageddon.
The solutions have been presented by economists, think-tanks, opposition parties and even some within the ANC and the government. They include improving educational outcomes; implementing youth-focused employment interventions; expanding an affordable and integrated transport system; making it easier to import skills; and building a “capable state” that forges a “compact” with other social partners such as business and labour.
Some of the bolder proposals – which have already annoyed the ANC’s alliance partners – include re-enforcing the current monetary policy stance; radically restructuring the electricity supply system; freeing up the airwaves by releasing spectrum through an auction; and liberalising the freight and passenger transport system, including the country’s rails and ports.
The thrust of the document is that the business space should be made more dynamic. It does not, as some critics have said, advocate unfettered capitalism with no developmental agenda.
Mboweni and Treasury have opened a conversation about the economic crisis – the most important crisis facing us. This is an issue much more important than the ANC factional conflicts that dominate our discourse.
The document has been greeted with suspicion by those on the left, including labour federation Cosatu and the SA Communist Party. The ragtag radical economic transformation army within the ANC’s leadership is also likely to try to stymie it when it is discussed in the party’s leadership structures.
It is highly likely to go the way of many plans government has announced before – a wonderful idea, but with little follow-through.
While we appreciate that this is a discussion document that is still up for debate and possible modifications, the fact is that South Africa does not have much time to waste on endless point-scoring and ideological wrestling. We have to move – fast.