It is easier for the Ekurhuleni mayor to make noise about nationalising the economy than to come up with ways to prevent his district from becoming a coronavirus epicentre.
Amid the growing economic devastation caused by a global pandemic, it is probably best to ignore the noise made by a small grouping of ANC leaders who were once loyal to former president Jacob Zuma and are now facing a political existential crises and have come together under the banner of ‘radical economic transformation forces’
Since the ANC’s Nasrec conference the noise made by what’s left of the Radical Economic Transformation (Ret) ‘forces’ in the ANC on social media has fuelled political discourse in the country.
Despite the fact that conversations around nationalising the reserve bank or “printing money to save the economy” have been so clearly proxy factional fights in the ANC, it is often ventilated in public and adds to growing policy uncertainty.
But the world has changed since December 2017. How can you even think of conversations around nationalisation when no economy, not even the most advanced in the world, has been able to withstand the devastation caused by Covid-19.
These proxy political fights have proven in this pandemic to be a diversion from the real issues at hand.
This became manifest in the brouhaha caused by the rambling tweets of Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina.
He attempted to revive the RET brigade this weekend when he endorsed a view by EFF leader Julius Malema that the white economy should collapse and the economy should not be the ‘sane’(sic).
“Until we nationalise all commanding height of the economy- we need to restart this economy and make sure it favours the majority. Things can’t be sane again (sic),” he tweeted.
Somehow, Luthuli House- which has been uncharacteristically silent during the Covid-19 outbreak and the related lockdown- entered the fray.
His statement came at the same time when members of the ANC’s economic transformation subcommittee were pulling at their hair, trying to come up with a plan to reignite the economy.
The party’s economic policy guru Enoch Godongwana is trying hard to sell an economic recovery plan it formulated which ranges from encouraging the use of pension funds and the central bank to finance infrastructure spending to the creation of a state bank and pharmaceutical company.
Party leaders were irritated by Masina’s comments on the economy as they desperately work to come up with a plan that could get the economy going.
Luthuli House had enough of Masina and a statement by the party said his comments on nationalisation of the economy “falls outside the confines of our policy position”.
This led to a tantrum by Masina on social media saying he could be removed as mayor without hesitation because he won’t be friends with “WMC” or white monopoly capital.
In his since-deleted tweets, he went on a tirade about how he will not be a coward and he stands firm on his views to nationalise the commanding centres of the economy.
This then spilled over into ANC Whatsapp groups where Masina threatened to resign.
The theatre and spectre didn’t end there.
The regional ANC leadership held a special meeting over tweets, followed by a provincial ANC meeting discussing the same issue. He would not resign, predictably, and life would go on.
It was just another dramatic spillover of ANC factionalism. Until it was not.
A parliamentary portfolio committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs aimed at getting an update from the Ekurhuleni municipality on its Covid-19 response plan was quickly overshadowed by Masina’s tweets.
This was despite the fact that as of Wednesday, Ekhuruleni has 887 recorded cases of Covid-19 and Gauteng premier David Makhura was on record expressing concern about this region because it poses a threat of becoming a hotspot.
Worse still, hospitals in that area are becoming epicentres of the outbreak with nurses and unions pleading for help.
He was grilled by MPs over his tweets and Masina stuck firm to his guns.
"I said in my tweet and I wrote it myself… I said, nationalise the commanding heights of the economy. If that is racist according to you (Hoosen), you must think again. It's an unfair comment because I don't think you understood the part. I attached what member [Julius] Malema had said. I then qualified expressively where me and him agreed and I am not going to take that back because to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy is what we have been calling for. It's not reduced to disrupting white business. I challenge you to go and see what I said," Masina insisted in that meeting.
Then, eventually, when the meeting got down to business it emerged that the municipality was projecting an R1.2 billion shortfall in revenue as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There’s a looming financial crisis as the municipality saw a sharp increase in bad debt as cash-strapped consumers battle the Covid-19 pandemic.
If this was the case in one of the country’s economic hubs, imagine how bad things are in the rest of the country.
Masina seems indifferent. They are not the only ones facing this precarious financial situation.
They have applied for funds from the Disaster Relief Grant which was allocated R20 billion by President Cyril Ramaphosa in April, but were still awaiting an outcome on the application, he said.
There is no plan of action. No consideration of how the municipality he is in charge of will weather the storm. There is no creative thinking on how the municipality he is in charge of can reignite the economy in that region so that ratepayers are able to meet their dues.
For Masina, it is easier to make noise about something not in his domain like nationalising the economy than coming up with ways to prevent his district from becoming a coronavirus epicentre or his municipality being hamstrung because of non-payment.
Sorting out the municipality he is in charge of will do more for the poor that live in the metro than any grandiose plan to nationalise the economy.
It seems like for him it doesn’t matter if the economy collapses, he will still be getting his salary.
- Qaanitah Hunter is the political editor of News24 and author of Balance of Power: Ramaphosa and the future of SA