Black Industrialists Policy: Navigating Economic Establishments and Taming Political Malaise

2015-11-05 17:05

Parliament’s recently approved “Black Industrialist Policy” looks set to be rolled out following its approval this week .With Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies expected to unpack the policy next week at a special briefing, issues he’ll be expected to address are numerous and deep seated. The pervasive influences and spaces that international partners, not least the Republic of China, have gained in our economy, sits at the peak of these issues.  South Africa’s textile industry as is well known by now, has suffered almost irreparable damage since the advent of trade relations with the People’s Republic, with major retailers like Mr. Price among others, opting for cheaper fabrics from the orient. Other deep seated issues are ties that local industry possesses to international capital (in the form of trade networks and clientele), and how such entrenched such networks may become impediments to market participation by prospective black entrepreneurs/industrialists. All of these dynamics at play, hardly help when one considers the disposition of the Post-Apartheid government. Professors Daniel Friedman and Shauna Mottiar, almost ten years ago, laid bare their sentiments when they stated  

The Post-Apartheid state is primarily the guardian and protector of dominant economic interests and the guarantor of capitalist prosperity relations” (Friedman & Motttiar: 2006: 38)

In this regard, setting aside R23-billion for such a project on paper may look well and good as a countermeasure to deep seated structural imbalances, but intermittent state intervention as a support function in trade has to accompany this initiative. Just as democracies require ceaseless civil and societal, engagement, critique and responses, so too do markets require vigil from stakeholders to ensure their effective and smooth flow. Such vigil, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, should also come from the state when necessary. Minister Davies should be expected to outline consultations and agreed upon measures discussed with the established industrial sectors of South Africa to support up an coming black prospectors, but it will have to be an agreement which substantially addresses how market spaces will be made for these black industrialists, otherwise this project looks set to become another archaic outmoded attempt at placation and face value do-gooding.

“Making Markets Work” is an approach and a framework which should permeate the entirety of this document, should black industrialists have any hope of reforming a sector deeply embedded in established networks (by race and now by class). as well as having succumbed to the recent intrusions by powerful economic entities from abroad. How the policy navigates acclimatized to this business and industrial environment will be crucial should the policy have any effect in bearing a future which we as South Africans so desperately need. These are questions I suspect will be lingering in the minds of leftist unions, activists  and other critics of the ANC’s transformation efforts.

Politico-business relations of years gone by are also another concern the policy should include, not to mention having the teeth to penalize and discourage, should it re-occur. Although the minister has previously stated selection criteria for black industrialists will be strict, this may be perceived as little more than pandering to the fears of investors/stakeholders and observers. A sordid history of deployments and connections in most state-run business initiatives making the news means similar bumps along the road will be a major hurdle, if not a definite road-block for the policy. Other factors remain at large as well. Should the policy seek to achieve it stated goal of producing 100 black industrialists in 3 years, two important utilities for industrial activity and expansion, electricity and water, are under strain. Eskom’s supply of electricity is a factor of concern, with some contributors on this platform noting a decreased demand as the reason for no load shedding. Water supplies on the other hand, are in the midst of one of the country’s most ferocious droughts in history dwindle to levels not seen since the beginning of the 20th century. Restrictions on water use have already been placed in Gauteng with KZN and the Free State surely soon to follow.

The adoption and implementation of the black industrialist policy should be a welcome development for the long-term economic and structural future of the country, but this needs to be tempered with strong leadership and guidance, devoid of the self-aggrandizement we’ve come to know so well by politicos. As well as moral guidance and ethics, strong political will to create spaces for these prospective industrialists should necessitate tactful state intervention when necessary. This should occur even if pervasive policy amendments may be sought by economic and state entities  looking to maintain their dominant positions in the sector.

From what the national government has become, under the auspices of a deteriorating African National Congress, this looks set to become one of (if not its paramount) challenges. Critiques rising from within ANC-party ranks, ranging from its omnipotent “crass materialism” hint at a time where the soul and definition of the party is being contested, both within and outside it's ranks. It should be strongly commended should all these challenges be met and still overcome, in order to truly subscribe to the National Development Plan’s iterations of a Developmental State”. The will to achieve the desired results in the timeframe set  (100 black industrialists in the space of three years) will involve more than just money, but multilateral efforts and support from established industrial sectors, as well as powerful corporate entities and their state backers to contribute. All of this however, can only be achieved if the ANC itself commits resolutely to this plan, and in the process restores confidence from the public and other stakeholders.   REFERENCES Friedman. S & Mottair. S, 2006, “Seeking High Ground: The Treatment Action Campaign and the Politics of Morality in Ballard. R, Habib. R.A, Valodia. I (eds), Voices of Protest: Social Movements In Post-Apartheid South Africa. University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, Ch. 2, pp. 23-43

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