Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Does the ANC realise that their expropriation drive will make of South Africa an economic ‘basket case’?

By the day I am more and more astonished that the ANC — with a leader whom I used to regard as an intelligent man — is forging ahead with an expropriation policy that can have only one result: lowering the economic status of South Africa to rock bottom, where it can rub shoulders with Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, from which thousands of Zimbabweans have fled to be able to survive — I know, because until recently, we had two Zimbabweans working for us in the house and the garden. (I specify Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, because its new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, does seem intent on reversing Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes; whether he will succeed, is another question.)

This morning I listened to a podcast by Dr Frans Cronje that analyses the situation in detail, and while I do not agree with all his reasoning, by and large it is a compelling analysis which persuades one to take a stand on this issue — we should stop believing that the ANC (let alone the regressive EFF) has the interests of ALL South Africans at heart; they do not. They are in this blind rush for votes because they only care about their own party. History will judge them harshly. They have evidently forgotten that many whites in South Africa, including myself, paved the way, through our actions, for the unbanning of the organisation and the eventual advent of a democratic state in South Africa.

I was among the members of the first groups of white professionals who met with the ANC in Harare, Windhoek and Lusaka in the late 1980s (at conferences arranged by IDASA), because we knew that apartheid was an unjust system that had to be dismantled, and based on our interaction with members of the ANC at these meetings, we believed we could trust the organisation. I am sure that this trust was justified under Nelson Mandela’s presidency, and still largely under that of Thabo Mbeki (despite his delusional AIDS policy), but since Jacob Zuma’s disastrous ascent to power in the ANC, things have gone steadily downhill. Many people thought things would recover to an even keel, economically and politically, under Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership, but by the day he is proving them wrong.

While I am no defender of capitalism – the most exploitative economic system ever to have existed on the planet – I do recognise, as any rational person does, that, for better or worse, we must accept that we live in a capitalist world, and until that changes (and it will change when global warming effects really kick in), we have to negotiate its rules. This is something that Mr Ramaphosa and his colleagues do not seem to understand; recently friends of mine in several overseas countries have contacted me with various degrees of alarm at what they perceive to be a tragicomedy of sorts being played out here — something that might be funny, given the almost comical ineptitude of the (mis-)ruling party, were it not for the tragic consequences that its policy will unavoidably bring.

The ANC has demonstrated, through their determination to change the constitution for the facilitation of the intended ‘expropriation without compensation’ law to be accepted by Parliament, that they are NOT a party with South Africa’s interests at heart, but only its own. If they had South Africa’s interests at heart, they would abandon this policy for the sake of an economically viable future for the country; as things stand, it is clear that they are only interested in garnering votes in next year’s election.

That the rest of the world is taking note of what is happening here is apparent from the many relevant reports I have noticed in the last two weeks alone. (Here is one, which understates the seriousness of the situation.) It is also evident from the fact that the Donald (Trump) made the ANC’s expropriation policy a subject of one of his routine tweets, which was quickly (and mendaciously) ‘repudiated’ by the SA government. While I hold no brief for the brainless loose cannon that is Trump, what this incident illustrates is that — take note ANC — we live in a globalised, economically interconnected world, where any such policy on the part of a country that has UN membership, in addition to being a member of the world economic community (even regularly sending delegations to the Davos ‘rich boys club’), will not be tolerated.

What the ANC therefore has to ask itself is this: Is it worthwhile, in the long run, to pursue this self-defeating policy if it is likely, if not certainly, the case that there will be a strong negative backlash from the rest of the world in economic terms – specifically as far as a refusal to invest in the country is concerned? It could take an even worse turn than that – remember the disinvestment campaign against the old apartheid government in the 1980s, which played a large role in bringing it to its knees? The ANC should remind itself of these things, and show some foresight. It was not the guerilla campaign against the country and the war against the SANDF under apartheid that brought South Africa to the negotiation table (everyone knows that the SANDF had the upper hand all along); it was economic pressure. And such economic pressure could bring South Africa to its knees again.

I can guess what ‘policy-informed’ members of the ANC would think when they read this; they would probably chuckle and say to themselves: ‘You don’t know that the ANC has a backdoor, which it has been lubricating for some time now, namely China (and Russia, although this is probably less the case) — after all, South Africa is a member of the BRICS group. And if the West should disinvest here (so the argument would go), so what? Xi and the Chinese Communist Party are generous!’

If this is what they would be thinking, I hope to heaven that they rethink. It is no secret that China is slowly but surely infiltrating Africa through its policy of economic aid in exchange for what the Germans call ‘Lebensraum’ — living space — for thousands, if not millions, of their citizens, who settle in African countries. In other words, its economic assistance comes with strings attached, such as those strings that other smaller countries did not see coming.

The other thing that the ANC may be secretly planning, is to abandon constitutional democracy gradually and combine strict authoritarian state (that is, party-) control of South Africa with state capitalism, based on the Chinese model, where we have this ironic combination of what used to be mutually exclusive systems, namely capitalism and communism. However, China is no equality-oriented communist state any longer, except insofar as state control of all aspects of social, political and economic life is concerned; as for the rest, it is capitalist, but with a difference. Where ‘the market’ rules in the rest of the world’s capitalist states, in China ‘the party’ intervenes whenever it deems it necessary, in the form of devaluing or revaluing the Chinese Renminbi Yuan.

The big difference between China and South Africa, which would make such a combination of state dictatorship and capitalism impossible, however, is this: the Chinese are among the most dedicated, hardworking people in the world, as I learned firsthand during a visit to five Chinese cities, where working literally, visibly, did not stop at any time. This is why China can get away with its state capitalist policy: it is a very productive country.

Can South Africa do it? I have never seen signs of a comparable work ethic in South Africa — except perhaps in small pockets of economic activity — and the rest of the world knows this, too. Under those circumstances, when South Africa nose-dives economically, should the ruling party — which is evidently dead scared of the EFF — go ahead with its intention to amend the constitution, and pass its mooted expropriation bill, it would be on a slippery economic slope to the bottom.

It is imperative for the ANC to rethink the options open to them as far as land is concerned. There is sufficient state-owned land to distribute among aspiring black farmers to begin the process; white farmers have declared themselves willing to cooperate in the process of carrying this further. And besides, the most fertile soil in the country is occupied by subsistence farmers in what used to be the Transkei, as well as in KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa does NOT need the proposed ‘expropriation without compensation’ policy.

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