Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

Nationalisation…it ain’t gonna happen in our lifetime

So, nationalisation will be debated — big deal. When Mandela was released from jail 20 years ago, one of the first PR gaffes to be associated immediately with his name was the claim that the ANC was going to nationalise anything that moves. Typically none of that happened because you cannot take at face value anything a politician says, even if it is Mandela. So he was called aside quickly to be told: “Tata, actually this is not really what we are going to do … lest the markets punish us.”

So to be frank, Julius Malema’s noise is not new. The ANC has not adopted the nationalisation of mines as a policy 20 years on — no prizes for guessing why. The recent chance they had to do this saw them simply postpone the debate to 2012 where, frankly, it will be summarily quashed. They have cynically given permission for the debate to continue so the minister of minerals can again say: “It is not a policy of government — this nationalisation.” She can say this until 2012, whether Julius and his cronies like it or not. It would be foolhardy not to learn a simple lesson: those who attempted to be bigger than the organisation have never succeeded — especially in the ANC. The ANC storybook is full of examples of people like that, people who thought that shooting from the hip would get them somewhere, but I digress.

Nationalising the mines is a lazy and foolish idea that will cause us to go the way of all African countries that forgot the place of the state in a budding economy. All you have to do is glance at the dilapidated African capitals that last got a facelift from the colonial masters before independence. The common denominator of them all was attempted shortcuts to economic recovery. This is what we are being invited to. There is frankly nothing magical about putting something under the state’s control and hoping that this will automatically achieve efficiency and redistribution. Frankly this is banal.

You don’t even have to cross the border to look at collapsing parastatals that have bled the taxpayer dry. How about making the only mine under the state function first before running amok with profitable enterprises. Some children still study under trees and 80% of our schools don’t have libraries and laboratories 16 years after democratic rule. There is no youth league campaign to stop the bleeding parastatals whose CEOs earn more than their counterparts in listed companies. How about getting some of these basics right first fellows?

The ANC youth league is calling for the chaos that often results from fixing that which is not broken. There is the accusation — curiously coming from the communist party — that nationalisation will bankroll failed BEE deals in the mining sector. I do not advise that you hold your breath for a sensible post-matric answer from the youth league about how that is going to be avoided. In 2003, the then minister of minerals and energy suggested that 50% of SA’s mines be owned by blacks and that the royalties be revised at some point to achieve this. Overnight, billions of capital flight from our stock exchange resulted from that ill-timed pronouncement alone, made before any kind of engagement could be concluded with the mining sector.

Today the law requires mining moguls to only give up 26% in 10 years. This pittance of equity is unlikely to be achieved in this lifetime. It simply won’t happen. There is no example in recent history of an insurrection, because that is the only way you can achieve what can only be described as a belated economic revolution. Yes, yes indeed it is a time bomb, but you need a trigger event like a famine or a war to even have something like nationalisation make it to the agenda of any sensible government’s economic framework.

It’s the stuff that the collapsed Soviet Union was made of. The ANC has never pronounced itself a socialist organisation. That is the fight that the youth league must go and have with its mother body, not through misguided nit-pickings … why not banks? Why not farms? Why not forests? What is so magical about mines? The debate over socialism actually is the elephant in the room.

Now this straight talk is what the ANC’s national general council should have told its youth league instead of egg dancing with what the whole world already knows. Nevertheless one must commend President Zuma for lambasting the youth league for being a bad example. He implied that the naked bum chaos at its conferences cannot possibly produce anything worthy of consideration by the mother body and that they will never be taken seriously until they take themselves a tad more seriously. All those who have had a decent matric pass would have heard the sentiments loud and clear … nationalisation — it ain’t gonna happen in our lifetime.