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Jul 22, 2011

Calls for 100% nationalisation or 100% privatisation extremely unhelpful

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As I was saying, hell hath no fury like a young lion scorned. I was referring to the political distance that seems to have developed between African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader Julius Malema and ANC president Jacob Zuma.

In what, I suppose, was an attempt to repair the damaged relationship, the President kept a crowd of freezing citizens for what must have been an eternity to them, waiting at the June 16 rally at Orlando stadium. The President sat patiently for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for his name to be called. This was at the congress of the Youth League, where he was the guest of honour.

While he was explaining himself to Malema and his followers, the stadium was emptying. By the way, the rally was a State event. We, as a result, now have a better sense of the President’s priorities. The President understands very well that his fate depends on the 6 000 or so delegates who will be gathered in Mangaung next year to re-elect or dethrone him, and Malema will be one of them. You, as one of the other 49 994 000 citizens, do not count.

Now that I have appraised you of your status as a citizen, let me give you an update of what the comrades have been saying. I am doing this because, despite your status, what the comrades have been saying is going to affect you – possibly your dividends and bank balance too. I am talking about the promise of a nationalised mining industry, of course.

The Youth League, at its congress, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), at its central committee meeting, passed resolutions calling for nationalisation. However, the two bodies did not pass these resolutions for the same reasons. For Cosatu, this was a restatement of previous resolutions on the matter and an attempt to direct attention away from the Youth League by positioning itself as the authentic working class voice on the issue of nationalisation.

Remember that, at the Youth League congress, Malema had argued that the vanguard formation of the working class had failed to play the role of providing leadership to the working class and, because of this, the Youth League would fill the vacuum. To the extent that this was interpreted as a reference to both Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP), this is an attempt by Cosatu to re-assert its hegemony in this working class space.

Those of us who take a classical Marxist-Leninist view believe Malema’s verbal arrows were aimed at the SACP because the vanguard role is traditionally played by a communist party. This is not the function of a labour federation. Malema’s utterances will unavoidably start a debate on whether a youth league can, or should, perform the function of vanguard party of the working class.

What needs to be borne in mind is the fact that this is not a task the SACP can perform by proclamation. What Malema seems to be suggesting is that, at a practical level, the SACP has failed to lead by doing and by example. Objectively, this may be false but what matters is the fact that perceptions of the SACP as a party of the working class in decline have the potential to shape subjective responses to the Youth League’s call for nationalisation.

These perceptions may be reinforced by the SACP’s declared opposition to nationalisation. But it is important to understand that the SACP’s position is political, not ideological. Ideologically, the SACP remains committed to what it calls the ‘socialisation’ of mineral and other economic resources.

Politically, the SACP is opposed to the idea of nationalising mines because it believes that the Youth League is playing the role of a Trojan horse on behalf of black economic-empowerment (BEE) mining groups whose assets are in trouble.

The argument is that nationalisation would amount to nothing but a rescue package for BEE mining projects that are drowning in debt.

Is this true?

A report that was commissioned by the South African Mining Development Association states that black share- holders owned 5.27% of the shares of mining companies on the JSE at the end of March 2010. Of this, 3.58% of the gross black shareholding on the JSE does not require a bail-out and only 1.69% does.

If these figures are correct, the SACP’s argument is purely political.

To some extent, this is neither here nor there. What should occupy our minds is whether the State should play a role in the economy. In fact, many of the responses to Malema are just red herrings. An attempt is being made to kill the debate on the need for State intervention by responding mainly to extreme proposals in this regard.

Therefore, calls for either 100% nationalisation or 100% privatisation are extremely unhelpful.

To watch a video of Matshiqi discussing this column, click here.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
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