This is the first of three articles that look at the political and policy bloodline of the New Growth Path and the main criticisms that have emerged about the policy in the public domain over the last few days.

This first post is a summary – using quotes and paraphrasing – of Ruling Alliance statements about macro-economic policy since 1990.

To understand the policy we have to understand:

  • firstly how the policy fits into the discussion/dog fight in the Alliance over the last 20 years;
  • and secondly the fact that the policy comes from Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, whose department and position, in my opinion, was a last-minute structural compromise to reward Cosatu (and to a lesser degree the SACP) for having backed Jacob Zuma against Mbeki.

So the big bulls (ANC and the SACP) have been butting heads for 20 years (see below) and now the little bull is trying to horn in on the action.

20 years in the trenches of the ideological squabble

Since the release of Mandela from prison in 1990 (and, in fact, well before that – mostly behind closed doors) different factions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have had a sometimes productive and sometimes vicious policy debate about economic policy. At issue has always been the stance the state should take towards private business and the appropriate amount of persuasion and coercion required to achieve redress and redistribution.

The first sign of things to come was the speech Nelson Mandela made on his release from prison in 1990.  After the excerpt from Mandela’s speech I will let the comments flow and tell their own story of the conflict within the Ruling Alliance.

A history of the conflict in quotes and paraphrases

“The nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable”

Nelson Mandela paraphrasing the Freedom Charter on his release from prison in 1990

“We are convinced that neither a commandist central planning system nor an unfettered free market system can provide adequate solutions.”

The 48th ANC National Conference, July 1991 from a conference resolution

“It was a demand-led and internal infrastructural development proposal, which envisaged less immediate concern with budget deficit reduction and inflation.”

African Communist No 147, third quarter 1997 discussing the Macro Economic Research Group’s (MERG’s) proposals from 1993

“Of particular importance was the proposal to restructure the economy by way of a policy of ‘growth through redistribution in which redistribution acts as a spur to growth and in which the fruits of growth are redistributed to satisfy basic needs’. This proposal was predicated on the central policy idea that the state needed to boost demand, primarily by ensuring that greater amounts of income would be received by the poorer sections of the population, which in turn would stimulate output and hence economic growth.”

Dennis Davis in From the Freedom Charter to the Washington Consensus 2002 discussing the RDP proposal of 1993

“Despite its ideology while in opposition, once in power the ANC government implemented an orthodox macroeconomic policy which stressed deficit reduction and a tight monetary policy, combined with trade liberalisation. The stated purpose of this package (the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution programme, or GEAR) was to increase economic growth, with a 4.2% rate programmed for 1996-2000. At mid-term of the programme, growth remained far below this target. The GEAR’s lack of success cannot be explained by unfavourable external factors; rather, the disappointing performance seemed the result of fiscal contraction and excessively high interest rates”

A standard left criticism of GEAR from: Stuck in Low GEAR? Macroeconomic Policy in South Africa, 1996-98 John Weeks Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1999, vol. 23, issue 6, pages 795-811

“Faced with deepening unemployment, poverty, and inequality, and with disappointing growth and investment, the GEAR policy framework has met with persisting criticism from COSATU and the SACP in particular. From the side of its principal proponents within the government, there have been several adjustments in the face of disappointment. Increasingly, GEAR has been redefined as a conjunctural stabilization program and not what its acronym suggested it once aspired to be (a growth, employment and redistribution strategy). In this rereading, GEAR was necessitated by global turbulence and by a very precarious foreign currency reserve situation in 1996. Its “success” is now measured not in terms of growth, employment, and redistribution outcomes, but anecdotally and by way of comparison—“whatever our problems, South Africa’s economy is not in the same predicament as Argentina, or Turkey, or Zimbabwe,” or “GEAR has helped us to survive the worst of global turbulence” (which may not be completely incorrect).”

Jeremy Cronin rephrasing GEAR as a conjectural stabilisation strategy – 1998

In an address to the Socialist International October 2003 and then in various speeches in 2004, Thabo Mbeki argued that solving unemployment, poverty and low levels of black participation in ownership and control of the economy had become very urgent. Further, he argued that to solve these problems an effective, strong and interventionist developmental state was needed – just proving that there is nothing new in heaven and earth. He put the case for improving the public service and extending the state’s influence and ability to lead the economy. “Influence” meant keeping hold of strategic state assets (and therefore a partial withdrawal from the privatisation specified in GEAR) as well as a detailing of micro-reforms including BEE. He placed a strong emphasis on private public partnerships as well as on galvanising a collective consciousness about the “common good”. From this shift the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) was codified in 2005/2006. While it set targets for growth and employment, Asgisa was primarily an infrastructure investment programme combined with various (mostly supply-side) measures to remove impediments to growth – much of which the economy continues to benefit from today.

My own summary of Thabo Mbeki’s initial motivations for AsgiSA

In the lead up to Polokwane this was the definitive statement from ‘the left’ attacking the direction that the Mbeki government had taken: “The post-1996 class project” was led by a “technocratic vanguardist” state with the mission for “a restoration of the conditions for capitalist profit accumulation on a new and supposedly sustainable basis” (as opposed to “a revolutionary … transformation … to resolve the .. contradictions in favour of .. the working class ..”). The document argued that “The post-1996 class project” rests on three pillars: Firstly, the ANC leadership has mistakenly bought into a myth of a gentler, kinder world, but imperialism is stronger and more hostile to popular democracy than ever; secondly, to fit into this world “the second pillar of the project is a powerful presidential centre” that necessarily installs a top state/ leadership group of state managers and ‘technocratically’-inclined ministers and (often overlapping with them) a new generation of black private sector BEE; and finally, the project calls for the organisational modernisation of the ANC … “to transform the ANC from a mobilising mass movement into a ‘modern’, centre- left, electoral party”. There is a “manifest inability of capitalist stabilisation and growth to resolve the deep-seated social and economic crises of unemployment, poverty and radical inequality in our society. The ravages to the ANC’s organisational capacity and coherence (are caused by) “the attempts to assert a managerialist, technocratic control over a mass movement, and in the crises of corruption, factionalism and personal careerism inherent in trying to build a leading cadre based on (explicit or implicit) capitalist values and on a symbiosis between the leading echelons of the state and emerging black capital.”

My paraphrasing of the SACP Central Committee Discussion Document. Bua Komanisi – Volume 5, Issue No1 May 2006 – difficult to read but a perfect summary of the position that exists to this day in the SACP

Then came the answer to the ‘left critique’ from the central ANC leadership: “…the trapeze act here is to co-opt the ANC, formally, as an organisation pursuing socialism; and then condemn it as having betrayed the socialist project”. First, and most importantly the ANC denies that it ever was or should have been an organisation whose objectives was to achieve socialism. The ANC, the document claims, is the organic result of the struggle of black South Africans for national liberation and redress for what they suffered and lost under Apartheid. Additionally the ANC prioritises the poor and the working class. Once this point is made, the ANC argues, all the rest of the SACP critique falls away. The ANC accuses the authors of the SACP document of “ahistoricism, subjectivism and voluntarism”. This is more than just name calling. In the argument of the authors of this document:  ahistoricism refers to the SACP’s alleged  failure to understand what led to the present conditions as well as the character of the historical moment in which they find themselves, subjectivism means that the SACP has used its own preconceptions to guide its views and has seen the world as they wish it to be rather than how it really is; voluntarism  means the SACP believes that through pure force of will, hard work and determination it can achieve socialism in South Africa, whatever limitations the domestic or global environment and balance of forces, especially the strength of global capital markets, impose on possible outcomes.

Managing National Democratic Transformation – ANC response to SACP discussion document – probably the last time the ANC spoke plainly and confidently about economics and the class struggle – 19 June 2006 the official NWC response to the above quoted SACP Central Committee discussion document

The next post will summarise the actual policy contest (from an economists point of view) of the last 15 years. This will essentially be the actual macro-economic policy of the ANC (run from the Treasury) and the SACP’s consistent “industrialisation” alternative (proposed from the Department of Trade and Industry).

I phrase it like that deliberately to suggest that the Department of Economic Development and the New Growth Path Framework represents a new political assertion even if the policy formulation ultimately turns out to be a hodgepodge of previous proposals – as suggested by my summary of Thabo Mbeki’s AsgiSA policy above.

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