Wouldn’t you want to have a job for life as a public servant, with guaranteed medical and benefits in a parastatal company that government would push up borrowing and taxation to keep afloat no matter what?

Of course you would – any of us would … just like the Greeks did up until very recently.

When Cosatu economist Chris Malekane argued as he did yesterday, stating with imperious certainty that the discussion about mine nationalisation was over – that the ANC NEC was unanimous and that it was not a question of if, it was a question of how – we should not be too surprised.

Malekane was talking the book of a particular faction of Cosatu – and his views are in stark contrast to views that had been expressed by leading member of the National Union of Mines.

While Malekane said Cosatu had encouraged the Youth League to place the debate on the agenda, National Union of Mineworkers president Senzani Zokwana said in November last year that the Youth League was being reckless with the industry and that their call was inspired by rich Black Economic Empowerment recipients looking to get failing deals bailed out by the state. “I believe that there’s no threat to any investor …. I don’t think that view (nationalising the mines) will fly given the facts at our disposal”, he said.

Frans Baleni NUM Secretary General said just a month ago: “It is not only the private sector that has invested (in mines), but the workers with their pension and provident funds have also invested. We should have maturity and the debate should not have political undertones.”

NUM has to care about the the state of the mining sector – it has members who would undoubtedly lose jobs if the mines were nationalised.

Additionally NUM is lead by the ANC/SACP supporting faction of Cosatu – with Vavi and NUMSA increasingly seeking ways forward around and beyond the ANC.

The ANC incumbents have done everything they can to stop or limit this debate – and they have been supported in this by the South African Communist Party. The president, cabinet ministers and senior party officials have argued that it was never ANC policy to interpret the Freedom Charter clause on the nationalisation of mines and “the commanding heights of the economy” in the crude and mechanistic was the Youth League has done.

I am convinced that it is entirely impossible that the ANC will nationalise the mines along the lines proposed by the Youth League. It would cost in the region of $130bn (see excellent Reuters article here) and it would break a long list of formal and informal obligations South Africa has with trading partners – as well as explicit reassurances the ANC gave at the time of the leaked mining charter in 2003. Finally, owning the mines would oblige government to take on the accumulated risks associated with environmental damage those mines have built up over the years as well as the risk associated with volatile resource demand.

Government’s task is to get the best possible value out of the non-renewable resources with which the country is endowed. I don’t see any scenario in which that could be achieved through the nationalisation of mines in the form described by the Youth League or that supported by a faction of Cosatu yesterday.

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