First Moral Leadership, Then Nationalisation

By Saliem Fakir · 28 Sep 2010

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Picture: ANC (adapted by SACSIS)
Picture: ANC (adapted by SACSIS)

There is no gentleness spared when waging war against “counter-revolutionaries” on the question of nationalisation.

It’s the tough business of ruffling feathers. Those who demur get roughed up in verbal scuffles and perhaps worse. There are catcalls and labelling. Not for all of us, this is the time of high economic stakes for a few.

The National General Council (NGC) of the ANC slipped through a quagmire on the issue of nationalisation and only just by the skin of its teeth.

The nationalisation debate is couched in interesting revolutionary language as well as objectives that belie underlying motives. In principle (and seemingly) the idea is backed by the ANC and alliance partners, but what it means and how it should be executed, varies between bickering parties. They view each other with suspicion while holding onto the idea of nationalisation dearly. 

Let’s not be fooled by the rhetoric. Behind it lurks something sinister.

In some quarters, the whole issue of the nationalisation of the mines is less about the topic itself then a battering assault aimed at the ANC castle in order to make way for right-wing revolutionaries and “premier lounge” cadres intent on turning the ANC, its past and its principles on its head.

So desperate and vicious was the campaign at the NGC that the economic commission was stormed by ANC Youth League paratroopers. They demanded that the topic be placed firmly on the table. But their arguments in favour of nationalisation were unfinished as well as infantile and, what should have been a great debate got lost in a mire of verbal violence.

The ANC Youth League would not let go. Reports have emerged that they howled and booed. It was a sort of siege by raging voices.  They created the mood of an angry storm that could not be quelled. One ANC elder - someone of high regard and great intellectual erudition - lifted his finger to inject some sobriety to the debate only to be booed and shouted down.

The Youth League’s ethics and behaviour have reached a new low, while the old guard cut lonely figures these days.

Overall, there was little sense of decorum at the NGC. An atmosphere of vulgarity prevailed. Debates are not really debates when they become bully pulpits. 

The ANC, on the whole, looks like it needs rapid repair.

The party’s moral code, its culture of mutual respect and civil conduct no longer encumbers the manner of engagement. You are trivial if you not part of the right camp.

This marks the beginning of a new mindset and individuals that represent to outsiders, at least, the rapid decay and rot within the party. One has to ask, “How did the ANC allow itself to get on this path?”

It is one thing for the Secretary General to be frank about the ANC’s problems (and this is welcomed). It is quite another to paint a picture of confidence that the party is not too deep into an abyss from which it may not be able to rescue itself.

The invasion of careerism and the use of the party as a way to create private fiefdoms only encourage an organic movement that displaces those who would give life, limb and soul to the party. Given this new climate in the ANC, the willingness of people with integrity to join the party is going to be tested. For all intents and purposes, people of integrity still exist within the party, but as a silent minority. 

The culture that shrouds the debate on nationalisation is perhaps more to be feared than the issue of whether the country needs strategic nationalisation or not.  The new breed brings with it the disease of greed.

The focus on the mines only represents some part of attempts to nationalise the economy.  Nationalisation already exists in state entities like key public enterprises, but their track record is mixed. While they play an important and vital role in the economy, their governance and accountability must still improve significantly. There is also little point repeating the litany of problems that afflict these institutions. These are all too well known, from leadership crises, to conflicts of interest around tenders, to managerial indiscretion when it comes to pay hikes, to inefficiencies and waste of resources.

This is not only limited to national entities. There are a slew of public entities mired in the same hazardous state of corruption and abuse at the provincial level. They get scant attention, but their role is not to be dismissed.

Thus, we already have somewhat fledgling and failing experiments in various locales and they should give us moment for pause. 

It is not as if the state does not have national control over the mines. The new Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, as the South African Communist Party notes, already cedes control to the state through the issue of “new order mineral rights,” setting limitations of access to 30 years and encumbering the closure of mines with some duty-filled demands on social and environmental responsibilities. 

Even Venezuela and many other countries, which have nationalised their oil, draw in private capital, expertise or exploitation arrangements in accordance with the state’s broader social and economic objectives.

But this is not the point is it? It is whom we are handing the keys to and how accountable they really are to the South African public that is of issue here.

This is topmost on people’s minds when they think of nationalisation. There is little confidence in the party’s ability to control the avarice within different organs of the state.

The ANC’s moral image and the quality of its leadership castes a doubtful pall over the merits of nationalisation. Will it ensure clean hands take charge and win back the public’s confidence in party and state? Only when this happens can we believe that the nationalisation of strategic assets will be for the general good and not jut for “premier lounge” cadres.

Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town.

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28 Sep

To Nationalise or Not to Nationalise

The nationalization of strategic resources can only work if it is put to the national good, where checks and balances are placed that guarantees good governance, transparency and accountability.

The developmental state needs greater income to finance the many challengers which is our Apartheid legacy. To place national assets in the hands of dubious people will take us further down the slope of under-development. This will make a few people rich and marginalize the poor even further.

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1 Oct

To Nationalise Or Not to Nationalise

What a great article - Saliem Fakir is so, so right about this. It is refreshing to at least know there are still one or two people of integrity and intellect around and able to see the real motives and forces behind much of the populist rhetoric. The same argument could be applied to the grandoise plans we hear about a national health service - whilst the idea is to be commended the ANC needs to convince us that it really has the capability both in terms of leadership and hard technical skills to really deliver on the ground. Show us you can run the existing service well and then maybe we might believe you can massively expand it.

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Rory Short
2 Oct


Fakir as you so rightly say:

"The ANC

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