More power for the ANC alliance will not help create employment

The overwhelming issue facing the electorate is unemployment.

What can the country expect from the next ANC government? An internal party discussion document, summarised in the Mail & Guardian (Oct 2-8), provides some pointers. Couched in the turgid jargon beloved of Marxists, the authors of the document argue that the ANC is not yet “fully in charge” of the levers of power. The authors blame the determined resistance of old order elements, both within and outside the administration, for the government’s deficiencies so far. And they look forward to 1999, when the “sunset clauses” that guaranteed white civil servants their jobs for five years expire. Then the national liberation movement will extend its power over “the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on”. This will enable the movement to transform the state so as to give greater representation to “the social classes and strata that pursue social transformation”.

Much the same hegemonic pretensions, conspiratorial imaginings and socially determinist assumptions underlie the call for a two-thirds ANC majority. Give us an overwhelming majority, runs the message, and we will sweep away all obstacles to delivery, for only “counter-revolutionaries” are blocking you from having all the jobs, houses and services you want. There is no room for a liberal multiparty democracy in such a world, of course, nor any acknowledgement that, in many institutions, only a rapidly thinning old guard keeps the wheels turning at all. The idea that putting more members of the ANC’s extended family into government jobs (“the strata that pursue social transformation”) will achieve anything apart from helping fatten certain wallets is fanciful.

The overwhelming issue facing the electorate — captured in the famous ANC poster of 1994 “jobs, jobs, jobs” — is unemployment. As our interviews with the leaders of the unemployed movement suggest, the government can do much to improve the situation whatever the global economic climate. It can make many small changes at the micro-level, to minimise bureaucratic redtape and niggling regulations. Second, it can create the conditions for the growth of entrepreneurship and small business development — not only cutting back on restrictive labour laws and practices but helping with training, credit and infrastructure. Third, it can strive to create an optimal investment climate by listening to the needs and wants of domestic and foreign investors and trying to satisfy as many of them as possible. Finally, it has to provide stability, law and order and a macroeconomic framework conducive to growth.

None of these objectives will be better reached by giving the “national liberation movement” — the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance — even greater power over the judiciary, broadcasting services, and regulatory bodies. In fact it would have the reverse effect — scaring off investors, threatening democratic stability, entrenching luddite interests, and increasing state intervention and regulation. The results will not liberate the unemployed or any other needy group. One is reminded of the dictum of Bernard Levin, who was for many years a liberal columnist on The Times of London: “No organisation with ‘Liberation’ in its title has ever, or ever will, liberate anyone or anything.”

At the level of macroeconomic policy the alliance currently offers confusion. You can vote ANC because you support Gear; or because you oppose Gear; or because you like the current stalemate in which one third of Gear is applied and two thirds is not. It is this confusion of policy, stemming directly from tensions within the alliance, which has done so much to damage the currency and harm investor confidence. If government is serious about taking action on unemployment it has to break out of this stalemate. But it will never be able do so if the country votes all power to the ANC-Cosatu-SACP alliance.

Those in the ANC who want South Africans to surrender their democratic rights and liberal freedoms to an all-powerful “national liberation movement” argue that, in return, many of the country’s problems would be solved. If true, such a trade-off might be attractive to some groups, though not to liberals. But it is not true: in fact delivery on jobs, houses and services would be further off than ever.