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South Africa: Shortcomings of the Ruling Elites

April 26, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 109

Book Title: Elite TransitionAuthor: Patrick BondPublisher: Pluto Press London

Elite Transition is a study of the new South African government economic policy choices since the dawn of democracy in 1994. It was among the first academic books to offer a detailed analysis of the post apartheid economic policy choices. It shows how the ruling party, the African National Congress's (ANC) key leaders took a turn to the right to embrace neo-liberalism. The political view, arising in the 1960s, neo-liberalism emphasizes the importance of economic growth and asserts that social justice is best maintained by minimal government economic activity and free market forces.

The book is based on analysis of extensive documentation, anecdotal information and theoretical insights. It assesses the extent to which the post apartheid government can fulfil the dream of economic freedom. It presents arguments about the reasons for continued poverty despite political freedom. It dissects a range of socioeconomic continuities from old apartheid state policies to the new post apartheid government. It draws on colonial and apartheid policy failures to illuminate the deep connections between economic stagnation and social strife.

The central argument of the book: post apartheid economic policy making is steeped in the fundamentals of the outdated apartheid form of capitalism. This, the author argues is responsible for jobless economic growth. This in turn has a multiple effect in the new state's capacity to tackle socio-economic challenges posed by years of uneven development, housing backlogs and rising levels of poverty. He seems to suggest that neo-liberalism has taken roots within the upper echelons of liberation movement, the ANC.

Author, Patrick Bond locates this fundamental shift by looking at the emergence of the second post apartheid economic policy that became widely known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR). The first new government economic policy was the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). RDP's main policy thrust was to link growth, development, reconstruction, redistribution and reconciliation into a "unified programme". Whereas the new plan, Gear sought to promote growth before redistribution. To tighten fiscal policy and loosen exchange controls while promoting foreign led investment. It was indeed a fundamental shift from the much hailed 1994 economic blueprint, the RDP.

When the new plan (Gear) was unveiled, the then President Nelson Mandela and his Finance Minister Trevor Manuel presented it as a fait accompli. Its presentation caused a rupture within the ruling ANC Alliance comprised of the labour federation COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Despite their (COSATU and SACP) vociferous objection to the policy, it was implemented with gusto.

However, Elite Transition shows starkly that the two economic policy blueprints were incompatible, and the latter destined to fail.

Bond opened a can of worms on his account about the true origins of Gear. He revealed that it was written by a committee dominated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists and policy gurus. The exposure of Gear's true authors added fuel to the fire causing the anti-Gear lobby to insinuate that it was a self-imposed structural adjustment programme.

The book clearly shows that neo-liberalism has become a key juncture between production and social reproduction in the current era of chronic unemployment and capital-led globalisation. In other words, as the ANC moved from people-centred economic development to capital led growth planning - the socio economic conditions of the poor majority will continue to worsen.

Elite Transition shows a causal a link on how first colonialism, then apartheid economic planning and the post apartheid policy maker's dithering have failed to change the fundamentals of economic planning. This failure, the author suggests will lead to further social strife.

Today, South Africa is engulfed in rolling service delivery protests. At least 40% of the country's 283 local governments had been affected by service delivery protests with 111 major incidents recorded in the year. At the same time, the employment figures put the figure of the unemployed at above 25 percent. Since Gear was launched, South Africa has lurched from one economic plan to the other - from the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA), the National Industrial Policy Framework, and recently (2011) the New Growth Path for South Africa (NGP).

Bond's book is an important text in the continued evolution of economic planning in South Africa even if it only shows the shortcomings of the ruling elites.

Bhekisisa Mncube is a qualified journalist and member of the Book Review Panel at the New Agenda academic journal in South Africa. Mncube is the former senior reporter (politics) at the Witness newspaper. He is also a columnist (Witness/Echo), his column 'On the High Road' appears on Thursdays.

Source: EzineArticles
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Post Apartheid Economic Policies


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