South Africa is facing economic challenges that include the reality of millions who are unable to participate meaningfully in the economy. What needs to happen to ensure real economic transformation so that all South Africans can enjoy the economic fruits of freedom? Would a process similar to Codesa assist us as a nation to come to a compromise about transforming the economy for the benefit of all citizens?
This was debated at the Unisa-Sowetan Dialogues in conjunction with the South African Democracy Education Trust (SADET). Key stakeholders included David Makhura (Gauteng Premier), David Makhura (Director of Transformation), Dr Somadoda Fikeni (Advisor to the Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Unisa), Dr Siphamandla Zondi (Executive Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue at Unisa), Phumzile Langeni (Chair of the Afropulse group) and one of the architects of our constitution, Roelf Meyer.
Discussing economic transformation and the possible need for an economic Codesa (Convention for a Democratic South Africa), the panel agreed that there is a need for radical and robust dialogue, but it should not be referred to as an economic Codesa.
Yes, the Codesa process provided an opportunity for political parties to reach a compromise and facilitated South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, but, as Meyer pointed out, it was a failed entity that was abandoned midway through the process with negotiations resuming under a new body, the Multiparty Negotiating Forum.
However, he did draw similarities between the current economic crisis that South Africa finds itself in and the fact that the country was also in a crisis and on the brink of civil war when the Codesa process began in 1991. He said the National Development Plan (NDP) was one way of ensuring economic transformation but if it were not implemented properly, it would not take the country forward.
“We need a collective approach. Yes, it is time for dialogue,” he said, adding that it is not only government’s responsibility but that of business leaders and civil society to engage and bring about a new kick-start and new energy to make things happen.
Radical economic transformation
Makhura also cautioned against calls for an economic Codesa, stating that the original process was one that involved negotiations for a peaceful transition to democracy–a process that involved compromise, and the economic transformation of the majority of black South Africans, he said, is not something that should be negotiated and compromised on.
He said in the last 21 years, there had been progress in the democratisation of society from a political perspective but the question of economic freedom of the majority of South Africans is staring government in the face as the economy remains trapped in a “semi-colonial apartheid reality”.
He also addressed the importance of the NDP, emphasising its importance in realising the economic freedom of South Africans. “The question is, do we have the courage to carry forward that we have spent much time developing…We need to drive the implementation of the national development plan with greater urgency, determination, and capability,” he said, adding that the capability of the state to intervene and drive transformation is found wanting and that it is receiving urgent attention.
Radical economic transformation, he said, involves intervening, not only in the main economy, but also in sectors where the economy is playing a critical role. There needs to be a mainstreaming of the SME sector, township economy, and also support for the informal sector of the economy.
“We also have to look at how we use our natural endowments. South Africa is a very resource rich country…We have to use our resources strategically to drive industrialisation.” Land reform, he added, is another important aspect of radical economic transformation.
Makhura asserted that there is a need for decisive policy clarity and for those, such as himself, responsible for governance, have to act and intervene with urgency.
Racial profile of SA economy has got to change
Langeni posed the question differently: “What would happen if we as members of the country did nothing to respond to the current crisis that we see. I believe for any dialogue to be successful and assist us in understanding the challenges and getting to the bottom of the challenges, you will need all the key stakeholders. We should also be honest about the issues that hinder economic transformation; the racial profile of the South African economy has got to change.”
She added: “I do believe there is a place for dialogue; I do believe that we as South Africans need to be honest and that each and every one of us is responsible for saying what have I done in advancing racial economic transformation. It is my belief that economic transformation and deracialisation of the economy is the responsibility not only of government, not only of black people but of every South African.”
Zondi said the fundamental problem is not the economy, the assets, or the land; the fundamental problem is the human our history has produced–both the former oppressor and the formerly oppressed. “The human by nature is driven by a will to live and a will to become but it constantly constrained by the structures of society that have been built. And not all of the structures are economical; many of those structures are psychological. There is a problem of the mind-set and character.”
He added: “I would suggest that we are not going to need a Codesa, we are going to need a Cofresa (Convention of a Free South Africa) because Codesa was about transitioning into a peaceful democracy, but democracy is the root to freedom, it is the way to freedom, it is not freedom. So we need a Cofresa, we will need a talk-shop, this is very important, because we do need a place where we shop for ideas, shop for support, shop for imagination because people need to come to terms with where they are, so we can know where we are going.”
Our society is becoming more dependent and entitled
Fikeni said we live in a paradoxical situation. “A liberation movement takes over having espoused egalitarian principles, but during that period inequality escalates into a worst case scenario. So something has gone fundamentally wrong. Ten years of sustained economic growth and it has not yielded the jobs we needed and not making a dent on poverty. With all the best intentions, something has gone wrong, a shrinking manufacturing sector when we should be going the other way.”
He added that we need to have a Codesa or a difficult conversation as a nation, where we must have courage to say we have made some mistakes while we have made some gains. Touching on the unintended consequences of the social security policy, he said, increasingly our society is becoming more dependent and entitled whereas the productive side is dying.
“We need to re-examine our education system and what has to be done becomes very fundamental. Not just education for certificate but education that emancipates…Lastly, I still maintain that South Africa is not facing triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality; you can’t defeat those three if you don’t deal with the cancer and the elephant in the house called corruption.”