South Africa flirting dangerously with discredited ideas of socialism

How will ANCYL and SACP’s proposition to nationalise ‘strategic assets’ create more jobs?

Temba Nolutshungu’s compelling evidence of the genetic relationship between socialism and apartheid is ground breaking. He should know, for he has experienced the worst of two worlds – Apartheid South Africa and Post-apartheid South Africa, which incrementally seems to be paying little homage to transparency.

At a time when the free world is still commemorating the destruction of the Berlin Wall and Fidel Castro is doubting his own ideology, some of Temba’s fellow countrymen are obsessed with rebuilding the communist dragon. I suspect that’s because the present day architects of ‘socialist revival’ may have been too young in the 1980s to taste the bitter pill of overzealous state control.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Zimbabwe’s flirtations with socialism received loud ovations from learned academics like Dr Ibo Mandaza and the then fugitive Kenyan Professor Sam Gutto. These two intellectuals were at the forefront of fallacious and utopian debates on Zimbabwe Television ‘Road to Socialism’, a programme with nothing but praise for Africa’s autocratic socialist regimes. Back then, as Nolutshungu observes, it was fashionable for the likes of Robert Mugabe to be part of this ‘good’ socialist family fighting against the evil neo-socialist Apartheid regime on the other side of the Limpopo River.

Then came the winds of change – Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere departed, Tanzania and Mozambique turned ‘capitalist’. Meanwhile, Gutto went to not-so-socialist South Africa and Dr Ibo sank his fangs into the ‘real’ capitalist economic pie, investing in the private Southern Africa Political Economy Series political think tank that offers Masters qualification in political science; the now defunct Daily Mirror and several lucrative hunting safaris. Mr Mugabe was left stranded, save for occasional lip service to Economic Adjustment Programmes and a dreary Leadership Code that never saw the light of day.

Now, we all know what socialism does to the mind. Poor South Africans, promised almost everything free at taxpayers’ expense (though politicians do not readily acknowledge this, if they do at all), are still waiting with their mouths wide open for Pretoria to provide houses, jobs, transport and medical care. Arguably South Africa is still one of the biggest economies in the southern hemisphere, but socialism is one way for it to join the rare club of Least Developed Countries.

Another is to give trade unions too much say in business policy. It must be hard for Jacob Zuma, stuck with SA Communist Party baggage from the Stone Age, to have to contend with populist rhetoric from Julius Malema.

Given this paralysing unison of the ANC youth league, COSATU and the SACP for government benevolence, it is not surprising that the impression gaining currency throughout Southern Africa is that the average South African is lazy. With all that access to technology and innovation, why would thirty million healthy, able-bodied citizens expect central government to do everything for them? With so much access to credit – many South Africans drive fancy cars – why would they not use that financial firepower to build their own houses and start their own businesses?

In any case, how will ANCYL and the SACP’s proposition to nationalise ‘strategic assets’ create more jobs? Says blogger Percy Ngonyama: "They seem to confuse ‘Social Democracy’ which argues for increased state intervention in development programmes and the regulation of markets with ‘Socialism’ which is a transitional society where the means of production, distribution and exchange are owned by a government of the workers, referred to in Marxist terms as ‘the dictatorship of the Proletariat’, necessary, for the advancement to a fully fledged equal, stateless ‘communist’ state".

The danger with socialist dogma, like we experienced in Zimbabwe, is that it does not separate patronage from corruption. Those in charge of ‘nationalising’ assets use the opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the ‘weak’. Their rabid reference to ‘successful capitalists’ smacks of nothing but a sinister motive to rob Paul to pay Peter. In their blind frenzy for the wholesale adoption of socialism, ZANU-PF zealots and their sympathisers even argued for the nationalising of already existing state assets!

Temba Nolutshungu warns that "nationalisation of productive assets doesn’t actually mean that they are owned and controlled by either the proletariat or the people and operated for their collective benefit. They are owned, controlled and managed by the state, which in reality means the elites or elite factions which wield power and control the state." That is my point!

Zimbabwe’s minister for the curiously named Ministry of Indigenisation raised a sandstorm around the fact that BP and Shell wanted their assets in Zimbabwe to be bought out by South African company ENGEN. ZANU-PF apologists and the usual suspects of plunder meanwhile have organised themselves into ‘indigenous consortiums’ to lobby for ‘local control’.

At face value, Zimbabwe Minister for Indigenisation Saviour Kasukuwere’s gospel is meant for the benefit of ‘black’ Zimbabweans. But progressive Zimbabweans and South Africans are not easily fooled. ‘Nationalisation’ or ‘indigenisation’ of assets are merely catchphrases for paying off loyal ruling party cronies and their greedy sympathisers.

It is historically evident that communist dictatorships, without exception, are controlled by small, wealthy elites that live in obscene gluttony but campaign for the collective ‘good’. I would not, for one moment, be convinced that Dos Santos of Angola, the late Samora Machel or Julius Nyerere were exactly living below the poverty datum line!

Private companies in South Africa have always successfully supplied the people with motor vehicles, food and furniture. If the government cannot even effectively fulfil its core mandate – that of good governance – how can ANCYL believe that bureaucrats will be able to run businesses effectively and ‘for the public good’?

*Rejoice Ngwenya is Zimbabwean Founder of the Coalition for Liberal Market Solutions. He is an affiliate of AfricanLiberty.org. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.