VUSO SHABALALA | Mbeki challenges us to examine reality through lens of others

Goal is to change social relations in favour of the actual producers of wealth

Former president Thabo Mbeki
Former president Thabo Mbeki
Image: GALLO/Fani Mahuntsi

The students and guests of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute at Unisa were last week treated to another thought-provoking talk by the former president. He opened their minds by leaning on the speech by the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations which is notorious for right-wing ideas.

A reminder for the students never to judge the book by its cover. These are important political issues for dispassionate and partisan discussion by all cadres of the revolutionary movement.

Mbeki aligns himself with a theory of ages according to John Endres. The theory divides the 30 years of democracy into three stages, namely: 1994 to 2007, 2008 to 2022, and 2023 to present.

The first period is the age of growth. Incidentally, it also coincides with the period of administrations in which he played the leading role.

The second is the age of decline which coincides with the administrations of former president Jacob Zuma and his successor President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The third, yet unfinished, is the age of load-shedding, coinciding with the administration led by Ramaphosa.

The students are to examine what produced growth under the first to the third administrations led by the ANC. Did Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) and Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for SA (Asgisa) have something to do with it?

Mbeki highlights the confession by business mogul Johan Rupert that the private sector were on an unending investment strike throughout the age of growth. So, the students must discount investment growth as a factor.

He shines the light on the devastating impact of the global economic recession of 2008 as a significant exogenous factor in the domestic economy. But underlines that the domestic factor played the critical role.

That is the period of the destruction of institutions, most critically the SA Revenue Services (Sars); with Zuma identified by the Nugent and Zondo commissions for playing the central role. That would exclude the years 2009 to 2014, when the builder of Sars was minister of finance. Manuel was also the creator and co-chair of the national planning commission (NPC) with Ramphosa.

The NPC produced the National Development Plan 2030, which was adopted by the cabinet in October 2012, and given the green light by the 53rd national conference of the governing party, of the same year.

Parliament supported the plan in 2013. Cosatu was its most strident critique, but since acquiesced. The NDP 2030 continues to inform government policy. Discussants may want to compare it with Gear and Asgisa.

Cosatu thought they are the same. Mbeki suggests none of the parties contesting the 2024 national and provincial elections present a credible plan about how to get SA the country back onto a growth path – a slogan of the age of decline.

He takes special aim at the MK Party of Zuma, who he reminds the listeners also led the destruction of institutions like Sars. He identifies the destruction as the counter-revolution. Sars, as the key example was built in 15 years and collapsed in three years.

Did it lack resilience? Is it significant that the head of Sars in the three years was at war with minister Pravin Gordhan until he was dismissed? Has Sars failed to be revived in the past 5 years?

Both students and social activists must examine this. Mbeki addresses two further issues: unending crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite the courageous efforts in the age of growth, and acknowledgment by the international community that the United Nations must develop and adopt a special convention against illicit financial flows.

Mbeki encourages the students, and all of us, to confront reality as it is. He largely leaves it open for us to figure out what the reality is that we all face and how to address it, other than that we live in the age of load-shedding, Congo crisis, and illicit financial flows.

The challenge is examining reality through the lens of those who hold the short end of the stick; and how the proposed solutions change the circumstances of their lives in a fundamental manner.

The goal is to change social relations in favour of the actual producers of wealth: to establish a dictatorship of the broad working class.

•Shabalala is a former special adviser to former president Jacob Zuma

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