The struggle between Trevor Manuel and the trade unions over control of the economy invites this question: where is our economy heading?
The economy depends on the health and skills of the population.
From 1985 to 2008, South African life expectancy dropped from 62,4 years to 50,5.
The fraction of pupils sitting the senior certificate exam who gained a university pass dropped from 31% in 1980 to 15% in 2007.
In recent international comparisons of math’s and science, South African pupils have come last. South Africa has fewer than 50 engineers per 100 000 of population. South Korea has over 300.
Registered artisan apprentices in South Africa dropped from 30 000 in 1975 to 3 000 in 2006.
The white population dropped from 13% in 1993 to 9% today. In absolute terms it has dropped by about 800 000.
The emigrating whites include engineers, doctors, math’s teachers, accountants, project managers, pilots and artisans.
In 1990, manufacturing accounted for 25% of our GDP. In 2008, it was only 16%.
We seem to be de-industrializing. We seem increasingly dependent on the export of raw materials, which other countries convert into manufactured goods. The decision by BMW to expand its production is a rare exception but only because the taxpayer is going to pay it big incentives.
On the other hand, we have a huge and growing number of people receiving social grants, over 14 million in April 2009. The grants have reduced malnutrition and infant mortality.
After 1994, Thabo Mbeki and Manuel saved the economy from total socialism, which would have been catastrophic, especially for the poor. But they could not save it from falling further and further behind successful nations such as South Korea.
In unemployment, public health, crime, manufacturing, infrastructure and municipalities, our performance has been abysmal. If the unions have their way, it will get worse. The proposed national health insurance will bring our private hospitals down to the appalling level of our public hospitals, and cause more doctors to flee.
Because of legislation casting doubt over mineral rights, South Africa did not benefit fully from the recent commodities boom. The next step will be to nationalize our mines, which Cosatu wants. This will wreck our mining industry.
If our economy heads on its present path, it will sink. If it heads on the path Cosatu and the Communist Party want, it will sink faster.