Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Marxists in South Africa move in for the kill

Trevor Manuel has his wings clipped. COSATU seems to be getting its way on economic policy, but at what cost?

By James Myburgh

Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that one of the peculiar difficulties facing a commander in war was the absence of objective knowledge at his disposal. "All action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight," he wrote, "which in addition not unfrequently - like the effect of a fog or moonshine - gives to things exaggerated dimensions and an unnatural appearance. What this feeble light leaves indistinct to the sight, talent must discover, or must be left to chance."

Of course once the battle is over, and the fog clears, it becomes obvious enough what has happened and what decisions should have been taken. But by then the outcome has been decided and the actor's ability to intervene to alter the course of events has long passed.

A similar kind of fog is sitting over South African politics at the moment. Jacob Zuma has yet to fully impose his authority, different factions are struggling for power and influence, and his government has yet to take on its final defining shape. The ultimate significance of particular developments remains indistinct not just to outsiders but many of the political actors as well.

Over the past several weeks COSATU has been campaigning to have Trevor Manuel's wings clipped, and power over the development of macro-economic policy transferred to their man in the Ministry of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel.

The events of the past few days suggest that they have gotten their way. On Monday Zuma announced a reconfiguration of the ministerial clusters which saw Manuel being bumped off the economics cluster. And then in a speech on Tuesday the president announced that: "The new Economic Development Department [EDD] is designed to have a strong domestic focus and to address amongst others, matters of macro and micro-economic development planning." Patel's spokeswoman, Zubeida Jaffer, issued a statement welcoming Zuma's remarks saying that this "is what we always understood the mandate to be. Recent public speculation has however muddied the waters."

The resignation of Joel Netshitenzhe from the presidency has been linked to these developments. An apparently well informed report in The Times stated that Zuma's reconfiguration of the ministerial clusters "was seen as a snub to Manuel and Netshitenzhe, both of whom have championed the national planning commission green paper that puts the former finance minister at the centre of economic planning." However, the main reason for his departure was that Netshitenzhe felt he was "not trusted" by the new administration, and had resigned ahead of "plans by the Presidency to strip him of his power and authority."

Both Manuel and Netshitenzhe lost their political base in the ANC following Polokwane. Manuel's enduring influence, and to a lesser extent Netshitenzhe's, have rested on their considerable reputations and deep knowledge of government. As the new regime cautiously felt its way into office, their continued presence helped maintain confidence in government and thereby smooth the transition. But as time passes, and the new lot become more comfortable and confident in power, there is less need to keep accommodating them in the face of pressing demands from more powerful factions.

And yet there is much that remains unclear, about the events of the past few days. Now that the dog has finally caught the bus it has been chasing for all these years, what is it going to do with it?

The left's freedom to shape macro-economic policy is limited by severe fiscal and institutional constraints. Moreover, when you are in semi-opposition, as COSATU has been for the past decade, you can demand what you want (such as, restrictive labour laws) and then loudly denounce the consequences of getting them (unnaturally high unemployment). But once in power you have to take a long hard look at the costs of your policies. Manuel's pragmatism comes from having to do exactly that.

There will be a cost to the left if Manuel follows Netshitenzhe and is forced out of office. Manuel is probably the ANC politician with the best grasp of what can and should be done to get the South African government working again. Anthony Butler has noted that the left has long worked to keep some of the worst tendencies of the ANC in check. It is likely that quite soon COSATU and the SACP will find themselves in conflict again with certain venal and undemocratic tendencies with the ruling party.

Netshitenzhe and Manuel would be natural allies in any such battle. By routing them in the way they have just done, COSATU and the left may have doomed itself to defeat in a much more important war.

1 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Check this out: DA shit scared of Gov. moving parliamen to Pretoria!

Now, it's obvious to anyone with common sense that it would save millions of Rand evey year, to have the Gov. reside full-time in Pretoria. The most ovious benefit fo I Luv SA reades would be the Western Cape's increased independence - with only the WC Gov. in Cape Town, it would be fa easier for the WC to one day seceed!
The DA, however, are NOT there for the interests of the people of the Western Cape, but rather there to make sure foriegn-owned major industries continue to operate throughout South Africa!
If this isn't the wake up call that white S'Africans need to realise that the real enemy is the DA, then I have little hope!

See IOL Story on DA opposing Gov. suggestion... as they did a few years back (the only party to do so)!