Columns 15.2.2017 05:31 am

Radical transformation necessary for SA prosperity

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

The economy must change, radically; we can’t go on like this.

Don’t scoff at radical economic transformation. South Africa needs it. Without it, this country will not be peaceful or prosperous.

Current rates of economic growth and unemployment are unsustainable. This isn’t mere jargon. It’s about real people suffering because they don’t have jobs or money. It’s a recipe for turmoil.

The rage we see in parliament, on sports fields and in the mean streets has socioeconomic underpinnings. The economy must change, radically. We can’t go on like this. The struggle is about how that change should be brought about.

Until now, President Jacob Zuma has remained vague about what radical economic transformation means. Under pressure from the left, he is becoming more explicit.

Sunday Times journalist Jan-Jan Joubert spotted the shift during last week’s disrupted state of the nation address (Sona).

He notes that Zuma “defines radical economic transformation as racialised regulation by the government in lucrative areas of the economy where the belief is that black people are underrepresented”.

Most poor and unemployed people are black, and most black people are poor and/or unemployed. This remains true despite a growing black middle class, and multiple BEE beneficiaries. A predominance of black shoppers in a Sandton mall doesn’t cancel out greater numbers of marginalised people elsewhere.

Any reasonable person would agree, the economy must be changed. More people should have jobs. More black people should have jobs.

This focus on race does not come only from the governing party and those to its left. The DA says redress is necessary in order to overcome the legacy of apartheid. You cannot ignore centuries of racial exclusion by pretending the playing fields are now level.

Zuma is becoming increasingly strident as his divided party loses its grip on metro budgets, and his political fortunes plummet.

His Sona recipe is to ramp up government intervention: “To drive transformation… government will utilise to the maximum, the strategic levers that are available to the state. This includes legislation, regulations, licensing, budget and procurement as well as broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) charters to influence the behaviour of the private sector and drive transformation”.

By now, after years of Zumanomics, we all know that when he talks about BBBEE and similar interventions, he has in mind schemes to enrich his friends and family, not the masses. Or as Helen Zille put it: “Broad-based black economic empowerment … is in reality a flimsy cover for bribe-based black elite enrichment.”

Along that crooked path of legalised theft lies economic ruin. The radical transformation required is a freer economy. Less regulation, not more. State intervention in the economy is riddled with corruption and mismanagement.

Presenting the private sector as the enemy, under the control of mythical “white monopoly capital” will not drive economic growth. Quite the opposite, it will discourage businesses from investing further.

Let’s be radical: free business from too many government shackles.

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