The ANC has gone on the defensive following comments by its former leader and finance minister Trevor Manuel during a webinar on Saturday about South Africa’s “almost three decades that were wasted”.
Fin24 reported that while speaking at a webinar discussion on whether a social market economy could work for South Africa, Manuel – who is now Old Mutual chair – lamented that the country had made significant progress, but then caught itself in a bind following changes in leadership.
“History casts a long shadow over what we do. The big challenge that confronts us in South Africa, is what do we do now, with almost three decades that were wasted?” Manuel said.
“The data won’t lie: the period from 2000 to 2007 was a considerable period of growth and employment and an opportunity to raise the quality of life. And then the ANC was caught in its own battles and President [Thabo] Mbeki was replaced by Jacob Zuma. A decade was lost,” he said.
“All of those things will have a profound impact on what we can do to take things forward.”
In a statement on Monday, ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said there was absolutely no basis to portray a doom-laden picture of the country to the media and to the outside world.
He added that Manuel should not fall into the trap of an “ongoing onslaught” against the party, which he claimed was choreographed on various social media platforms.
Mabe said at face value Manuel’s utterances could loosely imply that the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality started in 1994.
“The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) as well as other economic interventions were precisely aimed at placing our economy and society on a sustained developmental trajectory. Since the democratic breakthrough of 1994, the people of South Africa have entrusted the ANC government with the responsibility to transform the economy and to create a better life for all.
“Since 1994, the quality of life of South Africans has shown tremendous improvement. For example, we have expanded access to clean drinking water, housing, education, social security and improved quality of health care services to the majority of South Africans. We have also increased literacy levels of South Africans. In the recent past, we have been hard at work to ensure that we alter apartheid spatial planning by ensuring that more South Africans live closer to economic opportunities,” he said.
In 2019, ANC leaders were in disagreement over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the Zuma years were nine wasted years.
The debate around this statement saw former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma speaking out against Ramaphosa’s statement. Ramaphosa later denied he had called the Zuma years a waste.
Mabe said the ANC acknowledged that many economic problems continue to be based on the structures of inequality and underdevelopment inherited from South Africa’s colonial and apartheid past.
He said government had already begun taking decisive action to address some of the economic issues, which include dealing with anti-competitive behaviour within the South African economy, promoting good governance in state-owned enterprises (SOEs), fiscal management that is biased toward growth and an accelerated land reform programme.
“The ANC-led government has also prioritised infrastructure spending. As we succeed in reconfiguring the state, improve its capacity to deliver, stabilise SOEs and deal decisively with corruption, we expect to see some incremental impact on resources toward infrastructure,” he said.
“A public-led infrastructure fund will build more roads, schools, health facilities, water and sanitation infrastructure, transport networks, ICT systems and energy generation and distribution capacity. Infrastructure remains a key element, not just because it helps in delivery of services, but has multiplier economic impacts, both on related industries but also on the labour-absorption capacity of the construction sector.”
He said attributing the economic challenges and social ills that confront South Africa today to the post-1994 government alone, was a betrayal of reality.