Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Mbeki's big move
All of the papers have covered Mbeki's 'jump to the left', but I think the Business Day offers the best reporting. In a marked ideological shift, Thabo has expressed his displeasure at liberal and neo-liberal US conservatives and their penchant for free market economics and minimal influence of the state.

Mbeki contrasts the American new conservatives stance with the ANC's and firmly flies the flag with leftist ideology, saying that the "obligations of the democratic state to the masses of our people do not allow that we should join those who celebrate individualism and denigrate the state. We could never succeed to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid if we joined the campaign to portray the social, collective and the public realm as the enemies of prosperity and individual autonomy."

Personally, I agree that the strict adherence to a free market economy in South Africa is not a strong enough tool to alleviate poverty in the short term. We require state interference to redress social inequity and poverty alleviation, our past necessitates that. I cannot agree that the American form of strict individualistic and capitalistic principles can achieve any kind of moral and economic balance in this country.

At the same time however, I do believe in the need for adherence to property rights. In a move that reinforces Land and Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza's current thoughts, Mbeki notably mentioned property rights a number of times during his speech within the context of policy principles that are not necessarily in the best interests of the South African masses. Whilst this obviously doesn't herald Thabo's new dawn as a land-grab president, every word he says on property rights has substantial implications for international investment and business confidence, and ambiguity cannot be allowed.

The central question though, is how far Mbeki will go in the extension of these principles. We can all see the logic in his statements, but the door is wide open as to what actionable policy is drawn from them. What are the implications on property rights, labour law, taxation etc. In this his delivery term, things could get interesting...