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Why is the Tripartite Alliance silent on the sale of SOEs?

Picture: Supplied

Picture: Supplied

Published Sep 2, 2021


OPINION: We should be concerned as to why the alliance is silent on this and not showing the same enthusiastic opposition they showed with the Gear policy, writes Thamsanqa D Malinga.

Following the introduction of the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP), the ANC’s first post democracy policy, which was aimed at getting the country back on its feet following the transition from apartheid, the party introduced its most audacious second policy – the Growth Employment and Redistribution policy. Referred by its acronym, Gear, this policy was not met with fanfare by the ruling party’s alliance partners – the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu), and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

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So despised was Gear, that it became the tripartite alliance’s weapon against then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and those who were seen to be proponents of the policy in his inner circle, especially the then Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel and his deputy Gill Marcus. To this day, GEAR remains one of the albatrosses around his neck.

It is still referred to, by his detractors, as “Thabo Mbeki’s failed policy” – well that’s how the cookie crumbles in the ruling alliance. The successes belong to the “broader church movement” and failure belongs to whoever was at the helm, like state capture being a Zuma albatross.

Lest I digress, Gear was an ANC economic policy that was introduced in 1996.

Whether it “was produced in great secrecy by a small team of technical experts” as then deputy secretary general of the SACP Jeremy Cronin said: “Gear still remains government policy,” he admitted still, in his opinion piece about the SACP’s rejection of the policy. Worth noting is the very vocal stance of the alliance partners to the policy and some of its core elements. Sound as their arguments seemed, to those who supported their view, I recall that largely their objection hinged on the element of “speeding up the restructuring of state assets to optimise investment resources”, which they labelled as privatisation of state resources, which will lead to job losses.

As the apple which did not fall far from the tree, the cries of both Cosatu and the SACP were proven correct, when Telkom – which was then wholly owned by the state – was sold off, with the government retaining minority shareholding. While, on one hand, the entity went on to become a good performer for its shareholders, the sad reality is that its privatisation came with job haemorrhaging.

Granted, the Gear policy was meant for good, as its point of departure sated that its intention was to attain “a growth rate of 6% per annum and job creation of 400 000 per annum by the year 2000, concentrating capacity building on meeting the demands of international competitiveness.”

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However, it came with its own “perceived” failings, and for this reason and the (some in the) ANC and its alliance partners were steadfast in pointing out and speaking against is shortcomings.

If we look at Gear, which up to now is still recognised as an ANC policy, in juxtaposition to the ongoing sale of shareholding of state-owned entities (SOEs) – what I call Pravinasation, as it is driven by the by the current Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan.

We should be concerned as to why the alliance is silent on this and not showing the same enthusiastic opposition they showed with the Gear policy?

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First, it was the sale of SAA – under the darkness of the unrest in the country. Soon on the cards is Denel, and most probably other SOEs. Besides the glaring silence of the ANC through its NEC, as well its alliance partners of SACP and Cosatu, there are many questions to ask about the strategy that the minister and his department are implementing. Among those being: is this a policy of the ruling party in general, or just a “non-negotiable” strategy drafted in “great secrecy by a small team of technical experts,” as Gear was touted to be?

Equally important is the question of: why is this looking more like a comradely fire sale, as the revelations of the identities and background of the buyers of SAA show?

Just as the implementation of Gear benefited some members of the ruling alliance, who “did not join the Struggle to be poor,” seemingly, the fire sale that is taking place, as part of Pravinasation, stands to benefit those of a certain slate in the tripartite alliance.

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Maybe, just maybe, that is why there is lethargy of protest from Cosatu and SACP.

The analysis here is not speak out against disposing of state-owned entities. Some have been on their death bed for ages. For years, the likes of Cosatu and the SACP have been advocating for their retention because that narrative served their relevance. Now with Pravinasation the cry against job losses and other ripple effects, that we experienced at the time of the implementation of Gear, is absent. How come? Why?

For what purpose?

Lord knows how many research theses I have come across, dissecting the Gear policy. One wonders if, in future, we will come across studies exploring the fire sale of the minister of public enterprises, the secrecy in which it has been done, as well as whose benefit it served. Maybe then we will also get to find out as to why the whole alliance has been shining in its absence of vigorous criticism.

To those who will dare take the step, be it for erudite purposes or investigative reporting on Pravinasation, in the infamous words of Judge John Hlophe – “sesithembele kinina.”

We are relying on you. Perhaps you will reveal to us another “I didn’t join the Struggle to be poor” beneficiary scheme of the troika.

* Malinga is a writer, columnist and author of Blame Me on Apartheid

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.