Analysis: SA needs economic liberation

President Jacob Zuma.Picture: Gallo Images

A lifetime of selfless devotion to the people of South Africa. That was the hallmark of Oliver Reginald Tambo.

President Jacob Zuma, in his state of the nation address last week, said: “An illustrious son of our country, president Oliver Reginald Tambo, would have turned 100 years old this year, had he lived.

“This selfless patriot gave his adult life to a tireless pursuit of the liberation of our country and its people.

“He left a lasting legacy for all South Africans, and not only for his organisation, the ANC. “In his honour, we have declared the year 2017, the Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo. It is the year of unity in action by all South Africans as we move South Africa forward together.”

Zuma spoke of many of the positive steps the government has taken to improve life for all in South Africa, with Tambo’s example guiding many of the choices. If he had lived, Tambo would have been 100 years old this year, which is why 2017 has been dedicated to his memory.

Tambo was a science and mathematics teacher long before he became a politician and Zuma has followed in his footsteps by ensuring education plays a vital role in South Africa’s development.

With Tambo’s ethos to guide us, incredible investment in the promotion of maths and science has meant that South Africa is not only providing better early education for our children, but is reaping the rewards of the technological development such education has spawned.

Initiatives such as the SKA and the MeerKAT projects have elevated our nation from an emerging economy to a regional leader, bringing much socio-economic change in the process. Science is now a career choice for many of our graduates, whether this be in the fields of biology, chemistry and medicine, or engineering and infrastructure.

Under Zuma’s leadership we have seen accelerated progress across our the transport network, with road building and rail projects spurred on by Chinese and other investment.

In turn, our more established industries are gaining traction, Zuma explained in his address. The tourism sector has seen an increase of more than 1 million visitors since the end of 2015.

Our law enforcement bodies have seen increased support, with additional funding working towards the eradication of violence and the illegal drug trade.

Public support for our National Health Insurance scheme has seen our healthcare sector soar, with incredible effort being dedicated to treating diseases such as Aids.

As a direct result of Zuma’s leadership, South Africans are living longer, healthier lives. And yet in spite of all of this progress, we are still trailing behind in terms of racial equality.

To quote Zuma’s address: “Political freedom alone is incomplete without economic emancipation.”

While the benefits of many of our development initiatives are measurable, South Africa’s black population is unsatisfied because South Africa continues to have a severe racial wealth divide and the majority of our people continue to be held back from achieving their full economic potential. Zuma reported that white incomes are still five times higher than black incomes.

This is in part because black ownership of businesses remains shockingly low and few black people occupy senior managerial positions in business.

In fact, only 10% of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are blackowned and only 10% of managers are black.

Despite all of our government’s efforts, it is clear we still have a long way to go if we are to build a united, democratic, non-sexist, nonracial nation.

The National Development Plan is intended to guide our nation along the path to the ultimate equality that we all need. However, we cannot hope to get there, to reach our development goals, unless all members of South African society buy into the deal and work towards making equality a reality.

For too long now individuals have approved of and agreed with economic emancipation aims, but agreement has not translated into action. It will take much more than individual brains to do this. Instead, we need the collective effort of our institutions.

Our companies, our political parties and our social organisations must take action to create opportunities for our long-neglected brothers and sisters. We need to create more jobs. At present, 54% of our young, enthusiastic workforce is unemployed.

This is an incredible waste that is slowing our development. We have so much potential, but cannot hope to rank among the world’s most productive economies if we do not give over half of our upcoming workforce the chance to contribute.

Increasing our efficiency will not be easy. Our government needs to work towards large-scale economic and regulatory change to enable economic emancipation to work for the benefit of all South Africans.

The banks have a large role to play in readjusting these imbalances. Young black entrepreneurs must have greater access to finance so that they can build their own businesses, become wealth generators and create jobs. Getting a small business or start-up loan if you are a black entrepreneur is almost impossible.

Without assets against which to borrow or a credit history the banks will not lend and if they do interest rates are cripplingly high. This needs to stop. The banks must offer products that work for young entrepreneurs or our country’s economy will continue to struggle.

I do not anticipate that this type of restructure will be an easy task. Banking reform is not a popular policy idea, particularly among monopoly capital big business and the banks themselves. But, as Zuma said on Thursday evening: “We need to change the commanding heights of the economy, and increase the participation of black people as owners and managers.

“Progress made on the achievement of this goal will greatly enhance the national reconciliation programme.”

The need for economic emancipation is apartheid’s legacy. Liberation from its conditions cannot be truly achieved until our country’s wealth has been fairly distributed once and for all. We need more black businesses, black academics and black industrialists. Only then can we live in a South Africa that realises prosperity for all, as Tambo imagined.

Moegsien Williams is Editor-in-Chief of The New Age