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Legassick, Martin  (2016) Flaws in South Africa’s ‘first’ economy. Originally presented at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society Rosa Luxemburg Political Education Seminar, February 2006, and published in Africanus Journal of Development Studies  Vol 37 No 2 2007, ISSN 0304-615x: 1-22.

‘Why is the country not embarking on a large-scale socialist programme to mobilize young people, in order to build roads and schools and plant fields?’ ‘Forget it’ says the media manager. ‘The government dare not be seen as socialists, or the West will crap in its pants.’ ‘I am actually sick of being held to ransom by the West,’ grumbles the mfundisi. ‘Do this, do that. What has all this free-market stuff brought us?

They don’t give up a thing, not tariffs, not lifestyle, yet we have to be more capitalist than Wall Street’ (Antjie Krog, A change of tongue, 2003.) There has been an enormous transformation of the South African state from a white-controlled and staffed apartheid repression to a state with a democratic parliament and an extremely democratic constitution (at least on paper) which guarantees basic freedoms. The ANC was elected to govern with a majority of more than 60% in 1994 and has increased its apparent share of the vote at two subsequent elections (1999 and 2004) to some 70% – though the percentage of the population voting in the elections has consistently diminished so that in 2004 only 38% voted for the ANC (McKinley 2004). But the mass of people elected the ANC into government not for the sake of having members of parliament, but in order to improve their lives. ANC election propaganda has recognised this, promising (1994 onwards) ‘a better life for all’, and (in 2004) to ‘create jobs and fight poverty’.

But does the ANC have a policy and programme which is adequate to the task? The ANC leaders introduced the Growth,Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) programme with the claim that it would speed up economic growth. But growth has been sluggish – averaging 2.4% a year between 1996 and 2000 and 2.7% a year between 1994 and 2003, compared with the target set by the government in 1996 of an average 4.2% and rising to 6% by 2000 (Terreblanche 2002:117, Gelb 2005:367, Bond 2004). The ANC managers of the economy have been congratulating themselves on their achievements. But what has been the record of delivery since 1994? Overwhelming evidence shows that since 1994 the unemployed have increased in numbers, that the gap between those at the top and the bottom of society has widened, that impoverishment has increased and that social problems have increased in scale.

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