For some time now, national leaders of the ANCYL, under Julius Malema, have been allowed to scream very loudly in their call to nationalise mines. Because their voices have intimidated almost the rest of society, none among us has dared to scrutinise the emptiness of their discussion document.
Since the authors of the discussion document are aware that they know very little about the technical aspects of the nationalisation question, they devoted more than half of the document to a reinterpretation of the Freedom Charter and a rehash of statements previously made by ANC leaders on the question. Had it not been for the litany of grammatical errors, the section on history would otherwise be fit for a pass mark by a generous teacher.
We should however not allow the ANCYL to make us chase butterflies by entertaining their prosaic twaddle on the Freedom Charter. We must hasten to deal with their attempt at substance. Their poor attempt begins with a series of wrong assumptions that they make in the document. Space being a scarce commodity, we can only expose a few of such assumptions.
The first wrong assumption of the ANCYL leadership is that nationalising mines will necessarily assist in the fight against poverty. In this regard, the League stands certainly to benefit from the sober analysis of Janine Schall-Emden, a Venezuelan citizen trained at the University of Colombia, who wrote thus:
“If one compares oil revenues, which have tripled since 2003, and social welfare indicators, it is clear that most improvements have been modest even when using government’s figures (which are widely disputed by NGOs and development agencies). Thus, one wonders whether the Venezuelan model is effective and sustainable as many enthusiasts would have us believe. Interestingly, Chávez himself has acknowledged that the missions were first and foremost political instruments to strengthen his popularity among poor communities at a time of growing popular unrest. By contrast, as socio-economic tools, the missions have largely fallen short of expectations, due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a top-down approach. They have by all accounts failed to modify the real distribution of power and resources at the local level.” (CPR column, November 22, 2009: www.politicsresearch.co.za)
Since Venezuela is generally hailed as the champion of nationalization in the world, could it be that the ANCYL omitted the Venezuelan case deliberately to hide the truth that nationalization does not always alleviate poverty? One also doubts if the call to nationalize mines in South Africa will be an effective political instrument to pacify poor communities at this time of engulfing service delivery protests.
It is indeed interesting that the Youth League cites only the case of a tiny country, Botswana (with a population of about 2 million), to extrapolate employment and economic growth implications for South Africa, a county of about 50 million people with an official unemployment rate of about 25 per cent. Researchers may rightfully ask: how could a document that makes such groundbreaking proposals be so weak methodologically? Could it be that the League was in a hurry to show South Africans a document, even if it does not make sense?
Section E(b) of the ANCYL document says that our country must “Nationalise to industrialise and Create more jobs.” And yet: the League does not demonstrate how natinalisation will propel industrialization, and which specific industries will spring up as a result of nationalization, or how many jobs will their imaginary industries create. Neither does the League illustrate how private ownership of mines prohibits industrialization. Silence on these critical questions leaves the reader to conclude that the authors of the document do not understand what they write about.
Paragraph 54 of the League’s document suggests that the authors must have been too tired to detect glaring contradictions. Here they postulate that, “With State ownership and control of Mineral Resources, South Africa will be able to attract industrial investors, who will contribute to the growth of the economy, transfer skills, education and expertise to locals and give them sustainable jobs.” The essence of nationalization is the transfer of ownership from private to state hands. What kind of logic, therefore, convinces the ANCYL that the ejection of private owners from mines will make other private investors to flock into South Africa? Since the League does not give us a single example of a country where this has ever happened in history, we have no reason but to conclude that the leadership of the Youth League is daydreaming.
In paragraph 58, the ANCYL expresses an aspiration few in our society would reject, that a “majority of South Africa’s employment should be derived from labour-absorbtive … activities”. Yet again, the League fails to illustrate how the nationalization of mines will achieve this.
To be fair, the ANCYL is not the only component of the tripartite alliance that fails to give us more details on the call for labour-intensive economic activities; the Left has failed, too.
At the core of the Left’s failure to fathom why the aspirations for labour-intensive economic activities continue to be elusive is the failure to grasp the fundamental transformation that is taking place in the character of our economy and in the mode of production.
With the growth of mechanization in the economy has come a concomitant redundancy of what Karl Marx calls the “living labour,” the worker. As overreliance on technology grows, the machine increasingly takes the place of the toiling worker. In this situation, the worker faces two options: either to go home and join the ranks of the jobless or to be retrained in order to fit into the new economy, which is dominated by the machine. In his magnum opus, One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse, a German Marxist who is globally known as the “Father of the new Left” demonstrates how Karl Marx’s concept of “labour” has become unhelpful in understanding contemporary economic developments:
“According to Marx, the machine never creates value, but merely transfers its own value to the product, while surplus value remains the result of the exploitation of living labour. The machine is embodiment of human labour power, and through it, past labour (dead labour) preserves itself and determines living labour. Now automation seems to alter qualitatively the relation between dead and living labour; it turns toward the point where productivity is determined “by the machines, and not by the individual output.”
Of course, the Left would retort and say that there is still room and need for an array of commodities that are produced through labour-intensive economic activities. While this is true, the Left is yet to let us know how South Africa could compete effectively with China, a country with such unlimited mass-production capacity and a competitive labour market. It is not for nothing that Nike, a U.S. brand, is physically produced in China today.
To understand how Karl Marx has failed to foresee the momentous economic changes that are taking place long after his unfortunate death, the Left in our country need to read a little bit more of latest Leftist literature (LLL).
What the ANCYL document illustrates is the failure to understand that our economy has made a quantum leap into a knowledge economy, away from Fordism – a system which would accommodate Karl Marx’s concept of “living labour”.
The string of unsubstantiated claims aside, the leadership of the ANCLY has committed a gross error: they have failed to demonstrate in their discussion document that they know something about how the smallest of mines is run on daily basis.
If we were to allow the League the opportunity to run a very small mine as of tomorrow, where would they begin, and how would they run it? Their discussion document does not tell us! This question is important because the state is still battling to stabilize many dysfunctional municipalities, and our Minister of Health is currently dealing with the headache of normalizing our public hospitals.
Worse, in their very own document, the ANCYL admits that “The State capacity to manage enterprises is doubted,” due to “sheer criminality, mismanagement and patronage, which characterised the most of these entities and very weak accountability systems” (Grammatical errors belong to the ANCYL). Why, then, must we trust that when the ANCYL has nationalized mines, there shall be no sheer criminality, no mismanagement, no patronage or no weak accountability? Indeed, the League’s document does not answer this worrying question.
Considered in a positive light, the ANCYL discussion document offers parents the opportunity to teach their children how to construct a sound argument on the basis of facts. The suggestion of the League regarding the sufficiency of our country’s pool of technical skills (para.84) – without producing proof – is something we should all teach our children never to do. The truth is that South Africa currently produces a graduate output of 17% in engineering and applied sciences, which is certainly not enough.
In summary, the ANCYL discussion document on the nationalization of mines is nothing more than hollow verbose, couched in untalented political rhetoric that can only convince the worst of Neanderthals. Hopefully, the ANC will use the document to make a stronger case for the speedy introduction of political education, especially of the technical type.
Instead of calling for the nationalization of mines, the ANCYL should have developed a different discussion document on how to ensure better access by black youths to universities and how best to support them so that they do not drop out. As Manuel Castells aptly puts it in his Technopoles of the World: “universities are to the information economy, what coal mines were to the industrial economy.”
Once they are educated, the black youths who have passion for mining would be assisted through well-managed state interventions to participate in mining – not by ANCYL decree! The state-sponsored land-grabbing in Zimbabwe has taught us a valuable lesson: that if you force all poor people to farm, farming will collapse. Here in South Africa, if Julius Malema forces all of us to mine, mining would be sure to collapse.
In the end, the sober-minded in our society must interrogate the content of the ANCYL’s call without being intimidated by the loudness of their screaming. We must do this in order to educate these young men and women of our country, and to give them an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to become mature adults.
Prince Mashele is Executive Director of the Centre for Politics and Research, and a member of the Midrand Group.