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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 16, No. 04, 9 February 2017

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The State of the Nation Address must pronounce on measures towards radical economic transformation

By the editorial team

This evening President Jacob Zuma will deliver the State of the Nation Address in Parliament. Others would like the occasion to be reduced to President Zuma as a person (See Business Day, 9 February 2017).  It is not wrong to discuss our leaders, particularly the content of their character and contribution in relation to the collective leadership strengths that we need as a nation, as opposed to individualised approaches that promote or prey on hatred of a person. This does not mean that we must not hold our leaders accountable and that they must not reflect on their own weaknesses. We must, for sure, and they must too, respectively. It is nevertheless misleading to shift attention away from the systemic factors that lie behind the historical origins, development and state of our challenges.

In his State of the Nation Address President Zuma must not be defocused. He must present a clear analysis of our structural problems as a nation, and the way forward from government policy. There are three interrelated challenges and problems that the State of the Nation Address must address, namely class inequality, which is further articulated along the lines of race, gender and spatial development and under-development, unemployment and poverty.

The Business Day, which is the mouthpiece of the bourgeoisie, would like society to believe that these systemic problems do not arise from capitalist production. On the contrary, class inequality, unemployment and poverty are the direct results, levers and conditions of the accumulation of wealth on a capitalist basis. The racial, gender and spatial character of the problems in South Africa, with Black people the worst affected, reflects the persisting legacy of the racist capitalist relations of production that were forged during colonialism and heightened during its apartheid era.

In addition, capitalist crisis, such as the ongoing crisis that first erupted in the United States in 2008 to become an international crisis of the system is responsible for the problems of class inequality, unemployment and poverty. The Business Day does not acknowledge that the ongoing trend of low economic growth in South Africa emanates from the crisis.

Close to one million workers were retrenched by the capitalists in South Africa as a result of both the crisis and profit maximisation strategies. Capitalists continued to dismiss workers and force them to swell the ranks of the unemployed. According to Statistics South Africa's Quarterly Employment Statistics released in June 2016, in the mining sector alone capitalists dismissed 32, 000 workers compared with the same quarter in 2015.

The capitalists have also been continuously restructuring workers by reducing indefinite employment contracts associated with benefits and increasingly replacing them with insecure labour brokering, perpetual temporary and casual forms of employment used to undercut wages, rollback benefits and maximise profit. As President Zuma will be delivering the State of the Nation Address, AngloGold Ashanti, where Sipho Pityana of "Save South Africa" is the Chairman, has expressed a further contemplation to add to the numbers by the dismissal of 849 workers.

We are told that distribution will only come from increased growth, as if there is no economic production already taking place in South Africa. If we are to pursue radical economic transformation, redistribution, including by means of a progressive tax on wealth and high incomes, must come from both the current production and future growth.

The State of the Nation Address must therefore present an introduction of long-term measures how the value of South Africa's surplus will be fairly distributed among those who are involved in its social production. These measures, even if economically not yet sufficient at present due to the force of prevailing objective factors, must pave the way towards an increasingly fair distribution of our nation's socially produced surplus. But in the course of their further development, they must expand the way and become inevitable as a means of achieving radical economic transformation fundamentally revolutionising the prevailing social relations of production.

The primary reason why there is economic inequality in our country is that historically until now the surplus that we socially produce as a nation is appropriated by capitalists in the form of profits. Those who produce it - the workers - get nothing from it. The reason why capitalists always insist on growth is that, rather than common good of the people as a whole, they are selfishly interested only in increasing the amount of the surplus that they are appropriating - which is basically the difference between the total value of all products and services and the sum of the values of the costs of production. This accumulation regime consists in suppressing the rate wages, which are, to the capitalists, seen as a cost. There will be no radical economic transformation without altering this social equation and ultimately turning it on its head!

This must finance among other societal needs the expansion of quality healthcare, clean water, housing, electricity, infrastructure and education and training at all levels including post-graduate studies and product and process innovation, research and development, mathematics, science and technology required to create jobs and participate productively in the fourth industrial revolution rather than enter the terrain as consumers.

We must avoid being the advertisers of what we will not deliver on. The fourth industrial revolution will destroy many existing jobs due to its advanced and top technological intensity compared to all the past three industrial revolutions. We need to be clear about what future skills are in relation to this technological change and prepare the whole education system from the foundation level up to deliver quality on those skills. We also need to be clear where jobs will come from and strengthen our capacity in those areas.


Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class