23/01/2018 04:04 GMT | Updated 23/01/2018 04:04 GMT

Moeletsi Mbeki: Ramaphosa Is No Saviour (And Other Inconvenient Truths)

False narratives of a Ramaphosa-led redemption are clouding our vision, and will surely disappoint, says author and academic Moeletsi Mbeki.


Despite ushering in renewed confidence, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa should not be mistaken as the 'saviour' of a post-Zuma South Africa, says political economist Moeletsi Mbeki.

Speaking to HuffPost SA, the fierce critic of the ANC and brother of former president Thabo Mbeki said a prevailing narrative of 'villains' and 'angels' -- emboldened by often 'hysterical' media -- is clouding South Africans' vision and leading to superficial understandings of how the country works.

"We have [wrongly] persuaded ourselves that there's a villain [Zuma] and an angel [Ramaphosa], and that if we put in the angel, this messiah, as president, most of our problems will go away," he said.

In the past 48 hours alone, Ramaphosa's hand in the appointment of a new Eskom board -- including the deposition of two executives the subject of corruption and state capture allegations -- has prompted a wave of praise, including from some opposition party politicians, economists and analysts.

Mbeki, who spoke to HuffPost less than 24 hours before the Eskom board announcement, however warned of overstating the [potential] gains of a Ramaphosa presidency, even if a substantial transition from the 'Zuma years'.

In so far as the economy is concerned -- in particular whether it can transform the lives and lot of jobless and poverty-stricken citizens -- Mbeki insists the ANC with or without Ramaphosa is still ultimately not fit for purpose.

The more things change...

Emphasising his long-held structural analysis* of the South African economy, Mbeki maintains the ANC to date has failed to overhaul the country's current economic system established over 100 years ago, sustained throughout apartheid and into the democratic era.

"The South African economy's use of cheap, black labour is over 300 years old and [still] very abusive of labour. People think that somehow that disappeared in 1994 or even that it was created by apartheid in 1948," he said.

The very design of the contemporary economy reflects more continuity than change, he argues, emphasising that the main driver of the economy from the genesis of British imperialism, through apartheid and into the present has been the exploitation and exporting of mineral resources, with less than desirable returns for the economy at large and at times harrowing consequences for workers.

"The reality about the fundamentals of the economy is that it is [still] a mining economy. People look at GDP and say mining is a few percent and then conclude it's small. The reality, according to my calculations, is that about 60 percent of our exports come from mining and probably another 5 percent to 10 percent from agriculture... this is [still a main] driver of our economy".

Why the ANC 'can't walk the talk' on economic transformation

Industrialisation, or economic 'upgrading' away from a commodities-based economy, he said, is key to emerging from the clutches of an economy that produces few jobs, sheds many, and relegates millions to the periphery of prosperity.

Mbeki's assertion of what needs to be done to overhaul a largely exclusive economy, however, reads in part like the policy prescription of the party he says is incapable of the change it preaches.

The ANC's mantra of 'radical socioeconomic transformation' -- although repeatedly criticised as opaque -- includes in its broader definition an effort towards re-industrialising the economy: igniting the engines of production and manufacturing, and lessening dependence on exports of minerals and agricultural goods.

The ANC's transformation agenda, however, is mostly smoke and mirrors, Mbeki implied.

People think that ANC programmes passed at Nasrec make any difference to how the economy works? It doesn't. The ANC and African elite benefit from the existing economy [in the same way as its predecessors].

Taking a clear swipe at Ramaphosa, Mbeki said people also haven't forgotten about Marikana and what it revealed about the governing party's position in the economy and social relations.

"We saw the slaughter of the miners in Marikana... so the question of the exploitation of labour in this country is both an old question and a continuing [phenomenon]. The ANC leadership, including Cyril, are beneficiaries of the exploitation of the natural resources of this country".

The result, he claims, is that despite its rhetoric and policy positions, economic transformation especially in favour of the poor and unemployed "won't come from the ANC, because the ANC's a beneficiary [of the economy in this form]".

The value of a vision in economic development

If the ANC, by virtue of this contradictory position he claims it occupies, is incapable of being the vehicle to drive this transformation agenda, then who can and will?

The answer, he said, is a new political class with an entirely different world view, bolstered by social groups with a vision of the alternative.

"There have to be social groups that are the foundation of that vision and will drive that vision. For example, the people who were exploited in the mines. We saw their rejection of this system at Marikana, but they were crushed by force," he said.

"We have the choice as a society to continue with the system we inherited or we make a choice to change it."

*Mbeki is the author of 'Architects of Poverty', among other published titles examining the history and development of the South African economy.

This article is the first in the 'Future Economy' series which will feature interviews with leading critical, oppositional, and controversial thinkers on the South African economy.