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The EFF phenomenon

The South African Civil Society Information Service (visit here hosted a dialogue on the economy. David Smith of The Guardian in the UK asked that the panel what it made of the EFF’s impact on South Africa, and whether it is pulling the ANC to the left. Here are responses from Ann Bernstein and Trudi Makhaya.


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A parliament for the people – could it be happening at last

First published at Daily Maverick: link

Amongst my mostly corporate and entrepreneurial social circle, my previous job in government was a source of some fascination and bemusement. But of all my duties in that life, being summoned to Cape Town to account to Parliament had to be one that seemed most other-worldly. The workings of the National Assembly, with its honourable members, whips and committees, are obscure. Channel 408, the Parliamentary Service, is not an eyeball magnet.

Lunching in Cape Town during one such trip, I could see that a friend was not only puzzled by my activities, but was rather uncomfortable with them. My generation, not born free but young enough for some to have grown up with access to the opportunities presented by post-Apartheid South Africa, occupy a quiet, apolitical space, mostly in the professions and in business. What kind of job required talking to politicians? My friend was rather frightened for me and for my career. His job and his life kept him a safe distance from the processes and rituals of democracy.
So I find myself encouraged by the spirited noises coming from the EFF with regards to its role in Parliament. The party is positioning itself as a voice for the young and disengaged in the hallowed halls of that institution. The EFF’s policy positions are not only polarising, but also seem oblivious to the past century’s economic history. But that should not cause us to overlook the sheer entrepreneurialism of the party. Imagine that a segment of a market is badly served by an unfocused and inefficient large conglomerate. A new entrant does not need to build a state-of-the-art product to steal away this segment. The smart thing to do is to build a product with just enough specifications to speak to the segments’ unmet needs and buoy it with slick branding and marketing. Until more compelling alternatives for the votes of the marginalised emerge, the EFF have taken up the gap to capture enough of the electoral share to become the third most important political force in Parliament.
Within the MP’s toolbox, a sharp one for getting quick and direct answers from government is the Parliamentary Question posed to ministers on the activities and policies of their departments and entities. Its basic formulation has not changed over a century and its power to rattle the most composed government bureaucrat is undiminished if somewhat underutilised. There are the now-routine questions asking departments and agencies how much they spent on their annual reports or year-end functions or placing advertisements in certain media houses. Then there are the ones that dig deeper and demand explanations for certain decisions taken by an agency, or updates on action plans. These acts of scrutiny have helped to expose extravagance and incompetence, or to give the executive a chance to trumpet its successes. I look forward to the EFF’s contribution to the art of the penetrating parliamentary question.
Parliament could be so much more than it is right now. It is the foundation of our democracy; the instrument through which the people govern the country. It can also be a dry, formal place where pomp and ceremony shields its under-performance and challenges. Parliamentary questions are not always answered properly. Legislation is sometimes rushed through, resulting in laws that are difficult to implement. Public participation and engagement is anaemic. If there is an institution dying for a revolution to place it back into the hands of the people, its rightful but disempowered owners, this is it.
Embattled as it is at the moment, the DA also returns to Parliament with more seats after a robust campaign. This should make for a stronger oversight body. As a party, The DA is experienced (though its future leaders in Parliament might not be) in navigating the legislative process and in scrutinising the work of the executive branch of government. But for all the DA’s effectiveness to date, it will be the EFF, with its reach and verve for communication that will bring the debates in the house to the centre stage and into our homes. Ideological inclinations aside, we will all benefit from the breadth of the EFF’s questions, from pointed questions about the use of certain attractive musicians at government functions to interrogations of mining policies.

With limited research capacity and a dominant ruling party, Parliament’s ability to guide and constrain ministers and their departments remains weak. Opposition parties will still need to rely on other platforms outside Parliament, including the courts and the Public Protector, to pursue aoutcomes that are best sought within the legislature. Nonetheless, as new voices and political parties enter Parliament, its relevance and visibility to the people it is meant to represent will be enhanced. Members of that august house will be forced to up their game. The sad sight of dozing members and empty chairs might become a thing of the past.
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Election 2014: It’s all about the economy

The Economic Freedom Fighters party, with its vintage policies snatched hastily from the historical archives, should not be mistaken for a throwback. It simply understands that when people revolt, rarely do they replace an old order with creative, futuristic ideas. Be it the French Revolution, the Iranian revolution or the Arab spring, we find that old ideas find their niche after the upheaval. They may even come to dominate. Though the EFF is not about to deliver radical social change, it has chosen to frame its identity in revolutionary terms and it knows that innovation is not essential. Change, or the promise thereof, or even its illusion, is enough. Certainly enough for the EFF to gain the kind of electoral share that makes them power brokers.

The EFF’s undoing is that it promises economic emancipation but its policies reflect the opposite. This is not a real problem for them, of course, because they are not about to form a national government any time soon. The EFF promises freedom to toil under state monopolies in an economy with almost no space for black people (who they claim to emancipate) to participate in independent economic activity. In fact, it’s more of the same, with black people being dictated to in their economic lives. The party also indulges in an economic fantasy where South Africa’s industry is protected by high tariffs and tough localisation policies, yet the rest of Africa and the world embraces its products without so much as a phone call to the WTO. 

Freedom, closely examined, turns out to be a defeatist retreat from private enterprise couched in fiery language. Capitalism has failed to deliver for the South African masses, the rhetoric goes; but have attempts at communism delivered well-being anywhere?

The ANC tells us that it will be guided by the National Development Plan in its next term in office. It also tells us that it will continue to implement policy instruments such as the National Growth Path, the National Infrastructure Plan and the Industrial Policy Action plan. Its manifesto suggests an attempt to balance private sector-driven growth with state intervention, which promises to be extensive. Past experience shows that the party has struggled to strike this balance. The next government will continue to bumble along at the now-established Khongoloserate of growth which averages around 3% per year.

The EFF has the potential to provide scrutiny over government action, though it is difficult to speculate on the quality of its forthcoming contributions. Given its self-declared Marxist-Leninist Fanonian stance, it will reinforce, if not spur, the ANC’s drift towards state-led beneficiation and industrialisation in an uncritical manner.

Shooting at an unprecedented 8% growth rate, the DA puts forth a conventional growth model, which can generate some jobs (though not 10 million) and alleviate poverty and inequality. The risk of such a conventional growth model is that it cannot, on its own, deal with the legacy of centuries of oppression, which means that many people do not have the basics in education, transport and health for example. This approach also treats the outcomes of past injustice as if they were just a set of unfortunate and accidental deficits to be treated with gradual remedies. Our constitutional order, if it is to mean anything, requires a far more robust response to the effects of the systematic exclusion of the majority from the economy. The DA’s document on economic inclusion deals with this legacy, but this is a strain of thought that is under-developed and also under-exposed in the party’s communication of its policies and its previous engagements in Parliament. This is unfortunate, for a party which is not only the second most important in South Africa, but which hopes to occupy the Union Building.

Full article at Daily MaverickElection 2014: It’s all about the economy