Former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni is reported to have said some things the now disbanded ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leadership would have had a few choice words about.
He would have been labelled a counter-revolutionary used by white liberals and the capitalist class. And he would have been called a few other names, as a few cadres have experienced in the past.
Let us not forget that the ANCYL hauled Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba over the coals in August 2011 when he suggested that the nationalisation debate was damaging the country. He was accused of “grandstanding and pleasing imperialists”.
Responding to a question about the proposal for a state-owned steel company, Mboweni reportedly said on Friday, while addressing business leaders and academics in Port Elizabeth: “I do not believe in nationalisation. The ANC government does not know how to run most things it owns.
“Look at what we are doing with Telkom. We do not know how to run an airline (SAA), the SABC is meant to just broadcast, just that, and we don’t know how to run it.”
I hope his critics do not latch on to the small point of “ANC-led government”.
They should focus on the larger point, which is that nationalisation isn’t a good idea for this economy, which is also something the ANC agrees on. Wholesale nationalisation is bad for the country.
Although I largely agree with Mboweni, when you look at SAA, for example, it should be viewed more as a national imperative than just a business.
If SAA were run by a private company, many routes would be cut to make it more profitable. The value the national carrier has in connecting South African businesses to other markets cannot be quantified in terms of profitability for the airline, but those routes do more for the economy.
The economic value for the country exceeds the airline’s profitability. We need to ask what is more important.
New Zealand learnt the lesson the hard way when it sold an airline to a private company, then had to renationalise it at a higher cost because the new owners cut the routes that were of strategic economic importance.
The new owners did nothing wrong; they were looking at the bottom line. But a national carrier has a bigger duty than that.
Yet SAA needs fixing. It needs a great chief executive who will be at the helm for a long time. It needs a great management team and a focused board to ensure it is run efficiently.
Nationalisation is a topic that was close to the heart of the ANCYL. The young lions got the country talking about nationalisation and forced some of us to read up about what it is and what it would mean.
Credit must be given to the league for forcing citizens to discuss a policy issue for a change instead of a scandal. The idea of nationalisation fills people with fear even though they do not really understand it.
On December 20, in his capacity as head of the ANC economic transformation policy commission, Gigaba told the party’s elective conference: “National conference was eager we provide final clarity on the issue. The issue of nationalisation as we have discussed it over the last few months is off the table.”
Although “strategic state ownership” might be implemented where necessary, as the resolution reads, “the state will increase state ownership in strategic sectors where deemed appropriate, on the balance of evidence”.
In other words, we need a mixed economy, efficiently run state-run enterprises where necessary, and a strong capitalist market.
* Khaya Dlanga is a social commentator and author of In My Arrogant Opinion.