President Jacob Zuma shot down the mooted nationalisation of mines yesterday.
“Nationalisation is not the ANC or government policy… Our policy is a mixed economy,” Zuma told the business and diplomatic community in Cape Town less than 12 hours after his State of the Nation address. “There are no mixed signals. Nationalisation is not our policy. It is very clear.”
Without naming ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, Zuma had a dig at the poster boy of the call for the nationalisation of mines and redistribution of land without compensation: “It doesn’t mean if one person says (it), it’s policy.”
The President’s comments at a breakfast hosted by the New Age newspaper follow last weekend’s discussions on the ANC research report on nationalisation tabled at the party’s national executive committee meeting in Tshwane.
It is understood the report rejects nationalisation as unaffordable and unconstitutional after studying state ownership of mineral resources in 13 countries, including Norway and Australia.
Subsequently, Minister in the Presidency for Planning Trevor Manuel told this week’s mining indaba in Cape Town the report instead suggested innovative ways to make the most of SA’s mineral resources. “It doesn’t call for nationalisation, but it calls for new partnerships,” he was quoted as saying, adding the nationalisation debate should be resolved quickly.
But ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe called for a responsible debate on the issue.
Zuma said while the youth league had raised the issue of nationalising mines, there was a process to be followed within the ANC. This included discussing policy documents – for the first time all citizens are able to participate as ANC branches have been asked to hold public meetings – in the run-up to the organisation’s policy conference in June.
From there, various policy recommendations will be taken to the national ANC conference in Mangaung in December for adoption or rejection.
“We don’t do these things in secret. They are open,” said Zuma. Earlier, he said the cabinet had held “robust discussions” on the future and that decisions were taken collectively.
The redistribution of land, however, appeared to be another matter. The President said yesterday it was imperative that the question of land redistribution and ownership was resolved, calling for a wide-ranging public debate on the green paper on land reform.
Released last year, it suggests a change in foreign ownership – that it be on lease rather than freehold, and that particularly in agriculture, ownership be in conjunction with black South Africans – and also suggests a state land valuer and a land management commission.
It has been criticised for being thin on details and concrete policy proposals.
During Thursday’s address, Zuma put it bluntly: “We have only distributed 8 percent of the 30 percent target of land redistribution for 2014… The process is slow and tedious and there is general agreement that the willing buyer, willing seller option has not been the best way to address this question.”
Next year marks the centenary of the Natives Land Act, which started the dispossession of land previously owned by black South Africans.
In a speech delivered, according to commentators, with more gravitas, maturity and confidence than before, Zuma in his fourth State of the Nation address focussed on the economy, particularly infrastructure development projects to boost job creation.
The spotlight fell on road and railway infrastructure – to link coalfields to mines to power stations – while also connecting the economic hubs of Durban, including Pinetown, with Gauteng. Some R200 billion was allocated to such projects, while another R100bn would go mostly towards the upgrading of ports, including that of Saldanha on the west coast.
The North-West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Western Cape were earmarked for infrastructure projects, but the Eastern Cape was not left out.
Aside from a manganese export channel via Nelson Mandela Bay’s Ngqura harbour, a dam is being planned on the Umzimvubu River to help expand agricultural production, while the Mthatha revitalisation project would also receive a boost.
However, observers pointed out that not all projects were completely new: the Umzimvubu dam has been on the cards for almost a decade and Transnet announced last year already that it would be completing a feasibility study of the Ngqura port manganese railway, on which some R11.2bn would be spent over seven years, according to Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet in December last year.
Similarly, plans to establish universities in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga have been in the pipeline for some time. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande talked about feasibility studies for this already early last year.
On other educational matters, Zuma said teachers needed to teach seven hours a day. While the government was set to reach its 2014 target that all who should be enrolled in Grade R were indeed in class, there was concern that 120 000 children aged seven to 15 were not at school, according to the 2010 General Household Survey. The Grade 10 dropout rate, particularly in the rural areas of the Western Cape, would have to be addressed, the president said.
There could be some respite for consumers: Zuma said he had asked Eskom to put the brakes on electricity price hikes. “I have asked Eskom to seek options on how the price increase requirement may be reduced over the next few years. We need an electricity price path which will ensure that Eskom and the industry remain financially viable and sustainable, but which remains affordable, especially for the poor.”
But at the end of the day, the 2012 State of the Nation address was about jobs – to tackle the persistent challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality, dubbed the “triplets” in government circles. While the global economic difficulties, alongside the debt crisis in the Eurozone countries, had affected SA, Zuma pointed out that despite this, 365 000 jobs had been created last year. Mainstreaming job creation in state-owned enterprises, alongside a stronger social dialogue between the government, business and labour on skills and procurement, were the “two main things we did right” in 2011, he said.
“The work done last year indicates that if we continue to grow reasonably well, we will begin to write a new story about SA – the story of how, working together, we drove back unemployment and reduced economic inequality and poverty… The solution for the country therefore is higher growth and job creation.”
It was a message delivered alongside a call once more yesterday for partnerships: the government was creating the right environment, but business needed to invest so that jobs could be created. “Invest in the country. If you invest in the country, you are investing in the future,” Zuma told guests at the breakfast.