Former minister’s memoir is a frank critique of South African political economy

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A new book by Rob davies, a former South African Minister of Trade and Industry, provides a candid and detailed insider account of the development of the country’s political economy after apartheid.

He says straight away that it is a memoir and not an autobiography. But, as you read on, it becomes evident that it is impossible to separate personal experiences from the important events that shaped democratic South Africa.

The fourteen chapters of the book cover topics as diverse as the context of apartheid, the southern African region, Mozambican socialism and economic policy in the transition to democracy and in the first democratic administration led by President Nelson Mandela. It also covers the significance of the turbulent events of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). 52nd national conference in 2007. It also examines the challenges of trade policy, as well as politics and economics during the time of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The early years and ideology

At the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to the intellectual ideas that shaped Davies’ ideological worldview. His doctoral dissertation at the University of Sussex, Great Britain, examined the relationship between capital, state and white labor in South Africa.

Under the tutelage of a South African Marxist scholar in exile Harold Wolpe, he became a member of a coterie of theorists and scholars. For the most part of Marxist orientation, they were interested in the analysis of the relations between capitalism and apartheid.

Davies’ 11 year exile in Mozambique, where he worked as a researcher alongside Ruth first, anti-apartheid activist and academic, to Eduardo Mondlane University, gave him direct exposure to the history and socialist model of Mozambique. It also deepened his understanding of the Southern Africa region. He writes candidly about the failures of Mozambican socialism, while highlighting its achievements.

Criticizing the post-apartheid economy

The book mainly focuses on economic issues. This is not surprising, given the long story of the author to deal with economic issues. It recounts in detail the political and social changes that took place in South Africa following the 1994 elections that took place. put an end to apartheid.

He criticizes the economic policy of the first ANC government. It reserves a particular criticism of its macroeconomic policy framework introduced in 1996, the Growth, Jobs and Redistribution Strategy (EQUIPMENT).

It was developed “without prior consultation” with one of the ANC alliance partners – the South African Communist Party and federation of labor Cosatu. Davies laments that GEAR has led to the controversial removal of the Reconstruction and Development Program. The radical economic program was designed to redistribute income, wealth and economic power and, at the same time, stimulate rapid economic growth.

These are valid concerns. Others include the fact that GEAR has not met its job creation targets. It has also failed to produce the desired levels of foreign investment. But his analysis lacks a nuanced appreciation of the national context. This includes the fact that when GEAR was unveiled the country was mired in a debilitating situation. monetary crisis, in the midst of declining international confidence. And it doesn’t say if the policy has accomplished anything.

Davies believes the debate between supporters of GEAR and critics could be called “macroeconomic fundamentalism.” The promoters stressed the need for macroeconomic discipline. Critics have argued for a expansionist neo-Keynesian economic approach.

What was missing from the debate was

any deep engagement with the constraints imposed by the structural characteristics of the productive economy, the changes that occur there and the type of transformations that were therefore necessary at this level to move to a new qualitatively different growth path, capable of responding the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequalities.

A lost opportunity

Davies argues that the 52nd ANC conference and Jacob Zuma’s subsequent rise to the highest political office, represented an opportunity for the radical transformation of the economy.

The emphasis was on active trade and industrial policies. These included adopting strategies of enrichment (adding value to mineral resources) and locating (designating that a certain portion of assets be purchased locally for government infrastructure programs). These policies were presented as being at the heart of the structural transformation of the productive base of the economy. They were to be joined by an effective land reform program.

A “development trade policy”, set out in several iterations of the Industrial policy action plan, would change the structure of the economy, allowing a shift to higher value-added production. It is not clear that these economic objectives have been achieved.

Davies describes some political successes. These include major investments in the automotive, pharmaceutical and agro-food sectors. Others include maintaining thousands of jobs in clothing and textiles. Notable progress has also been made in the metal fabrication industries.

Even so, it is questionable whether these industrial policies have been substantially successful. to stem the tide of deindustrialisation which hampered the post-apartheid economy.

Davies seems to admit this reality when he states that

we had not yet reached the stage of having sufficient and decisive impact to create the conditions for a new path of inclusive, productive and sector-oriented growth.

commercial diplomat

As a public servant, he was not only hardworking, but possessed an impressive grasp of policy and technical details. This is laid bare when discussing the challenges of trade policy. His good understanding of global political economy, coupled with his mastery of political details, made him an effective business diplomat.

His vast knowledge, insight and extensive experience have served him well. He led South Africa’s charge in dealing with intractable issues within the World organization of commerce and renegotiate the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act with the United States. He also led the negotiations Economic partnership agreements with the EU and engaged with its counterparts Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) regrouping.

His concerns about what has blocked progress within the Southern African Customs Union between South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini deserve serious attention.

Like his colleagues from South African Communist Party and CosatuDavies initially hoped that the Zuma administration (May 2009 to February 2018) would usher in a new era of economic and social progress. He is disappointed with what he turned out to be.

He recalls that despite some progress, particularly in the area of ​​HIV / AIDS policy, the

Zuma’s presidency ended up being an extremely destructive demobilization of state capacity through endemic looting.

Davies cannot disconnect from the historical events in which he was a part. Like his previous one interesting interview as the BBC’s Stephen Sackur showed, he missed an opportunity to speak more forcefully against economic mismanagement and state capture.

The meaning of the book

Overall, this is a thoughtful, well researched and informative book. This is a substantial, and in some ways original, contribution to post-apartheid political economy literature.

The writing style is somewhat turgid but this is facilitated by the fascinating anecdotes. The book will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in the contemporary political economy of South Africa.


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