Radical economic transformation (RET) is very important to South Africa's democratic transition towards the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society as succinctly summarised in the Freedom Charter. In 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) in alliance with the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of SA Trade unions (Cosatu) supported by mass democratic organisations achieved a radical democratic breakthrough dislodging the apartheid regime.
Apartheid state machinery were replaced with new state institutions laying the foundation for the development of democracy. Millions of South Africans, especially the historically oppressed, realised an improvement in their conditions of life. This was further enabled by the new constitution recognising human rights, including workers and socio-economic rights, and massive social redistribution programmes. However, there was no RET to support broader democratic social transformation. This reached a point where it undermines the expansion of social redistributive programmes. This is the new problem we are facing.
The Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy imposed as overarching government economic policy in 1996 contradicted the economic goals of the Freedom Charter. It resulted in de-industrialisation as imports surged because its neoliberal shock therapy imposed without regard to the necessity of developing national production. Manufacturing sectors such as textile, clothing, leather, footwear and household appliances, were almost completely destroyed. The expansion of housing and electricity was not underpinned by industrial strategy to develop local production of household goods. As a result, almost all electronic devices and electrical appliances sold in South Africa are now imported.
Massive retrenchments followed, contributing to what was already a crisis level of unemployment. Inequality widened and poverty persisted. The raw materials boom that was largely driven by manufacturing in China contributed significantly to growth in the early 2000s. This occurred not only against the backdrop of massive retrenchments but also aggressive restructuring of workers replacing permanent employment increasingly with insecure labour brokering, casualisation and temporary employment to suppress wages. This "golden period" of growth post-1994 was severely interrupted by the ongoing capitalist economic crisis in 2008 worsening inequality, unemployment and poverty.
The lack of RET was exposed. Close to one million workers were retrenched as raw materials demand plummeted. Retrenchments continued, acting against government policies to reduce unemployment. According to Stats SA's Quarterly Employment Statistical release in June 2016, the mining sector alone, for example, dismissed 32,000 workers in year-on-year. Very recently, AngloGold Ashanti declared that it was contemplating retrenching about 850 workers.
It was in the context of the crisis that the ANC in 2012 adopted the perspective to advance RET. This belated decision came after more than a decade of campaigning by the SACP and Cosatu for the Alliance's shared programme of the national democratic revolution to be radicalised on the economic front.
Radical economic transformation is a democratic programme to restore production surplus to those who socially produce it, to each according to their contribution. This is shared and inclusive growth.
But what is meant by radical economic transformation?
By RET it is meant not private corporate, not personal, not state-captured, family interests propagated in the name of all black people. Corporate capture of strategic levers of power and corruption, all of which the SACP has been fighting, are worrying. It is reasonable, based on the experience, to believe that even where the conventional formula "blacks in general and Africans in particular" is invoked on ownership transformation what is at play in so far as some fellows are concerned is the self, the "me", "my family", hangers-on, corporate capturers, blind loyalists. Constitutional prerogatives must not be used to feed the root of such interests or other private agendas. RET cannot be about producing new layers of the Gupta phenomenon.
Class inequality, which in SA is further articulated along the lines of race, gender and geography, is driven, primarily and historically, by capitalist accumulation of the surplus socially produced by workers. Workers get nothing from the surplus appropriated by capitalists as profit. Their wages are, to capitalists, a cost that must always be suppressed to maximise profit.
Capitalists always insist on economic growth. But rather than the common good of the people as a whole, they are selfishly interested in increasing the rate of surplus appropriation. There will be no RET without altering this social equation and ultimately turning it on its head! As Karl Marx said long ago in 1844, by being radical it is meant grasping the root of the matter, and proceeding from the root. This is it!
RET is a democratic programme to restore production surplus to those who socially produce it, to each according to their contribution. This is shared and inclusive growth. It is not radical to transfer ownership to an individual who is interested only in exploitation of the masses. This is why the SACP has called on workers to fight exploitation and assert their primary objective of socialised, and public, ownership to reduce class inequality.
RET must secure our independence: democratic national sovereignty. Freedom from imperialism is very much part of its core, as it is with, ultimately, freedom from economic exploitation. RET must eliminate the colonial character of our economy and its terms of trade.
It must speed up land redistribution and build democratic control of our mineral resources to develop national production. This requires increased investment in innovation, research and development, and radical improvement in teaching and learning outcomes in mathematics, technology, natural and life sciences to pursue inventions, discoveries, designs, and advance manufacturing expansion and diversification to produce finished products for domestic and industrial consumption and international trade to eliminate the colonial structure of our economy.