African business, politics and lifestyle
How far will South Africa’s ANC shift?
Given that the leaders of the world’s most firmly capitalist countries are splashing around unprecedented billions to nationalise banks, prop up industry and try to get economies moving, it might seem churlish for anyone to question South Africa’s ruling ANC for planning to spend a bit more freely.
This weekend, the African National Congress set out its election manifesto priorities of creating jobs and improving education and health – promises interpreted by many as marking a generally leftward shift under the leadership of president in waiting Jacob Zuma.
But the plan raises the questions of how the spending will be paid for and how dramatic a shift to the left there will be – of major interest to investors as well as South Africans.
“Zuma did not attach a price tag to the manifesto, but ANC leaders privately admit, to allay fears of a tax hike, that it would be too costly to implement,” said this article in the Sunday Independent.
Africa’s biggest economy has grown significantly since the end of apartheid in 1994, although the dynamism had started to falter even before the global financial crisis spread gloom around the world.
South Africa’s poor and its workers had long complained that the benefits were not being shared around fairly and that only those in a new elite were thriving. The leadership under Zuma, widely expected to become president this year, was always going to be under pressure for more social spending from the ANC grassroots and the party’s union and Communist Party allies.
The pressure may have increased further with the emergence of the new COPE party after the ousting of President Thabo Mbeki. Although COPE’s electoral impact is uncertain and it has not yet spelled out its policies clearly, the fact that close allies of Mbeki are behind it has suggested it is likely to align more with the former president’s stance, seen as ‘pro-business’.
Zuma has always been at great pains to spell out to business leaders and foreign investors that there would be no dramatic changes under his rule. Flight of investment could further weaken the rand, mean job losses just at the moment when the ANC wants to create more and force up government borrowing costs.
That could make it even harder to finance populist pledges without resorting to measures that might create even more financial instability.
This article in South Africa’s Times raised questions over the ANC’s plans for the central bank and whether that would damage its standing as a pillar of macroeconomic stability seen as vital for growth.
It is certainly going to be a very tricky time. How substantial do you think any shift to the left is and would it be for the best? If conflicting promises have been made to different interest groups then which are going to be met? Can they all? If not, then what will be the reaction of those who feel disappointed?
(Picture: President of the ruling African National Congress Jacob Zuma dances on stage at his party’s election campaign launch. Reuters)