President turns left, takes radical stance on economy

22 January 2017 - 02:00 By QAANITAH HUNTER

President Jacob Zuma has taken a hard line against financial institutions, instructing ANC policymakers to introduce stringent new laws to force banks to sell stakes to black investors.

Zuma, speaking behind closed doors at the ANC policy workshop in Irene last week, also took a populist view on land, calling for its speedy redistribution. The president also called for black people to take ownership of major sectors, including construction.

Zuma's comments appear to be in line with a campaign being run by his friends, the Guptas, on their media platforms.

The Gupta-owned ANN7 has intensified its attacks on South African financial institutions in the past few days.

The TV channel has been running an advert for a campaign dubbed "The New Age's fight for financial liberation".

Zuma's stance is in line with the rhetoric of his backers, who claim there is a conspiracy driven by "Western forces" to have the president removed from power because he is fighting "white monopoly capital".

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His supporters in KwaZulu-Natal have adopted economic transformation as a platform on which Zuma's ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would campaign for the ANC presidency.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is to be discredited as being beholden to big business.

Zuma was talking tough on policy as Ramaphosa returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he sold South Africa as an investment destination by promising policy certainty and boasted about the country's well- developed financial services sector.

But Zuma shocked many at the end of the ANC plenary session on the economy when he told the governing party's sub-committee on economic transformation to rework proposals that had been presented at the two-day meeting.

Party insiders say Zuma described the proposals presented by Deputy Economic Development Minister Madala Masuku as not radical enough.

"He said if you want to speak of the second phase of radical transformation you can't come with an apologetic approach," said an insider who was at the meeting in Irene but asked not to be named.

"He [Zuma] mentioned banks and the construction sector ... he [asked] ... why do you have a few white families who seem to be in charge of everything ... He said we must be radical, and the discussion document must say how ... we move to an economy owned by black people.

"He said the report must be 'reversed'. He said it is not radical enough."

Masuku said: "[Zuma] was saying we must unpack what is 'radical'. When we say we are committed to radical change ... What are we changing?"

Zuma's detractors said he was being opportunistic.

"I think we are dealing with a man who is desperate to remain relevant. If indeed he holds these radical views, why didn't he implement them all along?" asked a party leader who was also at the meeting and asked to remain anonymous.

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Political analyst Daniel Silke said Zuma's comments could be an indication that segments of the ANC would be more inclined to consider populist policies, particularly on land.

"The succession battle is not only personality driven - it is [also fought] between those who are moderate and those who are more populist," he said.

Enoch Godongwana, head of the ANC national executive's sub-committee on economic transformation, and his team had to rewrite their document after Zuma's remarks.

Godongwana declined to comment to the Sunday Times on Zuma's views.

Another party leader who was at the meeting said those present were shocked by Zuma's input because the president had sat in the commission from Thursday to Friday and endorsed its draft report.

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"I spent two days with him in the commission. The commission report went to plenary with Zuma's full endorsement."

The commission had recommended the ANC conduct research on economic ownership and its origins.

The ANC did not finalise its economic policy proposals and faces the task of amending the National Development Plan, the party's flagship policy from its last conference in 2012.

Zuma's stance is a departure from the position he held in 2010, when he opposed moves by Julius Malema, who was ANC Youth League president at the time, for the party to adopt radical policies.

At the national general council that year, Zuma attended a commission on economic transformation and blocked Malema's policy proposals.

Insiders say Zuma is more comfortable to speak his mind now because he is not seeking a third term as ANC president and has nothing to lose.

Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma's spokesman, referred the Sunday Times to the ANC.

Godongwana said the ANC was considering many ways to address persistent economic problems, including unemployment, poverty and inequality.

hunterq@sundaytimes.co.za