Opinion

This is what a manifesto drawn up by crude opportunists looks like

10 February 2019 - 00:00 By IMRAAN BUCCUS

The manifesto from the EFF is about as ridiculous as it is long. It veers, incoherently, from far-right neoliberal economics measures, like export processing zones, to classic far-left policies, like radical land reform.
Wildly outlandish promises are made - R1m payments to successful PhD students and orthodontists in every school, for instance - that are impossible to implement in reality. Any real attempt to implement even a fraction of the promises in the manifesto would bankrupt SA in a month. The inevitable result would be for the state to print more money, triggering runaway inflation and an economic and social catastrophe of Zimbabwean or Venezuelan proportions.
That would lead to riots in the streets and then, in response, the kind of state repression that we have seen in Zimbabwe. In the end the EFF would have to go crawling to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout or face the real risk of a revolution.
The gross corruption that flourished under the ANC's Jacob Zuma almost pushed us into the hands of the IMF, and we would have ended up giving up control of our economy to it had Zuma stayed in power for much longer. If that had happened it would have been the end of any real sense of democracy in our country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's increasingly serious anti-corruption cleanup is a very welcome development, and one that will win many voters for the ANC in May. But, because his anti-corruption measures are located within a neoliberal policy orientation, his presidency will not be able to deal with our economic and social crisis.
What we require, as a matter of urgency, are viable and realistic strategies to begin to end poverty and reduce inequality. What we need, in other words, is a scientific and credible Left.
In the UK, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn drew on some of the best minds available to produce a credible and viable vision for a more just society.
The EFF has two senior leaders with advanced degrees in politics, but their manifesto - promising 10% economic growth - is sheer fiction. It is nothing other than a crude attempt to dupe the electorate into handing over their votes to a bunch of crude opportunists.
Some commentators have tried to argue that there are some good ideas in the manifesto, like the proposal for a sovereign wealth fund. In the abstract, this is a good idea, and something the ANC should have implemented in 1994. But in the concrete, a sovereign wealth fund can only work with a capable and incorrupt state.
Under Zuma's ANC, a sovereign wealth fund would have been looted like SAA, Eskom, the Public Investment Corporation and all kinds of state budgets.
The EFF's proposal for a sovereign wealth fund would be a credible needle in its haystack of wild promises if we could trust it to run it with integrity. But, as we all know, the EFF has been closely associated with gross forms of corruption, and is openly defending individuals known to have been at the centre of the state capture project. The EFF simply could not be trusted to run a sovereign wealth fund.
The EFF manifesto is not just a very long list of totally fantastical promises that its leaders are cynically offering to the electorate in the hope of winning votes. It is also another milestone in the party's attempt to drag SA into the kind of cheap populism that, in its right- and left-wing forms, has wreaked havoc across the world recently.
We have witnessed the disasters resulting from reckless populism in countries like Venezuela, and Zuma brought us to the brink of a complete collapse. It is urgent that we learn the lessons of countries elsewhere in the world, and our own narrow escape from disaster.
It is incumbent on responsible commentators to draw a clear distinction between wild promises that are impossible to fulfil and can only lead to disaster, and evidence-based alternatives to neoliberalism.
We don't yet have any real sense of what the new workers' party led by metalworkers' union Numsa will put on the table, but we can only hope that it doesn't mimic the EFF's reckless populism, and puts forth credible proposals for viable alternatives.
We should not forget that the EFF hailed Robert Mugabe as a hero. Zimbabwe is a grim reminder of just how bad things can get under self-interested and reckless political leadership. We need to do better, much, much better.
• Buccus is senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute, research fellow in the school of social sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation..

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