ANTHONY BUTLER: Radical economic transformation is inevitable
If, or more likely, when Zuma’s faction wins at the ANC’s December conference, money will flow from working people to the elite
It looks increasingly likely that a win by President Jacob Zuma’s incumbent faction at the ANC’s conference in December will bring about “radical economic transformation” — there will be an unprecedented transfer of wealth from ordinary working people to an already bloated elite.
The key instrument in this radical programme of reverse empowerment will be the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), an entity that manages R1.8-trillion in government employees’ pensions and other guardian funds.
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba told union federation Cosatu’s central executive committee that he could not guarantee PIC-managed funds would not be used to “re-capitalise” state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
Such SOEs include the struggling national flag carrier, South African Airways (SAA), the SABC, and PetroSA, which have, together, accumulated losses of more than R25bn over the past decade.
In a carefully disseminated narrative, such SOE bailouts have been hailed as protecting jobs and promoting the national interest. In the absence of incentives to reform, however, SOE rescues simply buy time and space for further looting and mismanagement. The drunkards are soon back for another hand-out — and the Treasury’s pockets are now empty.
In the case of the SA National Roads Agency, the PIC has taken a step further, becoming the Gauteng pariah’s primary bond holder. This looks like an abuse of pensioners’ savings to rescue political elites from the fal-lout of the e-tolls debacle.
The worst is yet to come. The PIC has now established significant precedents for “political investing” in companies that offer no, or vanishingly little, prospect of returns. The PIC has thrown money into marginal platinum miner Lonmin. This has set a precedent for public-sector pension funds to be used to buy out ailing and “politically connected” resource houses, so dumping their toxic environmental and labour legacies on unwitting public-sector pensioners.
On yet another front, the PIC’s role in the purchase of the terminally sick Independent Media empire by Sekunjalo Investments has still not been explained or justified. This move has opened the door to a stream of further politically motivated abuses.
Public-sector pensioners are now being carefully groomed by their abusers to pay for a massive injection of capital into one of the world’s largest financial white elephants: Eskom.
Back in May 2015, the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana, proposed that private pension funds might “address Eskom’s cash-flow situation … in return for equity”. The roughly R100bn initially required, however, could never be forthcoming from private institutional investors in SA, or from international power companies, in the absence of governance reforms that the ANC is too weak-kneed and compromised to contemplate.
For this reason, ANC leaders have spent two years lobbying for “worker investment” in paraststals to “protect jobs” and to “promote development and transformation”. But the only funds the workers have to invest are their pensions.
• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town