Austerity Moves Into Higher Gear

Finance Minister Gigaba’s recent ‘Inclusive Growth Action Plan’ (IGAP) is a disgraceful statement of a loyal servant of local and foreign capitalists. It is also an assault on working people as this plan shifts fiscal austerity into a higher gear. Malusi Gigaba has promised to elaborate on budget cuts when he makes his medium term policy statement in October.

President Zuma urged the Finance Minister to prioritise the plan after a June cabinet meeting. Cobbling it together became so urgent that Minister Gigaba and his delegation withdrew from participation in a G20 Africa Partnership Conference held in Berlin, Germany, on 12-13 June.

A skeleton version of IGAP was publicised in mid-July but it was evidently hatched in the lead up to the ANC’s chaotic National Policy Conference. It is hard to trace the imprint of the policy conference on Gigaba’s plan. What overshadowed the policy conference were squabbles, smear campaigns and internecine rivalries aimed at snatching the leadership of the ANC at its December elective conference. The thick and obfuscating policy documents, like Strategy and Tactics and Organisational Renewal, attempted to put a positive spin on the ANC’s catastrophic mess in governing the country and gloss over the rot, corruption and scandal that pervades the party.

Voices of an old-guard that claim to uphold the liberation era legacy of the party want to rid it of corruption, pleading for its traditions to be salvaged and renewed. But is it possible to accomplish this aim without sanitising the ANC’s history which is steeped in opportunism and betrayal? This salvaging mission through sanitisation smacks of political duplicity, as but another desperate shenanigan to arrest the ANC’s decline! In his policy conference closure speech, Jacob Zuma, arguably the most scandal-ridden figure of the lot, retaliated against his detractors. This embattled tribalist echoed a thinly-veiled censure of party loyalists that oppose and condemn his self-enrichment from state coffers (Nkandla and so forth) and cosiness with the Gupta tycoons.

The rhetoric in the ANC policy conference documents matches the overtones of Gigaba’s IGAP pronouncements. Both rehash the good-story-to-tell or silver-lining-in-the-clouds myths. In reality, thunderous storm clouds have darkened South Africa’s economic horizons. The country is not only in the grip of a recession but has been relegated into a class of junk-debt borrowers – with working people having to pay the astronomical costs of the unfolding devastation.

The debt downgrade shifts neoliberal policies more firmly into the control of overseas debt rating dictators and deepens South Africa’s subordination to competing imperialist powers. Speculation that the state must borrow more to repay old debt on conditions more favourable to foreign creditors is more likely to become a reality but not without a social cost to be paid by the poor majority.

That Gigaba executes fiscal policy at the behest of his capitalist masters is common knowledge. A speech he delivered on IGAP in June attests to this: ‘We continue to reiterate that the fiscal framework is the policy of government; we support it, we are bound to it, we will implement it.’ (Minister Malusi Gigaba, 15 June 2017) This pledge to budgetary austerity reiterates the reassurances that Gigaba’s predecessors also handed to the bourgeoisie. Gigaba, like the typical petit bourgeois opportunist, has learned but not completely mastered the tricks of doublespeak, sloganeering about ‘radical economic transformation’ when the audience or occasion so demands.

We might be repeating the obvious to assert that IGAP is a knee-jerk reaction to the junk-debt crisis and the recession. But Gigaba has also reminded his audiences that the economic storm engulfing South Africa will raise inequality, unemployment and poverty to new heights, which in turn, might inflame social instability or threats thereof. What does the new Finance Minister’s paranoia about social instability mean for anti-neoliberal militants? Does it foreshadow stepped-up repression and state terror to criminalise and crush anti-austerity protests? History tells us that the convergence of acute economic and political crises with internecine feuds tearing apart a governing petit bourgeois party, is the harbinger of naked state violence against anti-capitalist forces. Therefore, let us not ignore history’s prescient answers to these questions.

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