It takes more than slogans to transform a nation

It is difficult to have problems with the campaign against "white monopoly capital" or "the pursuit of radical economic transformation". One of the ways in which we can tackle inequality, poverty and unemployment in society is by addressing the fundamentals, such as who owns what and how they came to own it.

Almost 23 years into democracy, we have not done enough to transform the economy into one that the majority of people can participate in actively and profitably. The lack of ownership of our economy by the majority cannot continue because the more people feel excluded, there is more danger of uncontrollable eruptions.

What I have a problem with is how “white monopoly capital” and “radical economic transformation” have been reduced to slogans without any real content.

I also object to how these terms are used to further divide society, particularly divisions between factions in the ANC and everyone else.

These slogans have become how some people define themselves. These are mainly Johnny-come-lately revolutionaries who do not seem to understand the meaning of the word “revolution”. They use these slogans with abandon and, if you happen to disagree with them, then you are either a supporter of white monopoly capital or against radical economic transformation.

It is almost the same as using the term “racist” to attack mainly white people with whom they disagree. If they fail to come up with superior arguments, they know that they can always accuse their detractors of racism to win the argument.

It is also similar to what is happening in the US, where new President Donald Trump and his supporters have used the term “fake news” to attack anyone in the media who opposes them or exposes their wrongdoings. Once they apply the term to any news item, they hope people will no longer believe the media that broadcast or printed it.

This has the result of people not engaging with the news in an intellectual manner, but rather just rejecting some reports and media houses outright. This is a dangerous situation and might soon see some journalists feeling unsafe to cover certain stories because of their media houses being associated with “fake news”..

But getting back to matters closer to home: white monopoly capital and radical economic transformation.

What we need in South Africa is a robust engagement with these terms. We need to ask ourselves what they mean and what we need to do to ensure they belong in the past. How do we deal with what is perceived to be white monopoly capital? How do we spread the economic wealth in a more equitable manner? How do we make sure that we do not just replace “white monopoly capital” with “black monopoly capital”, which, in my humble opinion, is equally bad? And who is part of white monopoly capital? How does one define who is part of this group? If there is such a group, do they have a political agenda or is their only agenda economic, that is to make as much money as possible?

If this group exists - this has not been proven by anyone yet - who should intervene to change this situation and how? Is there a way of engaging with them constructively?

The danger of stigmatising people in this way is that you tend to make people go into their laagers and they refuse to engage with society in a constructive manner.

It is like using the race card against white people, which has the effect that most white people are reluctant to engage in any discussion about race for fear of being labelled.

The discussion about radical economic transformation is probably more important for South Africa. We cannot hope to continue in the way that we have over the past 23 years, and 350 years before then, with the majority continuing to be excluded from the mainstream economy.

How does one change this? What steps need to be taken to make sure that those who have are prepared to share with those who don’t have, and not in a charity-kind of way, but in a meaningful way? How do you convince seriously rich people to give up much of their wealth in order to help transform our economy?

But more importantly, how does one grow the economy so that more people benefit through having jobs and, importantly, more disposable income, which will in turn help to boost the economy.

It is time for those who speak out against white monopoly capital and in favour of radical economic transformation to come up with realistic alternatives and solutions. Otherwise these will remain nothing more than rhetoric, and you can’t feed a nation on slogans.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 11 March 2017)