Under our very noses, with our sensory organs blunted by Covid‐19 and other big events, the governing ANC has steadily been accelerating the further implementation and advancement of its National Democratic Revolution (NDR) under cover of the coronavirus pandemic and 18 months (so far) of a national state of disaster lockdown.
Indeed, ANC leaders evidently believe that the Covid‐19 crisis has created an opportunity to restructure the economy in accordance with Radical Economic Transformation. On 25 April 2020 Minister Nkosozana Dlamini‐Zuma said the Covid‐19 crisis presented “an opportunity for South Africa to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed upon structural changes to enable reconstruction and growth”. Ten days later, on 5 May 2020, President Ramaphosa echoed her views. He said that the Covid crisis has created “an opportunity to relook at our economic side of life to see how we South Africans reconstruct our economy after coronavirus…” and added that “Radical economic transformation must underpin the economic future…”
As the pandemic distracts and ‘justifies’, and as the state of disaster facilitates, the ANC government has imposed or advanced elements of its strategy directly and indirectly in support of its two key drives towards centralisation of power and nationalisation of assets. More centralised political control will render the by‐product of nationalisation by stealth or other means.
One shouldn’t be fooled by government supposedly opting for expanded partial privatisation relating to state‐owned assets like Eskom and SAA. These were both embarrassing basket cases the ANC government failed to fix, and it was now forced, as a last resort, to engage private expertise and funds to try and rescue them. State‐owned and managed enterprises otherwise remain key instruments in the ANC‐controlled state’s socialist developmental plans and are not for sale.
After the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the introduction of extraordinary governing powers to combat it, the ANC’s ambitions for centralised power quickly revealed themselves. It wanted full central control over everything from handing out food parcels to the poor, to unilaterally imposing draconian restrictions on the public and businesses, accelerating and advancing key aspects of Radical Economic Transformation (RET), and reserving exclusive government control of the national coronavirus vaccination programme, among others.
The national state of disaster with its lockdowns and highly restrictive social, political and economic controls continued to be reimposed month after month, without any accountability. In this shrouded political environment, the ANC avoided transparency, and altered processes and mandates to advance together with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) the expropriation of property – not just land ‐ without compensation (EWC). That is, until their cooperation broke down (probably temporarily only) over the key question of how nationalisation of land should be accommodated, or rather, worded.
Other areas of focus where significant steps have been introduced in this period are centralised national control of local government, tourism, the National Health Insurance scheme, social security, and more.
State of disaster context
Although centralisation of power and nationalisation of property have always been key elements of the ANC’s SACP‐inspired National Democratic Revolution (NDR) strategy, the current coronavirus pandemic and accompanying restrictions have provided ample cover and substantial facilitation for the unobtrusive acceleration of key aspects of this strategy.
The varying levels of lockdown restrictions may be important for the public and businesses as it affects their personal, social and economic freedoms and activities differently. But for the government, regardless of the lockdown level applicable, the state of disaster declared in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 provides it with ample scope for an alternative governing mechanism to the constitutionally mandated parliament, presidency and cabinet. In this case the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and its secretive appendage, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Najoints). Much can conveniently be hidden behind this curtain of legal secrecy.
It is a mechanism that can impose draconian restrictions on freedoms and activities, is not subjected to parliamentary or other oversight, is not accountable to anyone but the president and the cabinet (or the ANC) and then only without public scrutiny. It can make and enforce far‐reaching decisions by decree, is not effectively subjected to any time limits, and can simply be extended month after month. As court cases last year showed, not even the judiciary can intervene, and its hands are tied – it has to interpret and enforce the existing law(s) and cannot write or rewrite them.
The current Disaster Management Act is a poorly defined, broad‐sweeping piece of legislation with hardly any checks and balances that provides government with almost limitless powers. Only after a year of ongoing lockdowns, did some in the opposition start questioning it. This resulted in the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) introducing proposed amendments to the Act on 19 February this year that would make major changes and curtail the powers and introduce strict time frames. In July, public comment was invited, and it now has to pass through the portfolio committee, National Assembly, select committees, and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), before being sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa for approval, but won’t pass without ANC support.
Apart from the context and facilitation provided by the state of disaster and the NCCC, a number of other developments relating to the NDR and centralised control by the ANC are of grave concern.
National Health Insurance
The impacts of Covid‐19 have been used by the ANC to correctly highlight inequality and poverty, but also to mischievously “justify” the accelerated rollout of the National Health Insurance scheme. This controversial and unaffordable scheme will in effect nationalise South Africa’s healthcare sector and give the health minister and his department extraordinary, centralised powers and control.
Medical Certificate of Need
In the Government Gazette No. 44714 of 15 June 2021, the government has proposed the introduction of a Certificate of Need that every medical professional will need in order to practice. It will empower the state to determine where and under what conditions medical professionals may practice ‐ further centralised control. It also paves the way, if implemented, for expropriation or nationalisation of private practices, especially if the broad definition of expropriation of any property is upheld as is currently the case relating to the ongoing EWC saga.
District Development Model
Just a few weeks into the national lockdown last year, COGTA minister largely in charge of the NCCC, Dlamini‐Zuma, quickly used the cover it provided to not only accelerate implementation of the District Development Model (DDM), but also to surreptitiously duplicate the NCCC at provincial level. The DDM is disguised as another municipal turnaround strategy, and thus escaped much public attention. But in effect it will centralise control of local government and give the national government control of municipal funding and planning.
National Policy on Data and Cloud
The Draft Policy published by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies on 1 April 2021 in effect proposes data nationalisation and tighter centralised control by government. If passed, it will empower government to take ownership of all data generated in South Africa and could lead to expropriation (nationalisation) of intellectual property.
The recently published Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Amendment Bill (PEPUDA), if passed, will institute a draconian set of new restrictions on personal and political freedoms and freedom of expression and association, while allowing greater state intrusion. It also seeks to allow for hate speech and racial discrimination to be crimes that can be committed even without intent. The Bill could pave the way for more centralised totalitarianism, censorship and curtailed freedom of expression in defiance of the current constitutional framework.
Public service and cadre deployment
Deployment of ANC cadres to the public sector for maximum control and the advancement of the NDR, continues. Despite President Ramaphosa repeatedly promising a capable, professional public service, he simultaneously recently reaffirmed that cadre deployment remains ANC policy. With the selection of ANC candidates for the upcoming municipal elections, there have been efforts to weed out the corrupt and raise the qualifications bar – but this will strengthen and not dilute ANC cadre control over the state, providing the ANC fares well in the elections.
Tightening BEE and EE control and restrictions
The ANC recently introduced the Employment Equity Amendment Bill to expand its application and give more arbitrary powers to the relevant minister. At the same time similar changes and more restrictions are being applied in respect of Black Economic Empowerment. Both serve to create pools of privilege and influence for the ANC in the private sector and expand ANC control – another form of cadre deployment.
These are just some of the recent developments that underpin the ANC’s quest for centralised power and control, and for nationalisation. There are more, like a shrinking and emigrating middle class, the role of Natjoints and the security cluster, or the proposed National Social Security Fund and Basic Income Grant. Concentrating more power at the centre is not only the ANC’s answer to its own failures and lack of implementation, but it’s also a central requirement of the National Democratic Revolution and facilitates nationalisation in various applications.
By Stef Terblanche, independent political risk analyst and member of the FW de Klerk Foundation
Panel of Contributors
31 August 2021