The debate is far from over - and the mining industry has the right to demand a fact-based discussion on nationalisation, free of vague notions and fanciful politics
Some representatives of the mining industry have declared the nationalisation debate within the African National Congress (ANC) dead and buried, since pro-and anti-nationalisation factions appear to have fought each other to a standstill at the party’s recent policy conference. This is dangerous wishful thinking.
What may in fact emerge out of the conference is a mutation, described as "strategic nationalisation", seen as a kind of compromise measure, which would tally with the ANC’s current notion of the state leading economic development. Whatever may or may not appear to be the case, the fact that six of the nine ANC regions favour nationalisation means the debate has by no means ground itself out.
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There is a different way, however, to discuss nationalisation without defaulting to pro or anti positions. Historically, waves of nationalisation typically happen when four situations intersect. These are high commodity prices, high economic disparity, the predominance of a certain commodity as part of the economy and weak social structures.
To a greater or lesser extent, these are all part of South Africa’s social DNA. There is nothing South Africa can really do about high commodity prices and the predominance of mining in the economy, neither would it want to. But high levels of social disparity and a weak social structure are obviously social ills the country should be addressing.
Social disparity is normally measured with indices such as the Gini coefficient, and the hard truth is that South Africa’s level of inequality has not improved in 18 years of democracy. It is important to find out why this is the case, as Business Unity South Africa has started to probe. It’s quite possible that the level of inequality has not improved for two related reasons: poor education and low productivity. Better education and higher productivity would accelerate the process of reducing the income gap by improving the chances for advancement of those on the lowest rungs of the ladder. Once people have a bigger stake in the economy, nationalisation becomes a non-issue, as it is in most of the developed world.
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