COMMENT

Race ideology continues to rule the roost

John Kane-Berman writes on Eskom's irrational racial demands on coal suppliers

Ideology "shows the finger" all round  

In the first few months of 1945, as the armies of the Western Allies were closing on Berlin from the West and the Russians were pressing in from the East, Heinrich Himmler's SS was busy rounding up as many Jews (and gypsies) as it could still find for transport by rail to Auschwitz and other extermination camps.

The imminent destruction of their regime made no difference to Himmler or Adolf Hitler or any of their fanatical henchmen: extermination of what was left of European Jewry remained the absolute priority.

Nothing the previous South African government did, and nothing its successor is doing, compares with the crimes of the Nazis. But the relentless determination of the Nazis to pursue their genocidal policies is but the most extreme example of how governments and parties driven by ideology are capable of ignoring whatever else is going on around them.  

For a long time the National Party (NP) government implemented its apartheid policies with little regard for the economic, social, or political consequences. But eventually the NP realised that this was a path to perdition and embarked upon the liberalising reforms that culminated in FW de Klerk's actions of 2nd February 1990.  

Despite speculation about reforms, the African National Congress (ANC) is not near implementing any. Racial ideology continues to rule the roost, no matter what the consequences. The most recent example was the furious reaction of the new acting chief executive of Eskom, Matshela Koko, to the announcement by the Exxaro coal-mining company that it will reduce its black economic empowerment shareholding from 50% to 30% as it cannot afford to keep the level up to 50% now that the earlier empowerment deal has matured. Mr Koko accused Exxaro of "showing Eskom the finger".

For the past two years Eskom has demanded that coal suppliers be majority black owned before it will sign new contracts with them, even though this discourages coal-mining companies from tendering for the contracts. The possibility that essential new investment in coal mines may fall short of requirements, jeopardising future supply of electricity all over again, seems to have been discounted.

Even though he heads a major state-owned company, Mr Koko may not speak for the government or the ANC. Eskom's 50% or more requirement goes beyond the 26% envisaged in the government's own mining charter. But his attitude is consistent with the onerous requirements for racial "transformation" provided for in recent legislation with its heavy fines and prison sentences for failure to comply. These penalties have been introduced regardless of the costs of compliance, or of realities such as skill shortages.   

The same applies to the cadre deployment policy, even though it is largely responsible for the failure of so many institutions of government at all levels. The use of the same policy to capture control of state-owned enterprises is responsible for the failure of many of these institutions, of which the SABC is but the most recent example. We have yet to see anything materialise from the promised reforms to these enterprises.  

Cadre deployment and racial transformation are key aspects of the national democratic revolution to which the ANC has long been committed. Their consequences for the economy, and for the quality of state services, among them education and health care, have been far more damaging than the "state capture" by the Gupta family which was one of the biggest news stories of the past year.

Even if the Guptas someday get some sort of comeuppance, these other policies will persist into the post-Zuma era. The National Party was elected as an ideological party, but then became more and more pragmatic. Many people voted for Nelson Mandela's ANC in 1994 on the assumption that it would be pragmatic, but it has become more and more ideological and less and less concerned about the consequences of its racial and other policies .           

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.