Home Opinion and Features Path of austerity not enough to address myriad of challenges

Path of austerity not enough to address myriad of challenges

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OPINION: While one of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s ears will be rendered deaf from the noise of his comrades desperate for votes and thus forced to convey, albeit in a distorted fashion, the demands of the masses, his other ear will be blown off by the loudhailer of the capitalist class demanding continuation of their system, their power and their profits, writes Trevor Ngwane.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana is expected to be table his mini budget on Wednesday. File picture: Timothy Bernard, African news Agency (ANA)

By Trevor Ngwane

THE COUNTRY has had to wait a week longer to hear Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) because Parliament was busy with other matters. The Speaker of the National Assembly did not agree to Godongwana’s proposed date of October 25 and granted him November 1.

This quibble over a date may point to Parliament asserting itself against the National Treasury which normally gets its way because it controls the purse strings. How the mighty have fallen!

With elections around the corner, Godongwana and the National Treasury face a restless and even rebellious Parliament with ANC comrades worried about losing votes and their seats. Indeed, the ANC is likely to lose its parliamentary majority in the 2024 elections which coincide with its 30 years at the helm of a society transitioning from apartheid to democracy. In other words, the greatest pressure on Godongwana will be from inside the ANC with opposition parties banking on the ruling party shooting itself in the foot as usual. Almost everything the ANC has touched has turned into dust.

The budget of a state is an expression and an instrument of class struggle. Under capitalism, an economic system based on the extraction of surplus value from the working class, and all the attendant oppressions supporting this fundamental injustice, the state is an important arbiter in determining who gets the lion’s share of the wealth. Thus, while one of Godongwana’s ears will be rendered deaf from the noise of his comrades desperate for votes and thus forced to convey – albeit in a distorted fashion – the demands of the masses, his other ear will be blown off by the loudhailer of the capitalist class demanding continuation of their system, their power, and their profits.

We will win or lose together with the Bokke in the rugby final, but the budget will render some members of the nation winners and others losers. Godongwana will do his best to hide this hard truth when he presents his budget. Typically, capitalist economics is mired in jargon and graphs leaving the ordinary person confused and disempowered. But what cannot be hidden is the lived experience of economic policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. What is inescapable to see in 30 years of ANC economic policies that favour the capitalist class are rising unemployment, poverty and inequality levels.

Can we expect Godongwana’s MTBPS speech to honestly address and propose solutions to the myriad of hardships facing the working class and the poor in South Africa? Will he listen to the cries of the masses, or will he surrender to the demands of the rich and powerful? Since he took over as finance minister three years ago, Godongwana has followed the path of austerity and fiscal consolidation, that is, reducing expenditure and keeping debt levels low ostensibly to balance the books. This approach might appear sensible and sane, as bourgeois economists tell us, but this is a conservative approach that seeks to keep things as they are, that avoids robust policy interventions to address the economic woes of the masses and that favours the rich by maintaining the status quo.

Lenin once wrote that bourgeois democracy is the best form of state for the development of capitalism.

Historically, apartheid as a form of state became increasingly unable to serve the interests of the capitalist class. It was South Africa’s captains of industry who persuaded the National Party to agree to a democratic order concerned about falling profits and the threat of socialism. After 30 years of ANC democratic rule, it is becoming clear that the political gamble paid off. The ANC continues to protect and promote the system of private property that serves big business and the capitalist class.

The working class and the poor should not hold their breath waiting for Godongwana and his MTBPS. Despite the pressure of the 2024 elections on the ANC, the budget will continue to serve the rich at the expense of the poor. More than a vote is required to challenge the capitalist system. Only the struggle for an alternative political and economic system can significantly advance the interests of the masses.

* Trevor Ngwane is the director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice at the University of Johannesburg

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the DFA.

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