In the next few months, South Africans are likely to hear more rhetoric about the mining sector being nationalised, but this is just “election noise” and should not distract business from focusing on the real issues facing the country.

Speaking at the annual Drilling and Blasting conference of opencast mining explosives leader BME in Pretoria recently, political commentator and journalist Justice Malala reminded the approximately 400 delegates that property rights were entrenched in Section 25 of the Constitution. To change this section, a party would require a 75% majority in both the National Assembly and in the National Council of Provinces.

The party talking most about nationalisation – the Economic Freedom Fighters launched recently by former ANC member Julius Malema – would at best get just a few percent of the votes.

“We forget that people like Julius Malema come and go,” said Malala. “In the 1990s, Peter Mokaba used to say exactly the same things that Malema is saying; but now, no-one talks about Mokaba anymore.”

He said it was unlikely that new political parties would draw much support away from the African National Congress in the 2014 election; also, new parties have had a very poor success rate since 1994 – with most of their support dwindling rapidly in the years after launching.

“We have done well in SA, but not as well as we could have done,” said Malala. “We have big problems that we have not solved, so if someone like Malema scratches at these problems, he will get some traction and support.”

He urged business to be part of solving these problems, as there will always be political opportunists who use these issues to get votes.

“Malema is really just a comment on the fact that we as the new South Africa have not done as much as we could to bring benefits to people,” he said. “So people like him will always come along; we can’t wish them away.”

He said the ANC reiterated its stand against nationalisation at the Mangaung conference.

“I don’t think the ANC was ever going to nationalise [the mines],” said Malala. “However, they did take the decision to add some kind of tax on mining, and this will probably be introduced after the election next year.”

He said the pressures for government to raise revenue included the pending introduction of the National Health Insurance scheme and the 16 million South Africans on social grants.

The economic growth rate remained a real concern, as this fell behind even those of other less developed African economies. He reminded delegates that over half the number of young people in the country were without jobs, and many of them had even stopped looking for employment.

The other side of the employment coin was education; he said that jobs were there, but that matriculants were often not equipped to adequately perform them.

“We’ve got kids coming out of school with a very poor education – the quality of our maths and science teaching is rated 143rd out of 144 countries,” he said.

But he did not believe that SA faced an ‘Arab spring’ scenario as a result of high youth unemployment.

“This is because we are a democracy and people can protest if they want to make themselves heard,” he said. “But we have to solve these problems, and the key to this is the National Development Plan.”

Comparing SA to faster-growing African economies, Malala emphasised the fact that many of these countries did not have democratic systems, and many had presidents or national leaders who had been in power for decades. SA, on the other hand, could boast a constitution with democratic institutions, making it difficult to compare our future trajectory with other states on the continent.

The vital expression of our democracy was our regular change of leaders since 1994. Despite our differences, though, “the rest of the continent is growing economically – off a low base perhaps – but catching up with us,” he said.

He highlighted the growing role of China in the economics of SA and Africa generally, and had a clear message for the private sector: “China will continue to be a big influence; if you are not thinking about the impact of China, your business is going to suffer.”

Malala said the country was still suffering from the aftermath of the violent labour unrest at Marikana last year; not only had it damaged our global profile, but it put labour relations across the economy on an unsteady footing.

“When Lonmin settled at 22% after the wildcat strike and violence at Marikana, the next day the Transport and Allied Workers went out on strike, followed by the farmworkers in the Western Cape,” he said. “I think we are going to see more wildcat strikes in future, at least until the memory of Marikana fades.”

Source: BME. For more information, click here.

Picture: Political commentator and journalist Justice Malala