ANC social policy follows World Bank advice

Issue 

Picture

ANC social policy follows World Bank advice

By Patrick Bond

JOHANNESBURG — Leaders of the African National Congress defend the South African government's lamentable economic record since 1994, which has included the loss of half a million formal-sector jobs, with the argument that local and international power relations are not optimal for a serious challenge to corporate prerogatives.

Whether South Africa has had any room to manoeuvre in the world economy has rarely been tested. Instead, policy-makers have repeatedly endorsed and implemented "Washington consensus" neo-liberal economic strategies — no matter that such policies have not delivered growth, employment, or redistribution or the promised investments from international and local capital.

The same has been true in social policy. Enormous influence has been exerted by consultants from the World Bank or its local proxies who advised that market-oriented solutions would fix problems caused by the failure of the market. When ANC ministers adopted these policies, they invariably ran into serious opposition from constituents.

Land affairs and agriculture minister Derek Hanekom has been jeered by black farmers' associations and rural social movements. They accuse him of failing to redirect agricultural subsidies, allowing the privatisation of marketing boards, redistributing only a tiny amount of commercial farmland (much of which was stolen by whites within living memory) through a "willing seller, willing buyer" policy, failing to support large communal farming projects, not fighting the property rights clause in the Bill of Rights with more gusto, and labelling the National Land Committee (the main rural people's rights coalition) as "frivolous" and "ultra-left" when it raised some of these complaints in public. The World Bank lent key policy advisors to Hanekom in 1992-94.

Housing minister Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele (like her predecessor, the late Communist Party leader Joe Slovo) has been criticised by urban social movements for a lack of consultation. Housing policy has been marked by a reliance on bank-driven processes. Closed-door agreements have been immediately violated by the banks with impunity, and loan defaulters and their communities have been dealt with harshly.

The result has been tiny housing subsidies, sufficient to build a tiny hut, often without internal water and sanitation, and developments consisting of "toilets in the veld" — as Mthembi-Mahanyele herself labelled the inherited policy — located long distances away from urban opportunities. There is a nearly complete lack of new rural housing and an insensitivity to women's design needs.

The World Bank made decisive housing policy interventions in mid-1994.

Welfare minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi was bitterly criticised by church, non-governmental and welfare organisations in 1997 for attempting to cut the child maintenance grant by 40% and for failing to empower local community organisations and social workers. The World Bank seconded a member to the welfare commission, which recommended the draconian cut.

Education minister Sibusiso Bengu was censured by teachers' unions, the student movement and liberation movement education experts for often incompetent — and not sufficiently far-reaching — restructuring policies, the failure to redistribute resources fairly and a narrow approach to higher education.

Minister of constitutional development Valli Moosa was condemned by municipal workers and communities unhappy with the frightening local government fiscal squeeze, intensifying municipal water and electricity cut-offs, the increasing privatisation of local services (and his efforts to divide and conquer workers and community activists) and low infrastructure standards such as mass pit latrines in urban areas. A World Bank mission wrote the first draft of infrastructure policy in late 1994.

Water minister Kader Asmal earned the wrath of unions for his privatised rural water program. He was also condemned by environmentalists and Johannesburg community activists for stubbornly championing the multibillion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project expansion (based on a mid-1980s World Bank design). The bank's 1999 country assistance strategy claimed that its "involvement was instrumental in facilitating a radical revision in South Africa's approach to bulk water management".

Environment minister Pallo Jordan has been criticised for being exceedingly slow to enforce environmental regulations, particularly on mining corporations.

Posts and telecommunications minister Jay Naidoo was attacked for the partial sale — and rapid commercialisation — of Telkom, which entailed dramatic increases in local phone tariffs and price cuts for international calls.

Health minister Nkosozana Zuma disappointed progressive health workers not only by failing to provide the drug AZT to pregnant HIV-positive women to save babies' lives, but also by cutting deeply into hospital budgets before promised clinics materialised.

There were occasions when Zuma won praise from the left for taking on extremely powerful corporations and vested interests: tobacco companies, international pharmaceutical firms (and their US government backers), urban doctors and medical insurance companies. Yet these fights also showed her penchant for going it alone, failing to mobilise likely mass movement allies.

This sums up the broad character of ANC social policies, for even the exception proves the rule that corporate power and neo-liberal advice were formidable and usually decisive.

The depressing record of ineffectual, conservative social policies is not dissimilar to many other countries that have fallen under the influence of Washington technocrats.

Still, the ANC performed admirably in a number of areas: it has ended most formal racial discrimination and diminished South Africa's notorious sexism and homophobia; the 1996 constitution includes (so far untested) socioeconomic rights; it has provided free primary health care (first for pregnant women and children under six years, and in future for all), legalised abortion and legislated to improve workers' rights and health and safety laws.

Given that all the main opposition parties are far to the right of the ANC on all the policies described, the choice for the vast majority on June 2 will not be hard to make.

[Patrick Bond is associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development Management, Johannesburg.]