Anthea Jeffery: ANC’s blind pursuit of Soviet-era NDR pushing SA into death spiral

In her new book “Countdown to Socialism”, Anthea Jeffery removes scales from the eyes of those who have ignored the ANC’s pursuit of a blueprint for SA economic disaster – the National Democratic Revolution plan devised by Soviet Union bureaucrats in the 1950s. Jeffrey, head of policy research at the Institute of Race Relations, explains in this interview how the NDR originated from Soviet ideologies aimed at shifting newly independent African and Asian mostly capitalist countries to socialism. Despite the Soviet Union’s dissolution three decades after economic collapse, Jeffery asserts that the ANC and its supporters remain in an obsessive pursuit of the NDR, despite its now well exposed pitfalls and record of economic destruction and creating misery. She also warns those in the private sector rallying to the government’s call to support the failing SA economy, that they are being misled and will be dispensed with as soon as it suits Pretoria’s socialist agenda. – Alec Hogg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:06 – Introductions
  • 01:18 – Anthea Jeffery on her new book
  • 02:42 – On where the template for the National Democratic Revolution was developed
  • 05:10 – On if there are any success stories for the NDR
  • 07:46 – On the NDR plan still being followed in SA
  • 11:21 – On if privatisation is possible within the structures of the NDR
  • 13:33 – On if it’s a fool’s errand for the private sector to get involved
  • 15:25 – what’s in it for the people driving this NDR
  • 17:44 – Will people just stand by and watch
  • 19:01 – On the National election in 2024

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Edited transcript of the interview

Alec Hogg: Anthea Jeffrey is the head of policy research at South Africa’s oldest and most prestigious think tank, the Institute of Race Relations. She’s authored 11 books and the most recent of those is called Countdown to Socialism.

I certainly am delighted that I had the opportunity to read such a considered, deep and thoughtful book that explains so much that was so confusing. And I’m sure we’re going to be getting lots of answers to other questions when we talk with Anthea in the next few minutes.

We’ve missed you on BizNews, Anthea, you haven’t been as prolific as usual with your writing because you’ve had a book to do. How long does it take you to put together a masterpiece like this?

Anthea Jeffery: Thank you, Alec. I’ve worked on and off, I suppose, for a number of years, because I’ve looked at particular issues that I think are relevant to the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), such as mining over a number of years, and BEE issues and the like. But the actual writing of the book, I would say that I began concentrating on that about August, September last year, and it’s been a really intensive process since then to get the draft ready and then to go through the whole publishing process.

Read more: How world sees us: Only thing keeping SA from total chaos is its private sector

Alec Hogg: And knowing Jonathan Ball as I do, they don’t leave anything to chance, highly professional, so you would have been pretty involved. Involved there. But I’m, my eyes were open to the whole national democratic revolution by this book. And I think it was even on the very first page where you explain this term that we’ve

Anthea Jeffery: Yes indeed, yes checking all the end notes.

Alec Hogg: We hear so much about it is referenced by Cyril Ramaphosa regularly, in State of the Nation addresses and elsewhere, and by other members of the African National Congress. But from what I read the NDR a template, a master plan that was compiled many years ago in a universally discredited ideology. Perhaps you can just take us through the whole thinking of where the NDR comes from.

Anthea Jeffery: It was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, at a point when the decolonisation process was gathering steam. So you had a number of Asian and African colonies in particular that were now coming to independence, but they were doing so with primarily capitalist economies. And what the Soviet Union wanted to do was to bring them from capitalism to socialism. And it recognised that where you’d had quite a sort of mixed entity, range of entities pushing for independence, but many of them not particularly keen on socialism, then it would take time for this process to unfold. But the Soviet Union developed a number of strategies which could be used to push the capitalist economy into more and more difficulty, and at the same time to keep advocating for a socialist alternative so that as the crisis of the capitalist system deepened.

So the socialist alternative would become more credible, more feasible, and in the end would be embraced. So the idea was that through this incremental process, you could take former colonies from capitalism to socialism. And this was an idea that was difficult to apply to South Africa in the sense that we had ceased to be a colony in 1910. But at the same time, the…

The South African Communist Party found a way around that obstacle by saying that effectively you had an internal colony in South Africa, that the white minority was like a colonial power and the black majority was the oppressed colonial people. So that you therefore had colonialism of a special type in South Africa. And once you had thrown off the yoke of the white minority, then the opportunity would be there to move to the second stage of the revolution, the National Democratic Revolution, in order to take a predominantly capitalist economy through to a socialist outcome.

Alec Hogg: Has it worked anywhere? Because clearly this was a template that was developed in Moscow at a time when the Soviet Union was powerful and one of two superpowers in the world. And you can imagine that newly independent countries were looking for pathways or for plans that they could apply. Have there been any success stories for the NDR.

Anthea Jeffery: I think one that comes to mind is Indonesia way back in the 1950s too. Not a success story in the fact that you didn’t have a better economy at the end of it, but you had a great number of steps that were taken quite rapidly in order to cripple the capitalist economy. So you had the expulsion of the Dutch, you had a massive nationalisation of not only homes and businesses, but also of course plantations.

And the way it was described by the US ambassador, it was as if the economy had just been brought to an abrupt halt. And he spoke about Indonesia having committed national suicide. But the Communist Party in the country was very in favour of this as was Moscow, because what you had done is greatly damage a capitalist economy and brought Indonesia closer into the socialist sphere.

So that was the sort of blueprint that they wanted to see followed. If possible, then done rapidly like that in situations where it seemed more difficult to achieve that than in a more gradual process over time. And so in South Africa, the idea is that the NDR would take between 30 and 40 years. And I think partly because by the time the minority government came to a halt, the political transition took place here.

The Soviet Union itself had been disbanded in 1991. And so you had a very different global environment in which socialism in the eyes of many had been entirely discredited. Not so unfortunately in the eyes of the ANC and the SACP. But they recognised that the process would not take longer than it would have at an earlier phase in the Soviet Union’s rise and fall.

Read more: Nicholas Woode-Smith: The ANC’s deliberate failures – South Africa’s path to collapse

Alec Hogg: So for those of us outside of the deep political sphere, there are a few things that are confusing. That the ANC still publicly call each other ‘comrades, when it is something that really sticks in the craw of many people around the world who have seen what happened to the comrades in the Soviet Union. And that when you’re doing something that isn’t working, that it isn’t abandoned, but the leaders double down on the failed project. Is this all part of the NDR, this plan that was devised in Moscow in the 1950s, and is it still being followed in South Africa?

Anthea Jeffery: Absolutely, and I think it’s because for people in the ANC and the SACP, there was a refusal to acknowledge that socialism had failed. And we had Joe Slovo in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall writing an article with the title, Has Socialism Failed? And coming to the conclusion that it had not. Why, he said, because socialism in the Soviet Union had been too commandous, too bureaucratic.

Whereas real socialism, the kind that the ANC and the SACP would embrace, would be democratic and participatory. It would avoid all the difficulties, the problems that the Soviet Union had become caught up in. And so the repression, the gulags, the deaths of millions, was all irrelevant because it hadn’t been real socialism. And as Christian Nemetz of the Institute for Economic Affairs in London writes, this is an analysis that has been embraced by many left leaning analysts and academics, who said the same of Mao’s China, of Cuba, of Vietnam, of Cambodia, that in all these countries where you had a great number of deaths and a huge degree of repression and inefficiency and suffering, that it was all really unimportant because that hadn’t been real socialism in any of these instances and real socialism was still coming in the future. And I think it’s interesting to see that in the 30 years or so since the Soviet Union was disbanded, the many socialist and communist parties that still existed in the world and left-leaning sympathisers have really increasingly embraced the idea that socialism can be done in a very positive way, the democratic participatory way, and that the real problem is with capitalism.

And so I think you see in many countries around the world, particularly the Western democracies, particularly among the youth an interest in socialism. And the skepticism at best about the value of capitalism. That is a global environment which now helps the ANC with their determination to pursue the NDR, which they have been doing right from the very start in 1994, and which they describe as offering the most direct route to socialism.

Alec Hogg: Reading through your book, it’s also interesting to see that there’s no problem for the proponents of the National Democratic Revolution, or NDR, to take a step backwards when they need to. And this brings me to the current situation in South Africa. Eskom is a disaster. It’s now open season for the private sector to produce electricity, which is a critical part of a centralised state. The ports, we just saw the appointment of ICTSI, a Filipino company, to manage the biggest pier in South Africa’s biggest port, in Durban. There’s a devolution of power to the provinces or at least an attempt to get more power into the provinces away from the centre. South African Airways, which was a core part of the NDR is now being dispensed with. Is this a step backward so that at some point in time, the NDR can go forward? Or is there perhaps a change in thinking that the policy is bankrupt?

Anthea Jeffery: I don’t believe there’s any change in thinking. And what it’s also integral to the NDR to use private sector resources for the benefit of the revolution. So in a way, this is what is happening with Eskom and Transnet. For example, Eskom has huge debt and has a massive difficulty in trying to generate more power. So, from an NDR point of view, it makes sense to turn to the private sector and ask them to put resources into the system, but on the basis that the government is still going to control it. And that is clearly the plan we’ve heard from very many ANC people. There’s no intention to privatise, the private sector can certainly come in and build renewable plants, and their finances and skills will be welcome, but they will not have control. And the same is true, I think, of the agreement that’s just been made for Durban. There’ll be a new company established in which Transnet has a 51% holding and the Philippine company has 49%. So the resources will come from the Philippine company, but the control will remain with the state.

Alec Hogg: That’s eye opening. I wonder if the Philippines company has actually thought this one through because if the state is going to take control again and probably mess it up as it has done throughout the past few decades and throughout history, then it seems to be a little bit of a fool’s errand for the private sector to get involved.

Anthea Jeffery: Yes, there was an article today suggesting that the Philippine company will think it gets enough through its 49% stake over the 25-year period. And I think it can have no illusions that this is real privatisation. It’s a partnership of a kind, but it’s one in which the state retains control.

Alec Hogg: All of this is very confusing. What is driving the people who believe in this NDR, which clearly has failed everywhere that it has been attempted. What’s in it for them?

Anthea Jeffery: I think that there’s an extraordinary degree of power and wealth to be gained. And perhaps the example is 21st century socialism in Venezuela. When Hugo Chavez began the process of 21st century socialism there, it had absolutely crippling consequences for the economy and for the people. But Hugo Chavez became one of the 400 wealthiest people in the world. His daughter is said to have assets of $4 billion. And I believe that his successor, Nicolas Maduro, has a similar level of wealth. So there’s enormous power to be gained.

Alec Hogg: And the people just stand by and watch it. Is this in ignorance? Is this through propaganda? Is it through incorrect ideology?

Anthea Jeffery: I think it varies. In Venezuela, they said, we never thought it could happen. We didn’t take it seriously. It just seemed too bizarre. We never believed that state power could be used so badly. And I think there’s a similar kind of perhaps naivety in Zimbabwe where if many of the farmers didn’t believe that the land would actually be taken in the way that it does because it didn’t make economic sense. It’s only for that small political elite at the top that there’s much to be gained and a seemingly complete callousness about the suffering that results.

Read more: ANC’s damaging foreign policy: Ideology without moral authority – Terence Corrigan

Alec Hogg: We have an election in 2024. There is a chance for the South African voter to eject this potential future, which at the moment seems to be quite embedded in the ANC way of thinking. Is there in your mind any risk to the South African voters not doing that? In other words, saying, hang on, this hasn’t worked, we need a different plan.

Anthea Jeffery: I’m afraid I think there is a risk. We’ve had almost 30 years of the NDR and that’s the reason why our economy is in such a terrible state because we’ve had many NDR interventions already. Not the worst ones, the worst ones still lie ahead in the forms of things like expropriation without compensation, the National Health Insurance System which will give the government a monopoly over health services and the capacity to ration them as it sees fit. The same with private pensions is also in the offing, and many other interventions which they plan still to introduce.

So we’ve seen huge damage already. More could lie ahead. And on the Venezuelan model, it’s after you’ve done the expropriation without compensation that the economy really contracts. So we urgently need to stop the NDR. And since the ANC and the SACP are so committed to it, the only way is to really get the ANC out of power and put in an opposition coalition that can start rolling back the NDR interventions and embrace sensible policies, bring back investment, generate growth, make sure we have millions more jobs and people with the skills to move into them.

And we have an election. So as you say, we have the great opportunity to push the ANC out of power, get a better government in place, but it critically depends on the 18 million people who in 2019 could have voted but didn’t, because they didn’t register or because having registered they didn’t go to the polls. If those 18 million people were to go to the polls and vote for other parties, then the ANC would no longer rule. But if 18 million potential voters again stay away, thinking that they’re punishing the ANC by staying away, then that outcome will not happen. The ANC will be able to come back. They might do so with the support of the EFF if they think they really need to do that.

South Africa would be more on the road to the Venezuelan outcome. And that’s something to be truly dreaded and to be avoided at all costs. I saw Zongezo Zizi appealing that every South African should talk to ten other South Africans and make sure that they’re all registered so that come the election in 2024, people can vote for opposition parties and can put an end to the NDR.

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