SONA 2017, Radical Economic Transformation in perspective !


February 9, 2017 marks the State Of the Nation Address (SONA), delivered by a president in democracy, and much is made of the plausible disruptions anticipated by the kindergarten of parliamentary opposition who by now have made it their key campaigning grounds for a claim of relevance. In recent time these side shows have taken precedence at the expense of the fundamental aspects of a SONA as the President taking South African citizenry and broader Africa as well as the globe into confidence on what the State is doing, embarked on and is rolling out as core initiatives, programmes and projects of importance.

Radical economic transformation is widely anticipated as the critical aspect for this SONA. There exists no doubt that if there is one area the ANC led State is comfortably accused of and remains failing until now it is giving meaning to the aspect of economic transformation.

Radical Economic Transformation as advocated by an ANC statement imbibes a fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions, and patterns of ownership and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female. This mouthful of definition as articulated by the recent Lekgotla vocalises the ANC’s mind and vision for what it deems radical economic transformation.

We may argue with the definition and end up in a proverbial cul-de-sac of thinking of rhetoric in claims and thoughts, or we may attempt unpacking this to make sense of this in a practical sense. I will attempt to use the ANC Lekgotla’s definition as a background as I attempt advancing questions for a definition, meaning and outflow in land return claim self-evident in radical economic transformation that benefits the poor. The ANC outlines 12 core aspects as that which constitutes the axis of a notion of radical transformation that informs economic change. I will attempt to engage the proposed definition and ask questions as to how some of these would be realised against the backdrop of an accepted constitutional premise.


If the January 8 Statement of the ANC encapsulates the NEC’ statement, the SONA is the State’s report and vision casting. Therefore at one level the ANC defines the State in policy and programmes when it at another level appeals to the State to attend to its desires and dreams for a South Africa. Thus the boundaries between State and Party must be clear. Nevertheless the SONA is heavily influenced and defined by the policies, programmes and core aspects of the ANC’s manifesto which is what the January 8 Statement is all about. These two must therefore be synchronized if the hope of change is realised beyond a day –dream.



Needless to note, the ANC  as organisation faces many challenges yet none counts more in this epoch as its first challenge that vehemently protests a claim for a radical economic transformation that benefits the poor. That first challenge for the  ANC is its current credibility, some define this as a trust deficit and that deficit is laid bare in a litany of scandals of which the most recent is the tragic and heart wrenching Esidimeni Life project of Gauteng Health Department with its 94 and counting deaths of the most vulnerable of our society. This is arguably the biggest hurdle for the ANC.

The SONA is thus delivered against this backdrop that protests a testimony of a non-caring ANC for what is deemed the most vulnerable in the SA society. The hurdle therefore is not solved in merely claiming a radical economic transformation posture, it is compounded because the original natural trust that existed from liberation movement context is eroded, and mere words cannot bring back this trust. The credibility of the ANC led State is therefore a central point of consideration. It would appear the hurdle of trust and confidence must be crossed before the ANC can assume the SA citizenry to afford them their ears.




Some may ask why now this urgency for a radical economic transformation? What did the ANC and its State do for the greater part of the 23 years of its functional existence? This question perhaps goes to the heart of the negotiated settlement. We often gloat about how great the dawn of democracy was and we easily take credit for the essentially bloodless transition from an apartheid state to a democratic state. The world over SA particularly with Nelson Mandela as its face was considered a miracle of reconciliation an example for all who seek to effect change at the hand of reconciliation.

What was never dealt with or engaged honestly was what this settlement meant in economic sense. In the first few years of our democracy we were all intoxicated with our newfound freedom, euphoric in our description of what it means, though some of us cautioned that we have not dealt with what really undergirded colonialism and apartheid. These two systems were defined in an economy that is owned not by the masses but by those who claimed a white identity for their common humanity. That claim of white identity defined others as black and therefore excluded the black masses.

It then would make sense that after a while questions would resurface as to what economic reality we as South Africans find ourselves in. The abnormal of colonial and apartheid rule nowhere manifested more in democracy then in our economic ownership, definition, and meaning.

It is therefore not strange that the ANC no different to other liberation movements like Zanu PF finds itself, today 23 years later admitting the negotiated settlement in economic realty simply does not work. This is despite the fact that some liberation and ANC leaders benefitted from the abnormal deal and became a super wealthy thus a buffer-zone for colonial and apartheid benefactors to argue an equality of economic being. The truth is the economy of South Africa remains in the hands of colonial and apartheid benefactors.

The abnormal ownership of the economy for the greater part of our democracy became normal and that new normal simply does not work for the masses of SA. On another level, this is also a concession that the ANC as entrusted to lead SA is compromised to not have taken transformation of the economy serious as anon negotiable.



The subject of radical economic transformation as coined by the ANC has been with us now for 3-4 years yet in the eyes of the general public very little of the content in programme reality for implementation is felt or experienced. Hitherto very little if anything evidences the implementation reality for this radical economic change. It appears it’s easier to talk about this much needed change, then to make it happen. So the question becomes what is meant with radical economic transformation?

In order to appreciate a definition for radical economic transformation, I will refer to Minister Rob Davies who in 2014 in his parliamentary response after the SONA attempts a definition when he asserts, “What then is radical economic transformation? I think we can do worse. We can do worse than looking at the Oxford English dictionary definition of radical. It tells us that radical relates, or affects, the fundamental nature of something. It is about far–reaching and thorough actions, characterised by a departure from tradition, innovative or progressive. That’s what radical is about.”

Davies goes further after making the case for radical in explaining economic transformation this way, “Now I think that radical economic transformation in SA must mean radical transformation on a number of levels. It must mean radical transformation of the productive structures of our economy. It must mean radical transformation of production relations, less conflictual, characterised by more equitable benefit-sharing and by less inequality. It must mean placing job creation at the heart of work programmes and promoting a more inclusive job –rich pattern of growth

In my assessment this high level definition of what constitutes radical economic transformation must find legs and feet to walk in the proverbial dust of our everyday sojourn as made self-evident in direct benefit to the poor however defined. Equally the multiplicity of levels Davies alludes to in practical sense proves contesting for the same space and confirms the dualism of conflict, yet nevertheless it in my assessment stands as courageous an attempt despite the layered complexities to define radical economic transformation.

The ANC in its pursuit for radical economic transformation and its overarching benefit has reiterated its fundamental axis of its primary beneficiary constituency as articulated in its National Question namely that it exists for: …the liberation of the blacks and in general and the African in particular.

Having listened to Davies’ attempt at a definition for Radical economic transformation, we must now engage in questions as to what this mean for the current legislative and policy and programmes platforms.



When Minister Davies talks of far – reaching and thorough actions for a definition of radical as it relates to economic transformation, the natural question is, far-reaching imminent in legislation / policy review? Is the called for action connoting political leadership or does it suggest a hybrid of triplets evident in new legislation, close monitoring of existing policy implementation and decisive political leadership?

Is it possible to talk about, or even hope for and ultimately commit to action the notion of radical economic transformation without engaging the subject matter of legislative and policy transformation framework necessary to make possible the components for economic transformation? What then is the policy architecture that would realise this much bandied and needed economic transformation?

Indeed the case can be made if the economy remained what it always was under both colonial and apartheid states as perpetuated for 23 years under a democratic state there must be a legislative framework that supports this abnormal situation.

South Africa is and remains a constitutional democracy that means any new legislation and concomitant action is tested against the backdrop of that constitutional reality.

In order to appreciate Davies: “It must mean radical transformation of the productive structures of our economy. It must mean radical transformation of production relations, less conflictual, characterised by more equitable benefit-sharing and by less inequality. It must mean placing job creation at the heart of work programmes and promoting a more inclusive job –rich pattern of growth”.

We must therefore ask what is the current SA economic policy that defines these productive structures, what are these productive structures and how does the current policy evidence these productive structures?

It appears for any radical change we must engage the current policy for economy description which will enable us to argue a case as to what within the current policy proves the stumblingblocks to realise radical economic transformation.

It would further appear more than beyond of generating a list of items for change claim, lays the responsibility to ask what aspects of our current economic policy denies the reality of economic transformation for the masses.

Linked to that is the undeniable reality of how these intersect within or against the backdrop of the constitutional framework of South Africa and how these are made to stand? We know that every change generate its own direct and indirect casualties and therefore the State can expect to be dragged to court for what it intends doing to attain this radical economic transformation dream. Can a change to that policy in newness of radicality be challenged in a constitutional context? How does that find meaning?

South Africa with its very well funded new civil society formations, and its no gratifying appetite to defend a constitution it claims under threat, for the benefit and defence of a specific group interest will not hesitate to take whatever new laws the State may introduce to court. Am I unnecessary pessimistic to see a retarding of the effort through lengthy court cases, that ultimately renders the State fatigued.

As earlier alluded I will not engage all 12 items that the ANC lists as their appeal to the State, but I will for this musing only focus on one namely land. I am not seeking to making conclusive arguments on land, I am merely asking questions to assist the discourse on land return its challenges, and how this understood.


On the subject of land, which is the only one I will attempt to engage in this musing, I raise this to argue how plausible is this returning of land back to the people by constitutional means?

The question of land remains a highly emotive one and fundamental for the redress aspect, yet according to some research the State owns but a mere 20% of the land. Therefore the returning of land back to the people innately suggests land currently owned by more than what the State owns. Let me hasten to add land expropriation is catered for in the constitution yet its not a simple exercise.

We hear this need to abide by and maintain respect for the constitution of South Africa as a non-negotiable when the ANC calls for the return of the land to the people by constitutional means. This can be juxtaposed to what the EFF encourages people to violate the constitution in occupation of land. Clearly the ANC had high regard for the constitution of SA regardless to what is peddled by mainstream media, some civil society formations and a cohort of public faces who seek to portray the ANC as anti-constitutional the natural threat to our democracy and therefore the not the legitimate custodian of protecting the constitution. These do not exact half the energy to question the EFF for its clearly unconstitutional stance and inciting of constitutional breach in land invasion.

Notice the choice of words ‘return the land back’. This return connotes it being a rightful deed of restitution to its original owners. It implies land was taken away from its rightful owners, and in this season the call is for that land to be returned.

How then does that commitment to return land find its practical implementation? Is this informed by a land claims paradigm beyond the scope of what was the cut of period of 1913, which has been adjusted under the Zuma presidency? Is the giving of land back to the people a speeding up of these claims, or what does this mean?

Are we talking of the 20% State owned land, if it is not State owned land is it private held land and how does that claim for land intersect with the constitutional reality of a South Africa?

At another level how does this returning of land back to the people intersect and engage the rising fundamental claim of the aboriginals / Khoisan when they argue the land belongs to them as their first encounters in the 1490’s attest where the first resistance to land invasion from the Portuguese is registered?

If the operative word is “the people” than it appears the ANC in this season hunkers back to the 1955 Magna Carta of a Freedom Charter, which saw the gathering of almost extinct native, coloured and Indian congress members along with others. These when they articulate the Freedom Charter used the term WE THE PEOPLE.

The Freedom Charter is perhaps a good place to start, whilst it doe not help us to engage the chronicled history of land invasion for a South Africa that started at least 200 years before Jan Van Riebeek arrived.


It appears then the ANC and the SONA must ask for the first invasion of land in SA, where Khoisan leadership had to confront in and around 1493 the Europeans in particular the Portuguese who sought to dispossess them of their land.


How far should the State then go with this returning of land? Who then makes up the people the State will identify? The State must prove cognisant and sensitive that a promulgated law of 1715 declared the Khoisan as vermin therefore the object of hunting, that law whilst expunged in 1928 has not returned the Khoisan’s land, neither does the constitution recognise this reality and therefore the SONA must prove bold give effect to the claim on land in aboriginal sense.

Can the case be made that the return of land to the people by constitutional means proves an oxymoron? An oxymoron perhaps since the constitution as is claimed is silent on the first ownership of the land, when it argues South Africa belongs to all who live in it. The challenge of this conclusion is that the Khoisan is not accommodated in First Nation Status, and therefore outside the circumference of the constitutional frame hence reduced to a tribal status equal to all other tribes as the proposed bills advocate.

Radical economic transformation on land ownership must therefore resonate in the acknowledging of identity and in this first acknowledgment that land is owed to the Aboriginals as UNDRIP specify and affords them a First Nation status. The case can thus be made that there can be no land returned to the people until the Khoisan is the centre of that land ownership.

Land ownership is a natural economic aspect and the material evidence of true transformation. Therefore the benefit – sharing and more equality as advocated by Davies in land becomes crucial. Land also directly speaks to what is in the soil namely minerals, therefore a return to land is a return of more than just land but a fundamental reshaping of the economy that ultimately may attain the reality of radical economic transformation.

Having said this we equally must hasten to admit many of the claims as facilitated and finalised by the State have resulted in rightful owners rather opting for monetary compensation, this is another dynamic in our 21st century South African society where it appears our people have not yet understood the value of the land they rightfully claim as a means of economic emancipation.

In conclusion, radical economic transformation can no more be a touted subject of convenience; radical economic transformation cannot pretend a change when it refuses to be radical. It cannot be a populist rhetoric or an academic construct; it must find legs and feet to walk in the dusty earth of SA.

The obligation to realise this is upon the ANC and the State and land return is a means to attain this. Those who want the status quo of an abnormal economic ownership to continue in a so-called normal society will challenge radical economic transformation.

Clyde N.S. Ramalaine

Political Commentator


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s