Tag Archives: South Africa

Reflections on ‘the left’ in South Africa

25 Jan

In recent years the electoral superiority of the ANC has begun to face its first real test since we entered the post-apartheid era in 1994. As the limitations of its neoliberal development strategy have become increasingly apparent, the question arises as to whether there is an effective leftist formation that could offer an alternative vision for the country. If so, who might constitute any such leftist formation?

The answer to this question has become ever more complicated in recent years. The domestic and global political terrain has moved significantly since I first conducted some research interviews on these issues in Cape Town back in 2011. Most notably, we have witnessed the so-called ‘NUMSA moment‘ when it was felt (maybe more in hope than reality) that the left had made a real breakthrough in South Africa. After a number of false dawns in recent years, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has recently announced that it is planning to launch a new political party of the left.

This blog post is a summary of a much longer academic article, entitled ‘What’s left of ‘the left’ in post-apartheid South Africa?’, which was recently published in the journal Capital & Class. Free access to the full article is available here until the end of this month.

The article starts from the normative premise that there is an objective need for a revival and renewal of progressive forces in South Africa. It then seeks to assess the state of ‘the left’ in two complementary senses. First, it evaluates the health of a range of self-identified leftist social forces and then it passes judgement on the extent to which they can be genuinely considered ‘left’ in any meaningful sense. The overall conclusion is that at present, although there are a range of different ‘left’ actors, an effective political formation is not present in South Africa. There is some evidence of attempts at co-operation between a range of different groups. However, at present the challenge remains of how to connect these groups to the masses, which are instead engaged in localised protest and struggle that lacks co-ordination, direction and leadership.

The first half of the article, sets out what I call ‘the realities of post-apartheid South Africa’. What was clear from the research I did for this project is that those who self-identify as part of ‘the left’ in South Africa all tend to agree on what the central problems are: poverty, inequality and unemployment. Far less of a consensus is apparent on what the obstacles are to overcoming these challenges. While members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), who hold key positions in the government, argue that a shift in the growth path engendered by changes in government policy will address these concerns, others in the left outside of the Alliance, see the continued hegemony of the ANC as the main concern.

In this section of the article, I highlight in particular the persistently high level of unemployment, how the top 10% of the population continue to enjoy more than a 50% share of total income, and how the trajectory of the post-apartheid economy continues to rely on finance, mining and retail, whilst the industrial sector has become even less significant since 1994.

These realities have endured during a period when the ANC government has, despite the numerous new macroeconomic policy launches, pursued a consistently neoliberal strategy ever since it adopted the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) plan in 1996. In 2010 with the adoption of the New Growth Path (NGP) it did appear that maybe a change of direction was afoot. However, as I argue in the paper, there remain significant continuities in approach and moreover, the NGP has been largely superseded by the National Development Plan, which was published by the government in 2012.

The second half of the article then outlines three distinct, but not mutually exclusive, categories of the contemporary left in South Africa. In the analysis of each category I seek to evaluate both their significance and their leftist credentials. The three groups are as follows:

  1. The left within the tripartite alliance. Here I assess all three partners within the Alliance: the ANC, the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Of these, COSATU has represented a more leftist stance compared to its  Alliance partners. However, it is constrained by its strategic political alliance with the ANC and SACP. As a result, COSATU has evolved from an organisation that pursued wider social transformation (social movement unionism) to one that increasingly prioritises collective bargaining within the parameters prescribed by post-apartheid labour legislation (political unionism). NUMSA (South Africa’s largest trade union) has been aware of such dilemmas and has long questioned the leftist credentials of the ANC government. It has now split from COSATU and is involved in the process of forming a new trade union federation. These developments may result in a more influential leftist formation that is independent of the ANC. However, NUMSA still tends to refer rather exclusively to the ‘organised working class’ and there seems only limited appreciation of the need to broaden its focus beyond those who are employed in the formal sector.
  2. The left outside the alliance. During the late 1990s in South Africa we began to see the emergence of what were then called ‘new social movements’. This marked a clear rupture in the South African left as a whole. Their significance lies in the fact that they operate independently of the structures of the ANC. Since the turn of the century we have also witnessed the rapid growth in so-called ‘service delivery protests’. What they demonstrate is that there is a level of resistance, however spontaneous and uncoordinated, to the neoliberal policies of the government.
    dlf-image-by-meraj-chhaya

    Image by Meraj Chhaya

    The formation of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) in 2011 was an attempt at coordination. The split of NUMSA from COSATU then culminated in the announcement on 2 March 2014 of plans for the formation of a broader leftist movement known as the ‘United Front and Movement for Socialism’. Ultimately it remains to be seen whether the impetus given to the United Front by NUMSA, will allow it to more effectively realise the kinds of linkages envisaged by the DLF.

  3. The remnants of a revolutionary socialist left. A number of small groups in South Africa are still following a revolutionary socialist agenda. The political position of these groups remains based on a complete rejection of reformism of any kind. As a result, most of these groups eschew working with organisations that fall within the other two categories of the left. While a new left project in South Africa clearly needs to offer an alternative to the largely rhetorical stance adopted by the ANC and SACP, given the failures of vanguardism, it also needs to adopt a strategy that is likely to attract widespread support.

The article concludes by noting that the dangers of the continued absence of an effective leftist mass movement are clear. These are most evident in the populist politics of Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a new political party formed in 2013. Malema skilfully uses leftist rhetoric in speaking to precisely those people in society, the young and underemployed, who remain marginalised and disconnected from current leftist formations in South Africa.

In sum, I argue that efforts should be continued in the task of co-ordinating leftist formations outside of the Alliance. However this alone, without clear links to the mass base, will not lead to meaningful socioeconomic progress for the majority of South Africans.

Local elections in South Africa see ANC’s dominance under pressure as they lose control of key municipalities

31 Aug

Towards the end of the negotiated transition to democracy in South Africa, Nelson Mandela famously said ‘if the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government’. This quote was recently employed by Mmusi Maimane the current leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s main opposition party, during his speech at the DA’s final rally before local elections, which were held recently on 3 August. The results of these elections indicate that an increasing number of South Africans are putting Mandela’s words into practice, despite the repeated assertion by Jacob Zuma (the current President) that the ANC will rule ‘until Jesus comes back’.

The 2016 vote resulted in a national picture that saw the ANC’s share of the vote fall by 8%, in comparison to the last municipal elections in 2011, to a historic low of 53.9%. The DA secured 26.9% to cement their place as the leading opposition party, while the Economic Freedom Fighters, only formed in 2013, were third overall with 8.2%.

Beyond these headline figures an even more challenging picture emerges for the ANC’s electoral future. A significant rural-urban divide is developing in voting patterns. Of the eight metropolitan municipalities, which include all of South Africa’s major cities, the DA held Cape Town with an impressive two-thirds of the vote and became the leading party in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) and Tshwane (Pretoria). It has also gained control of Johannesburg, despite trailing the ANC in second place, because it has managed to secure the votes of the EFF and other smaller parties. Meanwhile, the ANC now only have overall control of three of the eight metros. Like many other countries in the developing world South Africa is experiencing rapid urbanisation. According to the government’s recently published Integrated Urban Development Framework 63% of South Africa’s citizens live in urban areas and this is projected to increase to over 70% by 2030. Hence, the urban vote is going to become increasingly significant in the future.

It appears that the ANC’s reliance on its credentials as a liberation movement is increasingly losing currency with South African voters. This ‘liberation legacy’ is something that the ANC has relied upon in its campaign strategies for both the most recent local elections and the national poll in 2014. It is therefore unsurprising that some research conducted by a team at the University of Johannesburg, suggests that the ANC is relying increasingly on the support of older voters, whereas the two main opposition parties appeal most to younger voters.

Much of the debate since the 3 August poll, both within and outside the ANC, has focused on whether the decline in support for the ANC is because of the increasingly toxic reputation of President Zuma, or whether it is a verdict on the ANC’s broader record on human development.  South Africa continues to face the triple challenge of a very high unemployment rate, rising income inequality and persistent levels of poverty. It appears that the initial debriefing within the ANC’s national executive committee refuses to accept either explanation. Any suggestion that the blame rests with Zuma is certainly not being made public and in fact the conclusion seems to be simply that some ANC voters stayed at home and that all the party needs to do is address their concerns. In fact, the turnout in the most recent poll was 58%, which is consistent with the figure for the previous local elections held in 2011.

Many analysts (e.g. Justice Malala) have celebrated the outcome of the recent municipal elections arguing that they are good for democracy in South Africa. It is certainly the case, from a procedural point of view at least, that having a less dominant ANC may well result in a more accountable ruling class. However, given the development challenges faced by South Africa, I would argue that what is most necessary is an effective leftist political programme. As a recent Afrorbarometer poll suggests, a majority of South African citizens would be in favour of the creation of a new workers’ party.

The EFF are at present the only effective electoral force offering something resembling such a programme, however, in reality they offer a populist blend of African nationalism and class-based politics. After the local elections the EFF faced the dilemma of being a potential kingmaker in a number of municipalities. It declared it would not enter into any formal coalition with either the ANC or the DA but it did decide to vote to support the DA’s candidate for mayor in Johannesburg. Given how orthodox the DA’s economic policies are, this is a decision that is remarkably inconsistent with the EFF’s radical leftist rhetoric.

Film Review: Miners Shot Down

29 Aug

Earlier this month it was the third anniversary of the shocking events that took place in Marikana, South Africa. A week of violence around the Lonmin platinum mine culminated on Thursday 16th August 2012 with the South African Police Service (SAPS) shooting down 112 striking mine workers, killing 34 of them. Last year Rehad Desai’s film about what has become known as the ‘Marikana Massacre’ was released. Although availability of the film in the UK has been rather limited I managed to order a copy on DVD from the socialist bookshop, Bookmarks. These are my thoughts on the film. [Update 23.11.15, the whole film is now available to watch online]

(Image: Miners Shot Down Press Kit)

(Image: Miners Shot Down Press Kit)

Miners Shot Down covers the week from 10th-16th August, 2012 and not just the final denouement, part of which was witnessed on news broadcasts around the world. In doing so, it provides important details surrounding the escalation of events during that week but it is also explicit in linking what happened at Marikana to the broader historical and political context.

One of the central questions raised by the film is whether the then Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Mthethwa, was asked to authorise the approach taken by the SAPS, not least the deployment of 648 police on the 16th August and the order for 4,000 rounds of live ammunition and four vans from the local mortuary.

The film starts with the horrific images of 16th August 2012 and reminds us of how similar they look to those witnessed during the apartheid era at Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976. The National Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega, is then shown in the initial aftermath suggesting that the police had acted in self-defence. The rest of the film compellingly seeks to undermine such a claim as it recounts the events in chronological fashion.

As you watch things unfold during that fateful week in August three years ago, you get a strong sense of inevitability of what is to come. For me this is one of the key messages of the film. The massacre feels so absolutely inevitable, not only of course because we are watching the film, already primed with the knowledge of what is to come, but also because of the way the demands of the workers appear to have been handled from the outset.

It documents how Lonmin management repeatedly refused to negotiate with the rock drillers over their demands for a rise in wages and how the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) refused to support their members. Cyril Ramaphosa, interviewed for the film, is portrayed as emblematic of the way that elites in the ruling ANC and business have become so close. Rampahosa who is currently Deputy President of the country, was once a leader of the NUM during the apartheid era, but at the time of the massacre was a board member of Lonmin. Ramaphosa refuses to say anything of any real substance on camera, arguing that if he does it might prejudice his involvement in the commission of inquiry. This is not surprising given that it transpires that he sent an email on the day before the massacre encouraging government ministers to increase the police presence in order to quash the strike.

The sheer brutality of the events of the 16th August 2012 make for decidedly uncomfortable viewing. The film highlights how 17 of the 34 workers killed on that day were shot after the initial barrage of fire that was captured by TV news teams. A number of witnesses have testified that many of these were shot whilst trying to surrender. The impunity with which the police appeared to operate is captured towards the end of the film in a brief, but chilling scene where SAPS officers are seen to be bragging about how they shot one of the mine workers and how his ‘muti’ (traditional medicine) won’t help him.

Since the film was released, the Farlam commission of inquiry’s report into the events at Marikana has finally been published. However, many of the questions raised in Desai’s documentary remain unanswered. Decision-makers including the Minister of Police have not been held to account and instead the focus is on the inappropriate ‘tactics’ adopted by the SAPS. The Farlam commission merely recommends that a further inquiry is conducted into whether Riah Phiyega is adequately equipped to hold office.

The film does a good job of giving a voice to some of the Lonmin workers involved. It is clear that underlying their grievance over their rates of pay, are deep frustrations at the way the economic system in South Africa has, for them at least, continued unchanged during the post-apartheid era. The overarching message of Desai’s documentary is that the ANC government in South Africa is working in the interests of transnational capital and not the workers. To many observers this has been clear for some time, but the events at Marikana, which are depicted so graphically in this film, reinforce this conclusion in such a deeply disturbing fashion.

A big election win for South Africa’s ANC, but results suggest future challenges

10 May

This piece was originally published on The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/a-big-election-win-for-south-africas-anc-but-results-suggest-future-challenges-26418

On the surface, 2014 appears to represent “business as usual” for the landscape of South Africa’s electoral politics. The African National Congress (ANC) has secured a fifth straight victory in the latest national election. The ANC polled 62.1% of the total valid votes cast. This represents only a slight fall of 3.8% from its overall performance in the previous poll in 2009.

Despite the good result for President Jacob Zuma’s ruling party, deeper analysis, combined with some interesting developments in recent months, suggests that in fact the ANC faces a number of future challenges.

Internal dissent

The ANC’s most recent victory has been achieved despite the deepening crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Its election campaign, summed up in the slogan, “we have a good story to tell”, focused on its credentials as the party that overcame apartheid. There is an increasing tendency for the ANC to focus on past achievements to secure its contemporary legitimacy.

Nevertheless, a few significant figures within the ANC, including stalwart of the liberation struggle and former government minister Ronnie Kasrils, launched a “Vote No” campaign in the run-up to the election. Their dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC in government led them to urge South Africans to either vote for one of the smaller parties or spoil their ballot paper by writing the message “no” on it.

The precise impact of this campaign is hard to measure. Only 1.4% of votes were spoilt (intentionally or otherwise) and the majority of smaller parties failed to secure even a single representative in the National Assembly. However, it is symptomatic of a rising tide of criticism of the ANC, reflected in both popular protest and discontent within parts of the labour movement.

Voter registration and turnout

Turnout of the electorate is one area that demonstrates the more partial nature of support for the ruling party. The official figure this year was 73.4%, down from 77.3% in 2009. However, this only represents the proportion of the 25.4 million South Africans who registered to vote in the first place.

Based on recent population data for mid-2013 it is estimated that the current voting age population is approximately 32.6 million. The 11.4 million votes for the ANC in the national ballot therefore only represents 35% of the voting age population. Moreover, registration levels are particularly low amongst younger voters. Only 60% of 20-somethings were registered, according to the Electoral Commission, compared to 90% of those over the age of 30. This disengagement from the electoral process may become even more of a challenge in the future.

Opposition parties are making inroads

The ANC’s support also varies on a regional basis. In 2009, its share of the vote fell in every single province except KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.

This time the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), achieved a stronger showing nationally and has repeated its 2009 success as the leading party in the Western Cape. The DA has also made progress in Gauteng (South Africa’s most populous province), where the ANC’s share fell significantly from 64% in 2009 to 55% in 2014.

One noticeable result in 2014 has been the relatively strong showing (6.4% of the national vote) of the recently formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Led by former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, their populist brand of black African nationalism, couched in left-wing rhetoric, has benefited from the continued absence of a more genuine left-wing alternative to the ANC. The EFF’s focus on the nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy and land redistribution without compensation clearly has some resonance with sections of the poor black majority.

2009: room for a party of the left?

The ANC and DA are both committed to the broadly neoliberal, National Development Plan, as the solution to the deepening socio-economic crisis in the country. What are the prospects for a viable political alternative?

During recent months, tensions within South Africa’s largest trade union confederation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have reached breaking point. As a result, it is becoming clear that the potential formation of a left-wing political movement is on the horizon.

COSATU’s largest affiliated trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), withdrew its electoral support for the ANC in December 2013. Since then it has begun the process of building a new political movement. The intention is to develop links beyond the organised working class by engaging with a number of the “new social movements” that have emerged since the late 1990s. Resistance in South Africa in the form of political protest has been on the rise and the very real challenge for NUMSA and others will be how to co-ordinate these actions, which at present remain localised and largely unconnected.

Predictions of the ANC’s imminent electoral decline made prior to the 2014 elections have proven to be wide of the mark. There are a number of reasons, however, to suggest that things may look very different when South Africa holds its next national poll in 2019.

The re-awakening of ‘the left’ in post-apartheid South Africa?

31 Mar

Last week I finished a piece for the ‘Africa at LSE’ blog on the state of ‘the left’ in post-apartheid South Africa. They will be running a series of articles reflecting on twenty years of democracy in South Africa. You can find it here.

Trade Union Solidarity and Free Trade

25 Feb

Do trade unions matter in the Twenty-First Century? How are they responding to ongoing processes of neoliberal restructuring? In particular, what obstacles do they face in developing transnational solidarity against the rise of free trade? What is clear is that national labour movements in different parts of the world have, at times, responded differently to the deepening of trade liberalisation in recent years. This is because the immediate impact they face differs depending on their place within the structure of the global economy.

In a new academic article published earlier this month I explore these questions through a study of how the biggest trade union federation in South Africa – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – has reacted to both multilateral and bilateral trade liberalisation. COSATU

The article forms part of a special issue of the journal Globalizations, which considers the theme of ‘Free Trade and Transnational Labour’. My contribution also considers the extent to which COSATU has engaged in building transnational links with labour movements outside of South Africa and how effective these attempts have been.

COSATU was formed in 1985 and since the end of apartheid its membership has grown significantly. At its most recent National Congress in 2012 it reported a total of 2.2 million members across its 21 affiliated trade unions.

The post-apartheid era in South Africa has seen the government embrace the free trade agenda. This was most clearly demonstrated when it adopted its Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy way back in 1996. Despite criticism from COSATU, this represented an acceptance of the neoliberal development model, and in particular the need for South Africa to unilaterally reduce its barriers to trade. At the time COSATU took the position that a more strategic engagement with the global economy was needed. More recently government policy has, to some extent, begun to reflect such a view. The ‘New Growth Path‘ launched in 2010 does place much more emphasis on employment and an active industrial policy although COSATU’s leadership has expressed some serious concerns that the subsequent ‘National Development Plan‘, which was launched in 2012, undermines this shift in approach.

COSATU has been active, to varying degrees, in seeking to build transnational solidarity against both further trade liberalisation within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a number of bilateral negotiations involving South Africa. However, these attempts reveal a number of challenges to transnational labour solidarity in the face of free trade. Ultimately, COSATU is first and foremost a national federation and as such it prioritises the needs of its members. As a result the protection of jobs and working conditions within South Africa are its core remit and a number of obstacles to transnational solidarity remain:

  1. Tensions within COSATU are currently high as a result of its relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) in the form of the tripartite alliance. One of the major unions within COSATU, the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) has broken ranks by refusing to endorse the ANC in the forthcoming elections in May 2014 and has questioned the continued viability of the federation itself. Continuing to be in alliance with the ANC does make it difficult to then provide genuine resistance to the trade liberalisation agenda led by the government.
  2. COSATU’s experience of trying to develop solidarity with the European Trade Union Council (ETUC) over WTO proposals for Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) highlights some of the specific issues faced by trade unions in the Global South. In this case one ETUC member, the European Metalworkers’ Federation, joined forces with the owners of the car industry in Europe to undermine the concerns raised by emerging markets, including South Africa, that NAMA would harm key labour-intensive sectors.
  3. At the regional level similar dynamics can be seen but this time it is COSATU that finds itself defending the interests of the dominant national trading power. During the negotiations towards a Free Trade Area within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), COSATU expressed concerns that the domestic clothing and textiles sector could be undermined by cheaper goods of lower quality produced in other parts of Southern Africa.

Given these difficulties in resolving the positions of different national trade unions maybe we should focus on the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which claims on its website to represent ‘the global voice of the world’s working people’. However, ITUC’s approach to free trade agreements has been a reformist agenda based on securing the inclusion of basic labour standards to mitigate any negative impacts on workers. This has led to some of COSATU’s affiliates leaving ITUC. They argue that a more radical approach is needed, which seeks to resist the actual introduction of free trade agreements in the first place, rather than one that seeks to ameliorate their impact on labour.

Instead we may look to the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR). Observations on SIGTUR’s most recent Congress do suggest that it may be a more appropriate avenue for federations like COSATU to focus its energies. Whether it can overcome all of the obstacles identified above remains to be seen.

In sum, workers the world over face common challenges in the face of neoliberal globalisation. These processes can be resisted and, despite some of the difficulties identified above, trade unions should continue to seek to develop solidarity across national borders.

* A limited number of free downloads of the full article are available at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IBjNTuYMkh83UQdYKYAB/full

Why South Africa has ripped up foreign investment deals

17 Dec

This piece was originally published on The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/why-south-africa-has-ripped-up-foreign-investment-deals-20868

Over the past few months, South Africa’s government has cancelled foreign investment treaties with Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands. The reasoning behind this tells us much about modern patterns of trade and development. As the nation looks to move on from the loss of Nelson Mandela, these moves to regain control over foreign investment will prove valuable.

Cancelling the treaties caused panic in South Africa’s mainstream business press and also led to the EU’s trade commissioner expressing his concern about the impact this might have on future investment in the country.

But South Africa is not acting alone. These moves represent part of a broader change of opinion among many developing countries towards investment treaties. It is no wonder when you consider large western companies are increasingly using the deals to launch legal challenges against developing countries in which they operate. The decision by arbitrators to award US$1.77 billion to Occidental Petroleum (an American oil corporation) in a case against Ecuador has spooked many developing countries.

The problem with these deals is they lock-in the rights of foreign investors. South Africa’s decision to terminate them will open up welcome space for the government to balance domestic development with the rights of overseas firms.

Firms over states

Bilateral Investment Treaties (known as BITs) are agreements between states that ensure a range of protections for transnational corporations. Crucially, they all include mechanisms for settling disputes between states and investor companies which, unlike the World Trade Organisation, allow firms to bring legal cases directly against states.

If a multinational company claims a state has seized its property in the “public interest”, under the terms of a bilateral investment treaty this dispute would then be resolved by international tribunals rather than national courts. The advantage these deals give to corporations over weaker states is clear.

Given that attempts to negotiate global investment rules collapsed years ago, bilateral treaties remain the main international legal mechanism for protecting the rights of multinationals. UN data suggests there are nearly 3,000 such deals in existence and nearly half of these will be due for renegotiation by the end of 2013.

In the post-apartheid years the ANC-led government sought to attract further foreign investment to the country, following the dominant neoliberal ideas of the time. The mid-90s saw South Africa sign a number of investment treaties with partner countries including 13 with current EU member states. This was a period when the number of treaties rose substantially across the globe, and South Africa felt compelled to compete with other potential investment locations.

New approaches

In more recent years the government has begun to acknowledge this strategy has failed to resolve South Africa’s socio-economic challenges. More specifically, it began to question investment treaties after investors based in Italy and Luxembourg launched a compensation claim in 2007. It was argued that the government’s Black Economic Empowerment measures in the minerals and energy sectors contravened investors’ rights, and a private settlement was reached in 2010.

Neoliberalism and an open-door stance towards multinational corporations has now been abandoned in favour of a development policy focused on a more strategic role for the state. Over the past few years the country’s “New Growth Path” has sought to create jobs via an active industrial strategy. This entails a specific focus on reviving manufacturing and boosting employment through state-led investment in infrastructure.

However, South Africa is still hamstrung by numerous bilateral trade and investment agreements. With these deals still in place, foreign firms found their advantages written into law, and the government simply did not have the policy space to implement the strategy it would like. It is within this context that the moves away from investment treaties should be understood.

South Africa is still a far from undesirable location for multinationals. Contrary to some recent scaremongering it remains very unlikely that the end of these deals will lead to a wholesale programme of nationalisation, and all existing investments are still protected for a further ten years.

Eventually, the government plans to replace individual deals with a single framework. This proposes, quite reasonably, that foreign and national investors should both be treated equally under South African law. Moreover, corporations are already afforded strong protection in the constitution.

Revoking the treaties removes one of a number of obstacles to South Africa being able to address its development challenges. Whether the government will make effective use of this space to develop policies that can start to address the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality remains to be seen. But it is space worth having.