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Road to Mangaung: Nationalisation

As ANC prepares to hold key conference, nationalisation is a taboo topic for many citizens, sparking heated debates.
Last modified: 12 Dec 2012 20:24
ANC officials say nationalisation is not an official policy but will be discussed at their upcoming conference [Reuters]

Mention the word nationalisation to most people in South Africa's business sector and watch them cringe.

It's one of those taboo topics, that invisible elephant in the room everyone knows is there but would rather not talk about.

I was in a meeting with some business owners the other day and I brought up the topic while we waited for things to start.

They are worried about the future of this country, or should I say the future of their businesses and their profits.

ANC officials say nationalisation is not an official policy but we all know it is going to be discussed at their conference in Mangaung next week.

Some South Africans are hoping to see a shift to the left when it comes to economic policy, some want things to stay the way they are, and others want a middle ground found.

So issues like land reform and nationalisation will likely spark heated debates behind closed doors.

But I don't think we will see a dramatic shift in economic policy - the status quo will largely remain the same and favour big business.

Let's face it, many senior ANC officials have shares in big mining companies and businesses - why would they mess with the gravy train? They are too connected and the ordinary South African is very aware of that.

So we will likely see stronger state intervention in the mining sector and land for example, but not outright nationalisation as is the case in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

The ANC will be very careful not to force business into a new deal so soon. Former ANC youth league leader Julius Malema is seemingly out of the picture. So no one should derail plans at in Mangaung.

Officials will make it seem like they are concerned about spreading the wealth to the poor and they will come out with a compromise document on the way forward for South Africa.

But will it appease the unions as well as the poor and working class?

2012 saw the worst labour unrest since 1994 - a sign people here are frustrated at the slow pace of transformation in the country.

It makes the business community nervous that things could change overnight and that they could "have another Zimbabwe" on their hands.

The ANC might be able to buy time at this year's conference and give the poor something to chew on for the time being ... but for how long will officials be able to keep the lid on a boiling pot?