The new economy: COVID-19, Mboweni and nationalism

 In Coronavirus, Economics, Politics

As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the global, government across the globe are trying hard to rescue the economy and ensure all is back to normal. In doing so, it is expected that most of these capitalist governments will rely on their old tested approach of the blame game, create division and ensure working-class pay heavily for this crisis.

There is a huge call on people to come together during these hard times. All opposition parties have rallied together and singing with one voice. All have sent messages to their members and communities to comply with lockdown rules. The media has been quick to applaud such signs of unity. We are all encouraged to put our differences aside for the good of the country. The working-class voice and any other different views are not given a space.

Bourgeoise tactic of divide and rule is evident in the South African minister of finance.

In his media briefing, finance minister Tito Mboweni made comments that seek to blame unemployment among south Africans to foreign nationals. The minister called on all businesses that need government financial support to ensure they employ more South Africans than foreigners post lockdown.

His target was on restaurants, agriculture and the construction sector.

Adding that spaza shops must be owned by locals with SARS registration, bank account and health certificate.

The finance minister was quick to argue that there is nothing xenophobic about such an approach, that this is the new economy. But we all know that the ANC government has been consistent with blaming foreigners for all their shortfalls. Home affairs minister Motsoaledi has blamed foreigners for exhausting local health facilities. MEC for Education in Gauteng Panyaza Lesufi, in his address on food distribution, highlighted that only documented foreign nationals will receive food parcels.

Such a response from the finance minister is very worrying and needs to be condemned in strong terms. We need to define such comments as xenophobic and nothing else. His comments could be motivated by massive possible job losses in the economy and he is already shifting that pressure and responsibility away from the government.

There are so many inconsistencies on Mboweni’s arguments- he is very picky on history. Thus, only using the period between 1990 to 2020 to strengthen his arguments on how restaurants have changed from employing 80% locals to 100 % foreign. He hardly touched the conditions that foreign nationals work under, poor salaries they take home and hardly highlighting that some of them only relying on tips. So, no hard words for greedy businesses that super exploit foreign nationals. How coward of him that he says nothing about foreign nationals’ contribution to the South African economy- from the mining sector, construction to medical and other sections of the economy.

Mining helped shape South Africa to a greater extent than any other industry. It turned a largely agricultural economy into an industrial one.

Attracted thousands of foreigners from neighboring countries, including Chinese by the way, they worked in very bad working conditions and many of them lost their lives. Thus, it is true that the South African economy was built through the sweat and blood of migrants. if he has any doubts- he should listen to Hugh Masekela’s song – Stimela (the train)

A recent study conducted by Ground up found the following – migrants make significant contributions in the economy by servicing the needs of poorer consumers who access cheaper goods in appropriate quantities at places and convenient time. They also contribute by paying rent to locals and municipalities. They normally do better at spaza shops than locals because of the rich history of informal trading from their countries of birth. They operate for long hours, pay careful attention to sourcing products, and servicing customer needs. Therefore, the attack on foreign nationals is misplaced.

In times of crisis, people tend to’ rally around the flag’ at least for a time until a tipping point is reached when the mood turns into its opposite and class division surface with a vengeance. As much as Ramaphosa’s government is enjoying the spotlight and ratings have gone up, there is growing evidence that all is superficial. Most communities are not happy with the limitations of food supply, fear of job losses, and lack of PPE among essential services.

The pandemic has also exposed class division in a society where lockdown and police brutality in both rich and poor areas is not on the same level. Trotsky wrote in relation to the bourgeoisie propaganda about national unity during World War II “from our point of view what is national does not exist outside what belongs to a class”. Throughout the world, the bourgeoisie gives out its class interests as national interests.

Tasks of workers movement is not to sideline politics for the duration of the crisis but to go onto offensive directing the attention of the workers towards the rottenness of the system and propose a socialist alternative by arguing for below working-class demands.

  • An immediate end to current capitalist food production that uses various chemicals to accelerate the growth of animals in chase of higher profits.
  • Food parcels for all poor households regardless of whether they have documents.
  • Increase basic income grant to R1000 per month beyond lockdown.
  • Ensure no job loss as a result of COVID-19 and any company that retrenches must be taken over by government and run by workers.
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