Did Thabo Mbeki's own neo-liberalism do him in?

Martin Plaut writes: "Thabo Mbeki, although a former member of the South African Communist Party, has used conventional economic policies to drive the country's development agenda.

"Tight monetary and budgetary targets have been set and met. The result has been a period of unprecedented economic growth, reaching 5% a year in recent years.

"In June 1996 Finance Minister Trevor Manuel introduced a neo-liberal economic strategy known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear).

"This included commitments to open markets, privatisation and a favourable investment climate.

"The ANC is in a formal alliance with two groups on the left, the Communists and the trade union movement, Cosatu. Both were fiercely critical of the strategy and argued that they had been excluded from its development and implementation.

"In the report to the Communist Party Congress in July 1998 the Central Committee spelled out their objections to Gear in great detail.

"This concluded: 'We remain convinced that Gear is the wrong policy. It was wrong in the process that developed it, it is wrong in its overall strategic conception, and it is wrong in much of its detail.

"'At the end of the day, we cannot allow our entire transformation struggle to be held hostage by conservative approaches to the budget deficit.'

"In May this year Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the Communist Party wrote: 'Despite the many modest gains that our own democracy has made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, our own self-imposed structural adjustment programme, Gear, failed to make a dent in unemployment (unemployment actually increased dramatically between 1996 and 2006), and eroded the capacity to build a developmental state.'

"Anger at the president's strategy to tackle the problems of unemployment, in particular, contributed to his downfall."


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