To while away the lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been dabbling in long-distance international diplomacy. His most brotherly love was reserved for his fellow communists, socialists and authoritarians. By their friends shall ye know them, as the saying goes.

As soon as Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president by the National Assembly and delivered his maiden State of the Nation Address, I put pen to paper to warn that a smart, charismatic socialist is a dangerous socialist.

While the country – and many of its leading commentators – were overwhelmed by Ramaphoria and the promise of a ‘New Dawn’, I was not. I listened to his speech, and heard only blatant contradictions.

I heard Ramaphosa say that he would expropriate land without compensation, while also wooing investors, both domestic and local. What fool of an investor would buy assets that might be expropriated at the whim of a bureaucrat?

I heard him say that ‘expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production [and] improves food security’, as if land reform efforts to date have not resulted in the failure of productive farms, 90% of the time.

I heard him promise to gamble taxpayer money on entrepreneurs and startups. As if startup investing isn’t hard enough for venture capital experts, risking only the private capital of their investors.

I heard him propose a protectionist ‘buy local’ programme, akin to the ‘Koop Suid-Afrikaans’ campaign of the Apartheid regime, and contradicting his promise of ‘the most efficient allocation of public resources’.

I heard him describe mining and agriculture, which should decline in every developing economy, as ‘sunrise industries’. Along with his expropriation ambitions, this called to mind the reverence in which communists hold agrarian societies, in which pliant, impoverished peasants work the land, with the paternalistic state taking from everyone according to their abilities, and giving to everyone according to their needs. Cambodia under Pol Pot is a great example of what happens next.

I heard him promise to ‘re-industrialise on a scale and at a pace that draws millions of job seekers into the economy’, without acknowledging that the single biggest hurdle to manufacturing is the high cost and unreliability of electricity, a crisis caused and perpetuated entirely by the mismanagement and corruption of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

I heard him promise to roll out a national healthcare system that does not only cater for those who cannot afford medical care, but also takes resources that ought to be spent on the poor, to extend free medical care to the rich.

I heard him promise to stimulate businesses, cut red tape and tackle unemployment, while also promising to introduce a national minimum wage, which would make it even harder and more expensive to employ people.

I heard him promise that tourism revenues could be doubled, and the government would ‘seize the opportunities and manage the challenges of rapid advances in information and communication technology’. And I didn’t believe him.

I received a lot of pushback. But he’s a neoliberal, I was told.

No he’s not. He never has been. Before going into business to make billions on the back of black economic empowerment policies, he was a unionist.

The speech he gave was written by the ANC, long before Ramaphosa became president. It was rooted in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the ANC’s ideological lodestone, written by the South African Communist Party (SACP), which has always been the Tripartite Alliance’s ideological vanguard. The SACP, in turn, derived the Leninist concept of the NDR from the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

After the ‘first revolution’, which established a universal franchise in South Africa, the NDR commits the ANC to a ‘second revolution’, to establish a socialist utopia.

‘Victory in the national democratic revolution is, for our working class, the most direct route to socialism and ultimately communism,’ the NDR says.

But look at what he does, not what the NDR says, I was told.

So I did. And I saw no delivery on his promises, and nothing that does not advance the NDR.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the ANC, led by Ramaphosa, saw not a crisis, but an opportunity. This was the perfect excuse to rein in free-market capitalism and consolidate the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ in the hands of the state.

The world’s harshest national lockdown proved to be the perfect excuse to establish a centrally-planned economy. The ‘risk-adjusted strategy’ to, supposedly, ‘ease the lockdown’ (which so far isn’t easing much of anything), is nothing other than a detailed strategy to classify and control industry sectors and individual businesses.

The classification isn’t based only on infection risk, as one might expect from a policy intended to respond to a pandamic, but also on the value the government believes a sector or business to have, and its financial sustainability under lockdown. As if the government could even determine this.

This is central planning straight out of the Soviet playbook, and runs right into the economic calculation problem, which says that no single person or organisation can possibly have all the information it needs to determine what goods and services ought to be produced, how they ought to be produced, and how much of them ought to be produced, to satisfy the needs and wants of every individual in a large society.

Under the new regime, everyone will need permission from the government to operate, to work, to trade, to travel, and to do all the things taken for granted in a free society. And that permission, along with personal freedom, can be rescinded on the mere suspicion of a bureaucrat.

The lockdown is decimating the informal sector, which operates outside government control, much to the annoyance of its regulators and tax collectors. It has little access to bridging finance to survive a period in which business is prohibited, and also does not have access to formal financial relief measures.

It is destroying thousands of the small and medium- and micro-sized enterprises on which a vibrant capitalist economy depends, and relief is only being offered to those who comply with the government’s racial engineering policies.

Big business will, for the most part, survive, but this does not really pose a challenge to the power of the central planners. Crony-capitalists and their political masters have a symbiotic relationship.

If large companies never seem to push back against even the most egregious policies of government, and often actively support them, it is because that is where their bread is buttered. When you’re dependent on the goodwill of regulators, and on contracts with the government, the profit motive forces you to quietly work with the government, instead of publicly opposing it.

This sets the stage for a radical reorganisation of the economy, to advance the socialist revolution that the NDR envisages.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Ramaphosa himself: ‘Our country, and the world we live in, will never be the same again. We are resolved not to merely return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy, in a new global reality. Our economic strategy going forward will require a new social compact … to restructure the economy and to achieve inclusive growth. Building on the cooperation that is being forged amongst all social partners during this crisis … [w]e will forge a compact for radical economic transformation… Our new economy must be founded on fairness, empowerment, justice and equality.’

If you don’t read that as code for the socialist central planning and dirigisme for which the ANC has hankered so long, consider that you may know people by the friends they choose to keep.

In recent days and weeks, Ramaphosa indulged in a round of international diplomacy, hitting up world leaders by telephone or video call.

His first stop was president Xi Jinping, the paramount leader of China, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the fourth Chinese head of state to receive the title ‘leadership core’, alongside Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin.

This might not sound too obsequious, but Ramaphosa has long had the ambition to ‘deepen mutual trust’ between China and South Africa, and particularly, for the CCP to work closely with the ANC.

The entire lockdown and its harsh, militarised nature was premised on the ruthless and totalitarian example set by China. In congratulating China, Ramaphosa also gave his communist allies cover for well-documented attempts to conceal (archive copy) the start of the outbreak, its origin, its extent and the risks it posed to other countries.

The president recently welcomed a large contingent of Cuban medical workers to South Africa. Ironically, this happened on Freedom Day, 27 April 2020.

I say ‘ironically’, because although the government is paying R440 million for the services of the 187-strong contingent (R2.35  million per head), of which R295 million goes to their salaries (a whopping R1.58 million each), the unfortunate Cubans will see very little of this taxpayer largesse.

What actually happens is that the Cuban government orders the international deployment of its medical staff, steals most of their wages, and often uses them as unwilling spies. It is a money-spinner for the communist government an otherwise impoverished country. The Wall Street Journal (archive copy) describes the condition of Cuban medical staff as ‘slavery’. They are far from free.

Yet here’s what our Glorious Leader had to say about the Cuban deployment:

Note the fawning talk about ‘strategic partnership’, ‘special bond’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘South-South cooperation’. Ramaphosa clearly loves Cuba, which once was a key ANC ally in the liberation struggle, and today is one of the last outposts of hardcore communism in the world.

By contrast, note his matter-of-fact tone when announcing his engagement with US president Donald Trump on 23 April 2020:

Even his condolences sound patronising.

His report on a phone call with German chancellor Angela Merkel on 24 April 2020 likewise betrays no special friendship:

It was the same again with Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist prime minister of India, with whom Ramaphosa had a discussion on 17 April 2020:

No, Ramaphosa’s friendship and loyalty lie elsewhere. They are reserved for authoritarian pariahs such as Hassan Rouhani, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with whom he talked on 28 April 2020, and for whom he promptly went to bat on the subject of sanctions:

His most effusive love, however, he reserved for Nicolás Maduro, the successor of the socialist firebrand Hugo Chávez and the disputed president and dictator of Venezuela. That country began its collapse by expropriating ‘idle land’ and nationalising the assets of foreign companies. Despite once being the wealthiest country in Latin America, and sitting on the world’s richest oil reserves, the destruction of private property rights caused Venezuela’s economy to collapse, and hyper-inflation drove its people to starvation.

It now routinely competes with North Korea for the title of worst country in the world on various measures of freedom, democracy and prosperity.

Ramaphosa, however, sees Maduro as his ‘Brother’, and says South Africa shares ‘a close and deep historical bond based on friendship, solidarity and cooperation’ with that pit of socialist despair. Moreover, he wants us to know that Maduro would welcome South African investment in what must be one of the worst destinations for investment on the planet.

The president of the IRR Council, the economist Russell Lamberti, likes to say that South Africa is good at copying international worst practice.

With friends like these, Ramaphosa has a wealth of access to the worst communist, socialist and authoritarian role models in the world.

In exploiting this crisis to forge a ‘new economy’ for South Africa, Ramaphosa has made it abundantly clear exactly where he wants to take the country. His socialist agenda has to be resisted, tooth and nail – in the courts, in the media, in Parliament and on the streets –  lest we join our friends and brothers in Venezuela, Cuba and Iran in a political, social and economic catastrophe.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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