- South Africa ruling ANC party still by distance is the country's most popular party. The dramatic increase in unemployment, up from 29 percent in 1999 to 40 percent in 2004, however is set to cost the ANC votes. The opposition blames the ANC's leftist ideology for the job losses, while unions claim the opposition's privatisation ideology would create even greater unemployment.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of KwaZulu-Natal's ruling Inkatha Freedom Party, has created headlines in South Africa by blaming the socialist block of the ruling ANC for the dramatic increase in unemployment. The South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU, the country's main trade union, are affiliated to the ANC.
Mr Buthelezi at an election rally yesterday said that COSATU and the SACP had "blocked privatisation and other efforts by government that would have allowed them to improve the situation and attract foreign investment." While accusing the Communist SACP of being "out of touch with global trends," the Inkatha leader praised ANC leader and South African President Thabo Mbeki, under whom he has served as Minister of Home Affairs.
According to Mr Buthelezi's much quoted speech, the South African government had been forced to abandon its own macroeconomic policy known as GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). The Inkatha had been in agreement with President Mbeki and the conservative part of the ANC in implementing the GEAR policy, but this had been obstructed by leftist groups within the ANC.
According to the Inkatha election programme, "job creation is the number one priority" of the party. The party's programme states it will "shift the focus away from ideologies and theories of employment into action and jobs." This, according to the Inkatha, is to be achieved by promoting investments, ensuring a free market economy and invest in infrastructure and small businesses.
The country's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which are the reformed heirs of the previous white minority rulers, also focuses on the ANC's failure to create new jobs. DA leader Tony Leon today says that new research from the University of Cape Town was confirming his party's critiques against the ANC's labour policy.
According to Mr Leon, the ANC now needed to "scrap job-crushing labour laws and reform the labour market until everyone who is looking for a job can find one." The current regulations were said to be producing too high risks for entrepreneurs, thus hindering the establishment of new companies.
The DA, on the other hand, wanted to "unleash the private sector so that our economy grows at a rapid rate of 6 percent per year - the pace that is necessary to roll back unemployment and create a million new, real, sustainable jobs," said Mr Leon. He went on presenting classic conservative recipes for securing investments and creating growth.
The ANC however strongly defends its policies in the ongoing election campaign, claiming it is "the only party in South Africa capable of leading the country in tackling the major challenges of unemployment and poverty."
The ruling party refers to the current trend slightly reversing the growing unemployment and holds this to be an ANC victory. "While every party claims to be able to create jobs, only the ANC has shown the ability to effectively manage the economy; the capacity to start tackling unemployment; and the honesty to acknowledge that creating work will not be achieved overnight," the party said in a statement today.
The ANC estimates that since it came to power in 1994, the number of jobs in South Africa has grown by around 2 million. "However, in the same period, more of our people have begun looking for jobs: the economically active population has grown from 13 million to 16 million," the party statement says. The conditions were however now in place "to decisively speed up growth and the creation of opportunities."
Also the trade union strongly defends the labour policy promoted by the ruling ANC, and in particular by its left wing. According to COSATU Spokesman Patrick Craven, COSATU and the Communist Party had done "more than anybody to defend jobs and fight for policies that would create employment."
On the other hand, the policies of the Inkatha and the DA of privatisation and free-market liberalism "would condemn thousands more to joblessness and desperate poverty," Mr Craven holds. "They would leave us at the mercy of market forces and the drive to maximise the profits of big business, regardless of how many jobs would be lost," he adds.
The trade union accuses the opposition of wanting "to roll back the progressive advances we have made in our first ten years of freedom and democracy and open up the economy to the profit-mongering international capitalists to exploit our labour and resources in the interests of profit."
South Africa's voters will be able to express their verdict on the different views on how to create jobs at the general elections to be held on 14 April. The ANC remains the great favourite in the elections, but the ruling party may be loosing votes in several provinces. Other important election issues so far include South Africa's rampant crime and insecurity and how to best meet the AIDS pandemic.
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