Johannesburg - South Africa’s economy is still mostly under
the control of whites who held power under apartheid and the government needs
to take more drastic steps to make sure the black majority can benefit from its
wealth, President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.
Zuma, speaking at the start of a major policy meeting of his
ruling African National Congress, said the challenges of poverty, unemployment
and inequality posed long-term risks for Africa's richest country 18 years
after the end of apartheid.
“The structure of the apartheid-era economy has remained
largely intact,” Zuma told several thousand ANC delegates.
“The ownership of the economy is still primarily in the
hands of white males as it has always been,” he said.
The ANC has drafted a raft of policy documents that call on
mining firms to pay more to the state to help finance welfare spending. The
proposals also advocate relying on state-owned enterprises to be engines of job
creation and growth.
“The time has come to do something more drastic towards
economic transformation and freedom,” Zuma said.
But some economists have warned it would be dangerous to
rely on state-owned firms since almost all of them have been mired in debt and
Zuma also said the debate over how the country’s mining
wealth should be shared should go beyond simply the question of “to nationalise
or not to nationalise.”
The party produced a research paper earlier this year saying
nationalising mines could bankrupt the state, but it suggested increasing taxes
on windfall mining profits.
Zuma said the conference should consider how the state can
obtain an “equitable share” of mineral wealth, which could be used more to benefit poor communities.
He also called for a new programme for land reform, saying
the current “willing buyer-willing seller” policy had been too slow in
returning white-owned farmland to blacks dispossessed by the apartheid state.
But he did not spell out what alternative mechanisms of land ownership transfer
should be adopted.
South Africa’s black economic empowerment policy designed to
give disenfranchised blacks greater ownership of the economy should be
strengthened, Zuma added.
This policy has been criticised from within the ANC and by
its governing allies in organised labour as only benefiting a small sliver of
the population with political ties to the party that has ruled since apartheid
ended in 1994.
The policy conference will end on Friday and its deliberations
are being held behind closed doors.