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Vol 46 No 4

Published 18th February 2005

South Africa

Welcome back to the state

The Mbeki government tilts towards the ANC's roots after a decade of market economics

Jazz bands, street theatre groups and coquettish members of parliament jostled for space at a blisteringly hot opening of parliament in Cape Town on 11 February. Both the African National Congress government and Capetonians were in festive mood. No sooner had the politicians wound up the 'ten years of democracy' celebrations at the city's Athlone Stadium, they launched another celebration: 50 years of the ANC's socialist manifesto, the 'Freedom Charter'. Many contributors to the Freedom Charter - with its talk of the state controlling the commanding heights of the economy - would not recognise the ANC government's studiously pro-market economic policy and generally gentle relationship with private capital, which was seen by the party in 1955 as the driving force behind apartheid repression. Yet the ideas of the government's ideological forebears crop up in almost every ministerial speech. Economic neo-liberalism is being rolled back, at least rhetorically. Ideas of the 'developmental state' and an activist government managing the economy are back in fashion. Privatisation of the remaining state-owned corporations has been pushed back to the horizon; now the line is for state corporations to reach commercial viability before they can be even considered for sale.

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