Posted on October 2, 2010


That Jacob Zuma used the opportunity of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) — described by Zuma as “fabulous” — to underline yet again that there would be no change in the government’s economic policy orientation, has caused considerable consternation in the ranks of his supporters in Cosatu. For the WEF was the forum at which the ANC’s long held interventionist and demand-led policies were first fudged in 1994.

The original macro-economic framework, designed by the ANC’s Macro-economic Research Group (Merg) was dumped by then President Nelson Mandela in the Swiss resort of Davos. But the unions picked it up and, in 1996, produced their Social Equity document months ahead of the government’s supplyside, “trickle down” Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) proposals.

There seems to have existed some perhaps naive hope that Zuma, perceived by many as a harbinger of a “turn to the left” in the ANC, would at least hint at a change in Gear when speaking in Davos. But his praise for finance minister Trevor Manual and the claimed economic achievements of government policies have seriously undermined such hope.

Zuma also made his “no change” statements in Davos at a time when the International Trade Union Confederation, to which South Africa’s union federations are affiliated, issued a scathing attack on such policies. To ITUC president Sharon Burrow they, and the consequences flowing from them were “the gorilla in the living room of globalisation”.

She noted: “A massive rip-off of wealth is taking place, with a tiny cohort of the world’s richest people creaming off vast amounts of money while incomes for the great bulk of the worlds’ population are stagnating or falling.”

That “tiny cohort”, of course, are the members of the WEF. According to its own literature, members of the forum comprise 1 000 of the world’s top companies “across all sectors”.

Set up in 1971 by Swiss billionaire Klaus Schwab, it is a club of the super rich which stages an annual circus at which governments, politicians and other leaders may be bribed, bullied and flattered into pursuing policies that favour big business.

To quote the economist John Maynard Keynes this is a venue that seems to promote the “extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of us all”.

But that is hardly how it appears. Under the slogan of “improving the state of the world”, media personalities, film and pop stars get to decorate the event, ostensibly to deal with crises which unions maintain are caused largely by the very sponsors of the event.

U2’s Bono, now a regular feature at such bunfights, was there again, as was the Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson. They were provided a glittering platform on which to parade the hearts of their sleeves.

However, it does say something about the state of the world that a club of the super-rich has come to be regarded as the prime venue for discussing and deciding the shape of global, regional and industrial agendas.

At this latest WEF the ITUC issued an official statement bewailing the the fact that the losers in the global marketplace are “the workers…and not the bailed-out bankers and financiers who triggered the crisis”,

What the statement could have said, but did not, was that the very bankers, financiers and companies they blamed for creating the current economic crisis, were their hosts, the members of the WEF. But then, perhaps, they did not wish to seem churlish by biting the hands that fed them so lavishly at Davos.

This seems to be the only — and faint — hope concerned Zuma supporters can cling to.

Posted in: Archive - 2008