June 24, 2004

Mbeki signals policy shift to the left with defence of state

President Thabo Mbeki set the seal on a decisive broad policy shift to the left for his final term in office, lashing out at what he called the "new conservatism" sweeping the world, which enshrined the individual and denigrated the state in a way which could never bring a better life for South African's millions. In a full-frontal attack on free market economics, and, apparently, on Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon, Mbeki especially questioned the property rights of foreign investors. The president's comments, which might prove to be a watershed in South African politics, came as he introduced his budget vote in the National Assembly.
Implying that he wanted to begin a new debate in the country about the shape of its economy, Mbeki devoted the last half of his speech to an attack on those who supported the liberal and neoliberal values that characterised American conservatives. According to Mbeki, the issue was about individuals who believed government should be as minimal as possible, that market values had primacy, and that public citizenship was without purpose.
By quoting the British author and journalist, Will Hutton, Mbeki emphasised "as the new conservatism has honed its rhetoric and political programmes in the US to celebrate individualism and denigrate the state, so that same philosophy has seamlessly become part of the new international common sense we are all becoming American conservatives now". He said Hutton had also found that "the social, the collective and the public realm were portrayed as the enemies of prosperity and individual autonomy".

Mbeki said that the ANC was clearly aligned with the ideas characterised as "the left" because the "obligations of the democratic state to the masses of our people do not allow that we should join those who celebrate individualism and denigrate the state". "We could never succeed to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid if we joined the campaign to portray the social, collective and the public realm as the enemies of prosperity and individual autonomy." Mbeki said that was precisely what "we meant when we said in the May state of the nation address that the advances we must record demand that we ensure that the public sector discharges its responsibilities to our people as a critical player in the process of growth, reconstruction and development of our country". (Business Day, Johannesburg) <

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