- Speed Bumps, Speed Limits and Take-offs: An introductory comment on the Fine-Harvard debate
Transformation has, over the years, published a significant number of pieces on economic policy in South Africa. Focussing on contributions specifically on the nature of economic policy, Transformation published as far back as the issue 5 (1987), when the first signs of the unravelling of apartheid were beginning to emerge, Stephen Gelb’s “Making sense of the crisis”. In issue 7, Morris and Padayachee’s “State reform policy in South Africa” attempted to make sense of the economic crisis and the potential for reform.
As political change became a reality, the emphasis shifted to the nature of the post-apartheid economy, with the Harare Economic Policy Workshop between the ANC and COSATU laying out the first concrete set of ideas on the nature and form of the post-apartheid economy. The corresponding draft was published in issue 12, alongside papers presented at the Harare meeting, exploring growth (Stephen Gelb), the macroeconomy (Dave Kaplan), industry (Raphie Kaplinsky), agriculture (Mike de Klerk and Helena Dolny), and a commentary from Alec Erwin. An earlier edition carried an important contribution by Rob Davies on the need for economic policy in South Africa to take a wider southern African perspective. Dave Lewis’s piece, in issue 16, highlighted the need for policy to address the conglomerate structure of South African capital, and Zavareh Rustomjee’s, “Capital flight in South Africa”, in issue 15, drew attention to the critical need to consider and restructure finance in South Africa. Among others, Francie Lund’s contribution “Welfare under pressure”, published in issue 13, and Rob Davies and David Sanders contribution “Economic strategies, adjustment [End Page 1] and health”, in issue 21, emphasised the need for economic policy to be linked to social policy. Geoff Schreiner’s “Beyond Corporatism”, issue 23, raised the importance of trade unions in the transition, and the need for the union movement to consider the high levels of unemployment and economic marginalisation characteristic of South Africa.
As the transition unfolded and the ANC entered power, so did the economic policy debate both sharpen and evolve. These were the heady days of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Issue 25 published Ashgar Adelzadeh and Vishnu Padayachee’s “The RDP White Paper: Reconstruction of a development vision”, one of the first scholarly contributions suggesting that the ANC had abandoned its historic economic goals and had adopted, instead, neo-liberal, market-based approaches to economic policy. In issue 27, Harold Wolpe’s “The Uneven Transition from Apartheid in South Africa” – his last academic publication – raised the importance of examining and understanding the politics of implementing economic and social policy in South Africa.
Given the issues at stake at the time, it is not at all surprising that the debates were sharp. In Issues 25 and 26, Ben Fine and Nicoli Nattrass engaged in a robust debate on political possibilities for redistributive policies and the efficacy of shifts in ANC economic policy thinking. In issue 27, Ben Fine challenged the focus on privatisation on the part of the new government. In issue 28, Trevor Bell challenged the findings of the Industrial Strategy Project (ISP) which informed much of the industrial policy thinking in the ANC government. Dave Kaplan and Dave Lewis, in issue 30, defended the ISP. Trevor Bell and Imraan Valodia made further contributions on this debate in issue 31. That issue also published the first assessments of the government’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macroeconomic stance, with contributions by Ashgar Azeldadeh and Nicoli Nattrass. Simon Roberts’ “Monetary Policy within Macroeconomic Policy”, in issue 32, assessed the stance of the South African Reserve Bank in the immediate post-apartheid period. Ha-Joon Chang’s “Evaluating Current Industrial Policy in South Africa”, in issue 36 (1998), challenged the export-oriented focus of the programme of the Department of Trade and Industry.
Over the next decade or so, debate has been more muted, a reflection perhaps of limited engagement across what might be called ‘the GEAR divide’. The last few years has, however, witnessed a renewal of more active controversy around the economy, both as the failures of the previous decade...