18 September 2013

South Africa: What Does 'Economic Freedom' Mean for the Youth?


Twenty years after the end of formal apartheid, most South Africans are yet to reap the fruits of the struggle for freedom. The nation's wealth is in the hands of the white minority, while the black youth have no jobs. The ANC pursues a capitalist model of development, which the youth now want changed


This article does not seek to provide answers but rather to stimulate debate around the demand for economic freedom. The aim is to understand and unpack the economic freedom fighters' grievances and recommendations stated in the "Economic Freedom in our Lifetime" discussion document, which enjoys an overwhelming support from the majority of the youth within the alliance.

It assesses the youth's call and grievances by exploring their challenges and background. The article therefore evaluates the economic freedom's effect on the relationship and the bondage within the ruling African National Congress party and its youth alliance.

The concept of 'economic freedom' and its seven cardinal points made and continues to effect great impact on public policy discussions. This concept stimulated vibrancy and activeness among young people leading to increased productive and well informed youth needed for sustainable economic growth and development.

But can the alliance survive the contradictions and ideological differences for economic direction? What can be done to realise tangible economic transformation?


The youth of South Africa have recently started to raise their opinions regarding the economy of their country and their role in it. They have come to question the system in place and submit that in the 19th year of our democracy the country has seen minimal or little change in the socio-economic relations.

The post-apartheid South Africa is dominated by the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment.

Statistics South Africa's Income and Expenditure Survey report that the inequalities among South Africans continues to deteriorate, further marginalizing the poor. South Africa is currently ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the whole world, overtaking the likes of Brazil and Mexico to mention few.

Youth make up to 70 percent of the country's population. They are the ones who are mostly affected by these social ills. It is reported, for example, that they constitute majority of the unemployed.

The youth are concerned that the situation is slowly but surely reaching a point where it becomes the norm. They therefore take it upon themselves to pioneer 'genuine and concrete' economic transformation in the quest to achieve economic freedom, which they argue would allow them a fair chance in the country's economy.

The current economic situation has led to contradictions and divisions within the ANC and its alliances (South African Communist Party, Congress of South African Trade Unions, South African Student Congress, ANC Youth League, and COSAS among others). This is caused by differences in ideological doctrines leading to differences in economic visions and strategies.

The alliance partners do not agree on the current neo-liberal economic policies that "favours market deregulation, privatisation and the reduction of the state's role in economic affairs" (Smith, 1776). They argue that this economic framework leads to economic imbalances.

The scope of the article is on the youth's quest for economic emancipation, as such it only include SASCO, Young Communist League, COSAS and ANCYL's views as they represent the youth within the alliance.


The fundamental aspect of the youth's grievances is the questions relating to the growth of wealth and its distribution. The central issue is that the country is blessed with wealth and resources; however, they are not shared equally and are mostly in the hands of the white minority.

This translates into the widening gap of unequal income disparities between the rich and the poor, which enormously contributes to the high rate of poverty, unemployment and inequality that characterises the country today.

The youth contend that these challenges are interrelated and inseparable and should be understood and treated as such for them to be managed effectively. They present a different approach to redress the situation with the demand for Economic Freedom, which is sought to deliver 'a better life for all'.

These young people note that the current market-driven and capitalist system is not the correct model and continues to push South Africa into deeper divisions. For this reason, South Africa is characterised by two distinctive economies; 'the haves' and the 'have-not' with the poor getting poorer by the day and the rich becoming richer.

The youth advocate for increased involvement of the state in the economic activities. They assert that this will be productive in that the state will ensure the country's wealth is used for the benefit and development of South Africans, regulate and influence the market not to exploit labourers and effectively provide public goods to the majority of the citizens.

In post-apartheid South Africa the majority of young people continue to be on the periphery of the country's economy. Their potentials, capabilities and influences are limited by this exclusion. The youth feel that "they are still socially and economically marginalised and disenfranchised" (ANCYL, 2011) and this occurs for the benefit of the white monopoly capital (Julius Malema, 2011).

Their grievances are directed to the ANC and wish to change and influence policy-making to be 'pro-poor' in actual sense, not just on paper (discussion documents) as it has been the case. Their wish is that the ANC-led government could answer their plight by first adopting sound policies targeted at addressing "historical factors that have hampered their optimal development" (ANCYL, April 2011), which they consider as the main contributing factor to these triple challenges.

Economic freedom was first launched by the ANCYL under the leadership of Julius Malema. It is said that it seeks to position and create a much needed space for the youth in the country's economy.

The Youth League states that "Economic freedom in our lifetime is not sloganeering, but acknowledgement of the burning urgency that presently, the ANC as a liberation movement needs to move with the necessary speed towards consolidation of Economic freedom in our lifetime, which fundamentally entail the realisation of the Freedom Charter objectives" (ANCYL, April 2011).

The youth acknowledge that the ANC has made some strides in the lives of ordinary people; however they contend that a lot still needs to be done, especially in the economy. This position has caused the youth alliances to go against their mother-body on its choice of economic policy leading to series of matches and petitions to the government.

The bone of contention is that the pre-1994 ANC was advocating for a socialist state which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "set of political and economic theories based on the belief that everyone has equal right to a share of a country's wealth and that the government should own and control the main industries".

Furthermore the ANC adopted a National Democratic Revolution and Freedom Charter, the two of which entail the Marxist concept of society. The COSATU 9th Congress Resolution defines the NDR as the "shortest route to socialism".

However after getting into government the ANC continues to practise the capitalist economic policies, which give preference to the market and business. Paradox is, the organization still claims to be pro-poor and pro-left.

The youth alliances support and align with the shift to socialism. Their policies, aims and objectives are guided and influenced by the Marxist-Leninist school of thought and thus advocate for the destruction of the capitalist system.

The problem is that the ANC-led government is reneging on the organization's initial course of establishing a pro-poor government that ensures "the restoration and transfer of wealth and other strategic sectors of the economy to the ownership of the people" as is stated in the Freedom Charter (Freedom Charter, 1955).

According to the ANCYL (3/6/2012) the process is very slow and the vast majority of these assets are still in the possession of the minority population, of which they strongly believe is very much unfair for the majority population- from whom they were forcefully taken.


The overwhelming majority of these young people argue that the ANC has not done well in the transformation of the economy. Therefore their ultimate goal is to see SA being transformed into a socialist state in order to achieve this goal of having inclusive and equally distributed economy. The post-apartheid SA is characterised by robust and intense economic policy debates.

There seems to be difficulties in finding consensus on economic direction. Many factors such as the domestic realities, international commitments facilitated by the Breton Woods institutions and the world economy present a challenge to establish a conventional economy suitable for all in the alliance leading to deep, apparently permanent, divisions.

According to Gelb (2006) these divisions started to become prevalent two years after attaining democracy (1996) due to the adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy, which was a "neo-liberal policy framework focussed at attracting foreign capital to drive the developmental process".

During a political lecturer in Northwest University presented on the topic of The relevancy of our curriculum to economic freedom, the General-Secretariat of SASCO, Themba Masondo, referred to the GEAR policy as problematic and cited that it created problems and divisions within the alliance.

It is alleged that there were no consultations before its adoption and thus the 'left-progressives' felt left out and marginalised. GEAR was fiercely opposed as it contradicted the leftist vision of a post-apartheid economy.

This translated into consistent infighting within the alliance, leading to the support of Zuma for presidency. Gelb (2006) point out that Zuma was opted for "because the alliance partners believed that his government would offer more space in policy discussion than Mbeki's" and also because of his belief and support for socialism, which was thought would automatically result in pro-left government.

The concept of economic freedom has made great impact and received massive attention nationally and abroad. It has truly shaken and challenged the Zuma-leadership in that it caused lot of robust and intense debates, created fear and uncertainties for the investors and resulted in increased vibrancy among the youth of SA, most of which still persist even to date.

It must be noted, however, that even though there are disagreements and contradictions regarding the macro-economic policies and the current system of capitalism, all in the alliance support the call and urgency for economic transformation and the realisation of the socialist state. The central issue is that they do not agree on measures to be taken to achieve this goal.

Therefore, even within the Progressive Youth Alliance, the young people agree that economic freedom is a necessity. However, there are divisions and disagreements on how to make this a reality. As such PYA is also divided on the YL's strategies and tactics brought forth at its 24th National Congress. Some contend that it is unattainable due to its unrealistic nature of its radicalism.

Furthermore, to others Economic Freedom is dismissed as one of Malema's tactics to oust and discredit Zuma; however., among the youth it remains relevant and continues to gain more support. As a result they are more conscientized; understand and are willing to play their part of making meaningful contributions to the development of the country. They continue to utilise different platforms to mobilise support for this course.


According to the ANCYL (April 2011) economic freedom is essentially about access, success, and redress leading to the total transformation of the economy.

Access: it seeks to ensure that the black majority have equal access to social and economic opportunities to better and sustain their lives.

Success: it focuses on and presents strategies for an efficient, just and fair economy successful to address the country's socio-economic ills.

Redress: deals with and neutralise past legacies that resulted in inequality by increasing sustainable human development.

Transformation: is about moving the economy from being market and business oriented to build a labour absorptive industrial economy through socialism.

As noted in the Final document for the ANC Youth League 24th National Congress (April 2011) the concept is made up of seven cardinal points that include:

- Expropriation without compensation for equitable redistribution

- Nationalisation for industrialisation

- Inclusive and decentralised economic growth and development

- Land restitution and agrarian reform

- Building a strong developmental state and public services

- Massive investment in the development of the African economy

- Provision of education, skills and expertise to the people

Economic freedom is essentially advocating for fair and equitable economy that prioritises local beneficiation. It stresses the importance of increased, if not total, involvement of the state in the economy through nationalisation. It is aimed at advancing and speeding up economic transformation leading to distributional changes needed to eradicate poverty.

According to Malema (10/2/2012) "This simply means that all the economic clauses of the Freedom Charter should be given practical meaning and implemented in our lifetime. The people sharing in the country's wealth should not just be a clarion call, but should be turned into a concrete programme, which includes Nationalisation of Mines, banks and monopoly industries".


The World Programme of Action for Youth (2008) proclaim that "young people represent agents, beneficiaries and victims of major societal changes and are generally confronted by a paradox: to seek to be integrated into an existing order or to serve as a force that transform that order".

It is in this context that young people are so much in love with the call for economic freedom. They are the ones who are mostly affected and vulnerable to these socio-economic ills and thus resorted to participate in discussions and debate of current economic problems.

Peter writing on Citypress (19/05/2013) under the headline of 'What do we do, Mr President' said that "I grew up with one vision: never to allow anyone to oppress me in any way". He, like many other young people expressed that he is not happy with the current situation and how things turned out in the democratic SA.

The young people therefore regard economic freedom as a growth path that could allow SA to meet its Millennium Development Goals, absorb them into the labour market and advance the county's economic growth and development as well as its status in the global economy.

The intension is to improve income distribution to the benefit of all South Africans as stated in the Freedom Charter. Theirs as 'economic freedom fighters' is to attain a pro-poor shift in the growth trajectory.


The ANCYL vision states that the organization is "driven to be the change agents for their development". This encouraged the League to lead this outcry. They are taking matters in their own hands in advancing and ensuring progressive and consistent leadership to the economy. As the youth they are claiming their positions not only for their benefit but also for the development of their country.


Madlalose (15/6/2012) stated that the YL's call should be supported. However he remained cautious of its feasibility as set forth by the YL. Moreover, he contend that economic transformation and/or 'economic freedom' is the YL calls it, is and has been the one crucial aspect of the formation of the ANC as a liberation movement, the foundation of the SACP and what COSATU is advocating for and thus stresses the importance of collectivism and cohesiveness within the alliance in order be able to appease all.


One of its guiding principles is that the organization is "committed to supporting and reflecting in its programme of action the progressive aspirations of the working class and other sections of the economically exploited people of SA" (SASCO Constitution). In this respect SASCO plays a crucial role in galvanizing young people to support economic freedom.

The organization strives to equip the youth in institutions of higher learning with information necessary to produce active and patriotic young people. They assert that the youth are the future of this country and should therefore be armed with necessary knowledge to be viable to carry-on the struggle for a better life for future generations.

SASCO further states that it "seeks to ensure the destruction of the capitalist relations of production and the ushering of the socialist society". During one of the matches organized by the Youth League the former General Secretary of SASCO, Lazola Ndamase, declared that "as SASCO we fully support the youth league's outcry for economic freedom; and thus support demands of jobs for young people, free education, and specifically support the demands that affect greatly the majority of SA who are poor and come from the working class background".


The youth note that there have been sporadic discussions and debates about these socio-economic realities; however in 'economic freedom in our lifetime' they suggest implementation and adherence to the previous decisions and policies adopted by the pre-1994 ANC.

They argue that "the focus therefore should be on decisive transformation of the economy into an economy which will be inclusive and benefit all South Africans in a sustainable manner, whilst opening space for the upliftment of the African continent.

This can only happen through transfer of wealth from those who currently own to the majority with concurrent efforts to create more wealth for all South Africans to benefit. Transfer of wealth to the people as a whole has never meant and will never mean enrichment of few historically disadvantaged individuals" (ANCYL, 2010).

I conclude by quoting Noam Chomsky who said; "when people wanted enough freedom that they could not be enslaved or killed or repressed, new modes of control naturally develop to try to impose forms of mental slavery so they could accept a framework of indoctrination and won't raise any questions. If you can trap people into not noticing, let alone questioning crucial doctrines, they are enslaved. They will essentially follow orders like there is a gun pointed at them."

The ANC-led government should appreciate that the youth are taking part in the crucial aspects of the country's development and are willing to negotiate. In the past years we have noted young people opting for drastic measures in what was called the Arab-Spring in Egypt and Tunisia.

Similar to our situation the youth in those countries were fed-up with their predicaments and equally facing the same circumstances we currently encounter. With that being said, ANC should acknowledge the efforts, encourage them and take them seriously. The young people have had enough and urgently require improvements that will ultimately lead to positive change in their lives.


The ANC should therefore treat this matter with the urgency it deserves by first, thoroughly processing issues brought forth by the youth in the "A Clarion Call to Economic freedom Fighters: Progressive Programme of Action for Economic Freedom in our Lifetime". This will help to fully comprehend the nature of their demands. It will also ensure transparency, accountability and inclusivity in that the youth will be assured that they also have equal say and that their needs are taken into consideration when formulating and adopting policies.

Second, the alliance should find consensus on which economic direction they are taking to address the ideological differences and avoid rebellion, thus foster unity as the ANC NEC has declared 2013 as a year of unity towards socio-economic freedom. Third, given that the concept continues to enjoy massive support from the majority of the citizens it should be taken for public participation. This will allow balanced representations on the view, and will thus inform the government's action in transforming the economy.

- Bonolo Lovedelia Pelompe is a masters student in International Relations, Department of Politics, Peace Studies and International Relations, North West University, Mafikeng Campus, South Africa


ANCYL. April 2011. A Clarion Call to Economic Freedom Fighters: Programme of Action for Economic Freedom in our Lifetime. Final Document 24th National Congress

ANCYL. 3/6/2012. Report from ANCYL Policy Workshop


Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 in Union Building, Pretoria

Gelb, S. 2006. The RDP, GEAR and all that: Reflection Ten Years Later. Transformation Vol. 62 ISSN 0258-7696

Madlalose, S. 15/6/2011. Part 1: The Struggle for Economic Freedom Devoid of a Socialist-Orientated NDR is like an Optical Illusion disguised with Revolutionary Parables. Bottomline. Issue 10, Vol 8

Malema, J. 10/2/2012. ANCYL National Executive Committee Lekgotla.

Smith, A. 1776. The Wealth of Nations. Cited in Ingham, G. 2008. Key Concepts: Capitalism. Polity Press: USA

The World Programme of Action for Youth (2008)


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