12 March 2011

COSATU’s Growth Path Document, and after

Development, Part 9b

COSATU’s Growth Path Document, and after

This post introduces COSATU’s Growth Path Document, fully titled “A Growth Path Towards Full Employment” which was published in September 2010 and which is linked for download below.

In his introduction to the COSATU Growth Path document, COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said “It is going to be our Koran and Bible and nobody will burn it” (quoted in The Times, Johannesburg, 15 September 2010).

In keeping with this biblical metaphor, the document begins with a “Genesis” section that chronicles the “begats” of “growth path” controversies since the 1990 COSATU workshop that begat the very term “growth path”, according to this document. The 1992 COSATU Economic Policy Conference begat six defined areas. The ANC begat the “Ready to Govern” document.

In 1993, MERG begat “A Framework for Macroeconomic Policy in South Africa”, and all of the above together begat the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in 1994. Then GEAR appeared, begat by the 1996 Class Project, and GEAR smote the RDP. Then COSATU came forth the same year with Social Equity and Job Creation (SEJC).

Other documents followed, all the way to Polokwane in 2007.

There is nothing of political economy in this document, but plenty of empirical and utilitarian arguments and projections that inhabit the same intellectual framework as that which confines COSATU’s liberal opponents.

The document is relatively more “dirigiste” (steering) and less “laissez-faire” (let it be, or leave well alone) than the mainstream of the South African Treasury, or the editorials of the Business Day, but it is far from revolutionary. The argument for COSATU is about “getting the balance right”.

As the COSATU GS pointed out, the document is intended to stand alone as a Bible without equals, antecedents or successors, outside of the listed chain of documents from which it sprang. Of course this poses problems for those of us who study works of political economy and history.

Where the document connects to Marx’s Capital, Volumes 1, 2 or 3, for example, if it does at all, is a mystery.

In our particular course on development, of which this is the ninth part of ten, we have looked at dialectical laws of development and of class struggle, and we have looked at the history of the NEP in the Soviet Union and of peasant life in Africa, of five-year plans and the management of capitalism in China. None of the material we have looked at appears anywhere in the new COSATU document, or in its pedigree, as far as we can see, so far.

The document is 120 pages long and certainly contains some material that could stimulate good Freirean dialogue. Here is a shortened version of the “Conclusions” from its last two pages:

COSATU’s ‘Growth Path’ document, September 2010, Conclusions (edited)

1.      The aims of the new growth path are the creation of decent work; Redistribution of income and power; Industrial development; Meeting basic needs; Environmental Sustainability; and the development of Southern Africa
2.      On Economic Policy, we have identified five areas and proposed policy interventions: Industrial Policy; Rural Development; Trade Policy; Skills Development and Macroeconomic Policy
3.      In terms of social policy we have also identified six broad areas in which the state must take the lead: Education; Healthcare; Crime, Corruption and the Justice System; Basic Infrastructure; Environmental Sustainability and Green Jobs and Social Protection
4.      We also argue that for this growth and development path to be successful there needs to be a change in the patterns of ownership.
5.      In terms of regional development, we note that the failure of South Africa to change its industrial structure, and the continued dominance of our economy by conglomerates, especially around the core Minerals Energy sectors, spells doom for regional industrial development.
6.      It is therefore incumbent upon South Africans to ensure that they change the pattern of economic development.
7.      The policy proposals made in this document should be considered as a package.
8.      This framework document is a start to a process of more detailed engagement.

COSATU Responses to Government’s New Growth Path

Just over two months later, on 23 November 2010, the Minister for Economic Development issued the South African Government’s New Growth Path Framework (NGP), which we have seen in the previous part of this course. COSATU called it into question, but it was reconfirmed by the ANC in the January 8th statement at the beginning of 2011.

On 9 March 2011 Cde Vavi made a speech (linked below) in which he said “there is much in the NGP which we can welcome” and that COSATU was engaged with it in NEDLAC. Although he pays lip-service to job-creation, Vavi strongly identifies redistribution as his central aim, especially redistribution from white to black, of wealth, and positions.

But it is not clear how redistribution of wealth and personnel changes in companies would result in more employment.

ANC NEC Lekgotla

According to the ANC NEC Lekgotla of 13-14 January 2011, the New Growth Path is accepted, while the following vague heads of discussion remain to be debated with COSATU at some indefinite future time:
  • Role of the State
  • Specific contributions and the frameworks of macroeconomic and microeconomic policies
  • The connection between the NGP and broader social policy goals
  • Ensuring that labour market policies address issues of decent work, both in terms of quality and quantity of jobs created
  • Ensuring that the broad goals of the movement in terms of ownership of the means of production are achieved


What is lacking in all of this verbal output from COSATU is the simple recognition that all actually-existing jobs are contracts of exchange of labour-power for money, where the product of the labour exerted will go entirely to the employer. This is the fundamental relationship of “Capital”, as described by Karl Marx one and a half centuries ago.

At this stage, no different relationship of production has been invented or put into practice in South Africa or anywhere else. Therefore, as in the past in the Soviet Union, and as in China today, the expansion of the proletariat towards full employment has to mean the simultaneous expansion of Capital. Holding back the expansion of Capital will hold back the expansion of the proletariat. All the COSATU documentation around the New Growth Path simply evades this central fact. Consequently, the impression that COSATU gives of playing around the margins of the problem of job-creation, and holding job-creation ransom to considerations that are not central, does represent a reality.

COSATU is not yet thinking clearly about job creation in South Africa.

Please download and read this document:

Further reading:


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