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"It is certainly not our task to build up the future in advance and to settle all problems for all time, but it is just as certainly our task to criticise the existing world ruthlessly. I mean ruthlessly in the sense that we must not be afraid of our own conclusions and equally unafraid of coming into conflict with the prevailing powers."
Karl Marx, 1844


Published: 14 May 2020

Transcribed from a Radio 786 interview.

Gadija Davids (Interviewer): Tourism being one of the biggest sectors in Cape Town and a potential loss of 90,000 jobs in just that one sector alone, in one city alone. We can’t help but wonder what needs to be done to have the economy turned around after this lockdown period and taking into consideration South Africa’s economy being downgraded to junk status and the disaster of the flood relief fund rather being used and businesses cutting wages and salaries, times seem darker going forward. I’m joined now by Oupa Lehulere. He’s a veteran political and social activist, and Director of Khanya College. Hello and welcome to Radio 786, Oupa.

Oupa Lehulere: Thanks Gadija and welcome to the listeners as well.

GD: Oupa, people are always concerned about what happens after this lockdown. How do we turn the country around and the gift from previous examples of countries that have had to basically look to themselves in order to bolster their own economies in South Africa in a good enough state to do that, as well?

OL: Okay, thanks very much, once again, Gadija. I think the issue probably to start is to ask ourselves, where were we before coronavirus? Because we’re seeing some of the problems that the challenges that we will face actually precede Corona and Corona is just allowed them to come to the surface.

And I think in terms of where we were, I mean, to just take on the global economy, of course, I think, on the eve of corona except for the big part of 2019, a lot of the discussion, in global financial circles, economic journals, and so on, was the fear of a major depression that was descending on the world. In fact, so much of that discussion spoke about the 1930s, Great Depression is coming. And in fact, we’ve been building it was that globally, I mean, we just look at the fact that in so much of the US and in Europe, interest rates were always becoming negative, you were paid to keep your money just so that the amount of debt that has been pumped into the system in order to keep it alive, so we were with an economy that was on life support. And that’s quite an important thing to bear in mind. But in the South African context, for instance, we know that we were in recession.  That there was, if you look at the government’s 2021 budget announced in February this year, that the growth forecast just kept being revised downwards, jobs were being lost, this year began with a whole series of job losses. And I think we’ve forgotten that because corona kind of overshadowed everything.

So, so that’s where we were when we started with Corona. So corona didn’t cause, corona triggers a lot of fault lines, that we already kind of taking shape, if it wasn’t corona, it would have had to be something else. Of course, Corona, accentuates the thing because it strikes basically at the very heart of a system that’s geared for practically production just for the sake of production. It just goes on and on and on. It’s not, there’s no relationship and it’s a broken the relationship between the people’s welfare and what the economy does. So we have an economy sometimes that is very good, as they say, and the welfare keeps deteriorating. So I think it’s important that we bear this in mind when we talk about what the world looks like after the Coronavirus.

And I think that there’s kind of two schools of thought on what it looks like. You get a sense that from the president Ramaphosa that he belongs to the first school of thought and basically what they’re trying to do is to say look, coronavirus is coming; the airlines can’t fly. We can’t drive cars, the oil prices are collapsing, and we can’t consume all the goods that we consume without end. And that basically let’s fine a bandage to this and when corona disappears, we’re putting a lot of money there and we will get back to the very old normal. In other words, piling debt, feed your consumer with debt, let them buy and hopefully we survive and of course it is understood in that context that that’s gonna be the survival of the richest the rest of the population is just gonna be bad luck.

GD: Yeah, there seems to be a contingent now that you know with this pandemic has also shown us that the actual power lies with people and having your human capital healthy and happy and that that will assist in a country reviving any kind of struggling economy or facing a pandemic as such as we are now. Do we find in that as but this is what I was saying earlier that this is not likely what our government will be looking at, they will go back to say, as business as usual before the pandemic?

OL: Yes. This is what Corona Corona, which is what I call the second school of thought, it is people that are saying, and I put myself in that camp, we have to really rethink the very idea of the economy. In other words, let’s put people at the heart of it. And, corona has shown us what is really essential. I mean, we’re not talking about essentials, what do you mean essential? That the people are healthy. And because if they’re very healthy, they are much more productive, they’re much more creative, they’re much more imaginative, because they have the very low, very high immune systems, we know for certain that this human capital can then be educated, it can again, be extremely creative in the sense so we will emphasise the education so we would fix an education system that basically leads hundreds of 1000s of young people every year, basically, to hang around.

Now, now, yes, there is a realisation in some circles that the old normal isn’t working, and therefore that we need to rethink the new normal. On the eve of the old normal, we will also kind of speak in a lot of other climate catastrophe that the extraction of fossils with this crazy production for the sake of production, just for so that we, we buy cars, we write them off in three years, we get given other new ones, write them off, again, it’s a completely senseless cycle and that people need to be foregrounded in the new economy. But that requires such a major change to an economy geared for the banks; for the billionaire class, for all the people who have their private yachts, that economy has to change. And the question, of course, is whether the classes that hold power in our society, in societies elsewhere, are prepared for that change, or whatever people will have to struggle to make sure that the world in a way it comes to its senses.

Unfortunately, to get the world to come to its senses is gonna require a lot of struggle from ordinary people, from various civil society organisations, from community organisations and so on to say look, we cannot compromise our health because at the rate we go in, we will have another pandemic like this. In fact, this pandemic, ironically, was predicted by the former president of the United States, Barack Obama said, look, within five to 10 years we’re gonna have a virus much more deadly than the SARS virus that we had at the beginning of the 2000s. And here we have it, and everybody knows that we’re gonna have another one.

So we’re hoping that through organising struggle, the debates on radio like your one,

there will begin to be a turnaround that in economy has to mean something very different.

GD: Oupa thank you so much for your time this afternoon on Radio 786. He is the Director of Khanya College and also based in political and social activist on the agenda on Radio 786.

Listen to the interview here.


Originally published here: https://karibu.org.za/contesting-the-post-covid19-economy/

"Ideas that enter the mind under fire remain there securely and forever." -Leon Trotsky

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