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Mandela’s dream and the World Economic Forum

By Howard Richards, Unbounded Academy Response by Gillian Marcelle October 2022

What happened to Mandela’s dream? Shaping society for justice and dignity

(a difficulty is that Mandela is not associated with any utopian thought and is often derided as a sell out. So it could be different e.g. What happen to the liberation dream? shaping society for justice and dignity.)

Despite optimism at the time of democracy around socio-economic change, underpinned by the RDP process before 1994, inequality is greater than in 1994…

I have just been learning that the key thinking that brought down SA and the rest of the world took place in the vast network organised by the World Economic Forum. (see attachment)

When Mandela  became president, it seems to me that his great ambition was to reconcile blacks and whites.  The way economic development would contribute to reconciliation  would be to subscribe to the goals of the World Economic Forum, which can be summarized as growth, stability, peace and the eradication of poverty.  Since its founding in 1971 and increasingly so, the WEF has been about achieving the common good by means that are still capitalist even while capitalists are called on to think of themselves as the elite responsible for steering society toward social goals.  Mandela hosted the WEF in SA.  He gave keynotes at WEF  events,  As far as I can tell the main players in fixing SA policy were all contributors to and supporters of the consensus of elite opinion that the WEF and its network created.  Davos attendees included Thabo Mbeki,  Trevor Manuel,  Tito Mboweni, and other key figures …I am not sure I have the names spelled right.   Elite opinion was expressed as competitiveness, where competitiveness was defined as enhancing productivity, and it was unquestioned gospel that productivity was increased by free trade, absence of capital controls, and freedom of investment.  The flagship annual WEF competitiveness reports were mainly about the progress of countries in making themselves attractive  investment destinations.  As in the case of Tim Cohen at Maverick, being against corruption and economic ignorance, and on the side of evidence-based decisions, democratic institutions, and public private cooperation was framed as what all good people believe and act on. Development meant that the private sector and the public sector worked together, with the latter making objective decisions that freed the economic engine of the former to raise productivity –in ways that would root out the root cause of poverty.  These thoughts are also foundational for the NDP, which, like the WEF itself, is presented as an incarnation of good will, patriotism in the good form of working together for the common good, and objective rationality.   It seems that all the main ANC policy makers identified with the international elite and viewed the leftist influence in the ANC as old fashioned thinking holding the country back –until it all came crashing down in the revolt of the masses that brought Zuma to the presidency.   As Rejoice Shumba points out in her thesis, and I think Kate has acknowledged somewhere, with all his faults Zuma was pro-poor and his coming to the presidency made CWP possible as well as more  looting of public resources by “thuggish elites.”

The pattern in SA is recognizably similar to that in the rest of the world, as Joanna and I show in The Dilemmas of Social Democracies.

Unbounded Organization repeats and improves some themes found in the elite consensus, including both WEF thinking and King IV,  while keeping the critical thinking that sees the basic relations of production and circulation as parameters that could and should be carefully and conscientiously moved.   The elite consensus itself, it seems to me, has only to be carried out to its own logical conclusions to conclude that more open minded and ethically consistent approaches are more true and more useful.

So much for thoughts.  But on the ground the key is not true thoughts but effective organization.  How can people with few resources be heard when they try to engage in dialogue with people who have enormous financial and organizational resources, like the World Bank, the IMF and other sections of the WEF networks?.    I do not know.  But I do not think the underlying problem is conflicts of interest.  I think the true interest of the global elite is building a world that works, (even if that means ceding power and ceasing to be elite) as is the true interest of those who are not members of the elite.  (I feel free to use the word “elite” because the speakers in Chile´s leading elite think tanks refer to themselves as the elite.)  The downfall of Mandela, Mbeki, and others who have tried to solve SA´s problems and failed was mainly and fundamentally that they mistakenly believed that the worldview of the WEF was scientifically valid –although they were not mistaken in thinking that the traditional thinking of the left (eg the labour theory of value) was scientifically invalid.