17 And who would pour fresh, new wine into an old wineskin? Eventually the wine will ferment and make the wineskin burst, losing everything—the wine is spilled and the wineskin ruined. Instead, new wine is always poured into a new wineskin so that both are preserved.” — Matthew 9:17 (TPT)
The title of a new academic report that lays out a plan to revitalise the South African economy should pique the interest of Christians: New Wine into New Wine Skins: An Alternative Strategy for SA’s Economic Reconstruction
Co-authored by Dr Nthabiso Moleko and Professor Mark Swilling of the University of Stellenbosch Business School, the report which was launched in mid-October, proposes a fresh, social-justice approach to the SA economy which it says could lead to GDP doubling in 10 years, 10-million people moving out of poverty, and unemployment cut by two thirds to 12% by 2030.
And in a Zoom meeting hosted by Dr Arno van Niekerk of Project SA, Moleko, who is the first woman in SA to receive a PhD in development finance, connected the intriguing dots in the report’s title, when she said: “A lot of the way I see things on equity comes from the Word [of God] — also my understanding of stewardship is from the Word.”
Introducing Moleko, who spoke about the report, Van Niekerk said the aim was to stimulate thought and discussion about fresh economic thinking from a Kingdom perspective at a time when “we are all concerned about the economy”.
Opening her briefing, Moleko said: “My real heart and passion is how the economy is used to make sure there are equitable gains for everyone and also to ensure that the entire population of South Africa gain from massive assets and resources SA has been given.”
She said the report was based on outcomes of two workshops where a group of economists and young thinkers addressed the question: “What can be done to reignite the economy?”
The process confirmed the dire state of the economy — especially in terms of woefully poor GDP growth and a crisis in unemployment (42% unemployed), poverty (30 million people below the poverty line) and inequality — and that current strategies are not working.
Supported by extensive economic modelling, the team also came up with proposed strategic interventions in industrial policy with a target of doubling the contribution of manufacturing to GDP, prioritising labour-absorbing sectors and boosting domestic food production and rural development. The framework envisages shifting policy on investment and mobilising domestic capital — including pension funds — rather than borrowing from the World Bank and IMF, fiscal policy aggressively targeted at higher economic growth, building state capacity for innovation and governance, and reshaping empowerment policies to achieve real growth through redistribution.
“Our paper doesn’t deal with how land reform must work but does say there must be asset redistribution. And that is a non-negotiable to deal with inequality and underdevelopment in some of areas,” said Moleko.
On the issue of inequality, she said that South Africa has the worst wealth gap in the world with 90% of the nation’s assets in the hands of 10% of the population.
“Our counterparts across the continent are doing better than us. And this inequality robs us of the gains of growth. And I want to emphasise this because many people don’t think it’s important to have redistribution in terms of race.
“Why its important is that inequality is concentrated in South Africa according race,” she said.
Referring to a report by Statistics SA she said the poor are mainly black, in rural areas, mainly women — and the rich are mainly white, mainly men.
“This dynamic means the gains of growth are distributed mainly to the rich because of asset ownership and the way in which financial markets and systems work, because if you don’t own land, capital or labour or the factors of production then the gains of profit/rent dont necessarily go to you.
“There’s a lot of papers that support this argument. But we just need to know why its important — not just from a moral perspective, but even from an economic perspective to have redistribution,” she said.
Responding to questions and discussion from meeting participants who included Christian leaders from various different marketplace sectors, she said she believes the Church has a critical role to play in redistribution “because where there is inequity and injustice it is the Body that is supposed to make sure their is equity and enough for all. “
“Churches and civil society have a lot of land which should be an asset benefitting people living nearby. There should be no unemployed people where there are churches. People should be using church land to grow food,” she said.
She said the Church has not yet dealt with the issue of restitution — “and this is not an easy thing to discuss — particularly with the White Church — and it’s something we must talk about”.
However, she said she believed that by 2030 the Church — backed by the divine intervention of God — “can lead in some of these things and understand a model of redistribution that is embeddd in the Word”.
Responding to a question from a participant about the challenge of transforming the economy in the face of what seemed like an ideological stalemate between different groups, Van Niekerk said the Church offered hope in the process because “despite our different perspectives we have a common identity in Christ”.
“I think we are saying the Church must understand its potential to use the economy to heal the nation. Not only in terms of what we have but to use the economic crisis to heal the nation,” he said.