100 days, 100 issues

2009-08-19 12:41

On the day that Gill Marcus’s appointment as governor of the

Reserve Bank was announced, Gwede Mantashe received a text message on

his cellphone. It said: “Once again people of my colour are being

overlooked.”

The secretary-general of the African National Congress replied tersely: “Actually Gill is much more black than yourself.”

“Take

her dresses, for instance,” he told a rapt audience at a Gordon

Institute of Business Science (GIBS) forum this week. Marcus, known

among other things for her uniform dress of flowing African kaftans,

has a political pedigree in the ANC that goes back nearly four decades.

“Gill spent all her life in the ANC, so if you begin to

classify her white for convenience, that would be disingenuous. She is

the first woman governor of the Reserve Bank and we haven’t even had

that discussion because we are not preoccupied by her complexion.”

The

message about Marcus’s colour echoed rumblings by at least one business

columnist, and more explicitly by ANC Youth League leader Julius

Malema, that the “economic cluster”, ministries of finance, trade and

industry, public enterprises and economic development, had gone to

“minorities”. On a factual basis, said Mantashe, this was quite wrong.

“There’s

something called mining, there’s something called energy, there’s

something called communications, transport, something called

agriculture. Land and rural development is an economic department.”

More

crucially, he challenged the language. “In the ANC we don’t use the

term ‘minorities’, we use the term ‘blacks’, and specifically Africans.

This comes from our past. The ANC is not a Pan-Africanist organisation;

we are a non-racial movement.”

Only two whites – Barbara

Hogan and Rob Davies – occupied economic cluster ministries and to use

such racially charged language “would be to ignore their credentials in

the struggle”.

It is telling that Mantashe dwelt on the

language. If there is one palpable change in the first 100 days of the

Zuma presidency, it is in the discourse.

It is a language

that is more directly inclusive of the whole country and more left

wing. It is a language that harks back to the latter days of the

anti-apartheid struggle when the ANC and the internal Mass Democratic

Movement adopted an explicitly “non-racial” discourse.

This is in contradistinction to the language of a more conservative and undiluted African nationalism.

But

the inclusivity goes further than simply eschewing the notion that

South Africans of Indian and coloured origin are “minorities”, or that

whites who were part of the struggle can escape the burdens of their

racial origins.

“When Zuma said he wanted to appoint

Pieter Mulder as deputy minister, imagine the eyebrows that were raised

in the ANC,” said Mantashe, referring to the appointment of the Freedom

Front politician, the son of an apartheid cabinet minister nogal, to

the post of deputy minister of agriculture. “But we want to build an

inclusive society.”

Has the discourse changed in other ways

too? “Absolutely,” says Dr Mamphela Ramphele, who chaired the Dinokeng

Scenarios, a think-tank that was fiercely critical of government

failures.

“First of all, we have a president who is

engaged, who goes to where the people are. The most impressive symbolic

representation of his engaged presidency was his surprise visit to

Balfour (in Mpumalanga, where there have been violent protests).”

Mayors and councillors in many small towns “who believe they are a law unto themselves” are suddenly on the hop.

Then there was Zuma’s meeting with school principals to discuss what Ramphele calls the crisis in public education.

Certainly,

there has to be a large question mark over a system that spends the

greatest part of its budget on education, yet ranks among the lowest in

the world in basic literacy and numeracy skills. “He acknowledged the

need for discipline and accountability (in schools),” says Ramphele.

Success

will be measured, though, not only by a willingness to engage but by

sufficient guts to take on key interest groups, specifically the

teachers’ union.

“I think there will be a willingness to

take on certain stakeholders,” says the government’s Themba Maseko, not

least because MECs and ministers will be held accountable for

performance.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of

teacher unionism in the world, and the union has assiduously resisted

performance management of teachers. Thus the simple recipe for success

repeated like a mantra over the years, “In the classroom, on time,

teaching”, will require the added ingredient of a big stick.

Perhaps

a sign of this, as one commentator pointed out, is that Thulas Nxesi,

the erstwhile general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union,

has been quietly tucked away in Parliament.

It may be too

early to draw up a score-card – government is rather dismissive of the

“100-day” milestone, although it is indulging the media – but there are

three other significant pointers to change.

One is the new

appointments, the second relates to responsiveness to the citizenry by

those in power, and the third to the enhanced role of the ANC in

governance.

“One of the things that was said was that Zuma

was going to appoint his associates and friends, and that has not

happened,” Mantashe told the GIBS forum.

This is partly

true. Marcus may not have been “a friend”, although she is certainly a

long-standing comrade of Zuma’s, as is Pravin Gordhan, the new minister

of finance. And Bheki Cele, the new police commissioner, has an even

closer association through his home base.

Yet despite this,

there is little doubt that the new incumbents are energetic, smart and

visionary. Cele may need to temper his mouth more and there is also the

question of whether he intervened in the fatal accident involving the

inebriated Sifiso Zulu’s luxury car.

The interim SABC board,

tasked with salvaging the disaster that is now the broadcaster, has so

far been impressive in its robust common sense, cutting expenses,

stopping the luxuries and perks that were claimed as a right by members

of the two previous boards and executive management, and instituting

accountability.

The presidential nomination of Judge Sandile

Ngcobo to head the Constitutional Court also raised an eyebrow or two,

not so much because of Ngcobo’s credentials (they are solid) but

because Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke was overlooked,

presumably for his publicly stated views on the importance of

independence from the ruling party.

Yet Ngcobo has been a

progressive judge – his latest judgment on the unconstitutionality of

the limited time frame to access information under the Promotion of

Access to Information Act serves the essence of a democratic and

transparent society and enhances media freedom.

Cabinet

includes some notable talent and is, as Mantashe pointed out, for the

first time since 1994 representative of all the provinces.

New

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has begun to tackle the country’s

enormous health problems – exacerbated by his predecessor – with

vigour. And key ministers such as Trevor Manuel in the Presidency and

Ebrahim Patel in economic development have much in common beyond

apparent differences in ideology. They are both ethical and

hard-working, share an important past in the anti-apartheid struggle

and a vision for a country that works.

Then there is the

question of the responsiveness of the new administration. “I’ve been in

government for four years and it’s never happened before that

commentators and analysts who have been very critical (of Zuma) have

been invited to engage with the president,” says Maseko.

“Responsiveness must be a culture,” said Mantashe at the GIBS forum. “If it’s not a culture it’s not going to happen.”

The

problem, though, goes deeper than a “cultural shift”. David Lewis, the

erstwhile chair of the Competition Tribunal and an old union comrade of

Mantashe from the 1980s, asked at the GIBS forum whether the ANC may

reconsider its position on South Africa’s electoral system.

“Don’t

you think people feel quite distant from their elected leadership?

We’ve often been in situations (in the union movement) where we’ve seen

significant anger at union leadership … but they’ve had a direct means

of channelling this anger into recalling those leaders.”

Ramphele

frames the same concern differently: “The whole approach of the

post-apartheid government was to deliver free housing, free this, free

the other. This has created expectations on the part of citizens, a

passive expectation that government will solve problems.

“It

has led to a ‘disengaged citizenry’ coupled with a style of leadership

in the previous administration that neither accommodated nor welcomed

criticism. Thus when people’s expectations are not met, they revert to

the anti-apartheid mode of protest which is destroy, don’t pay, trash.

We are yet to grasp the role of citizens as owners of democracy,” she

says.

For Mantashe the electoral system is not the problem

– in fact, he points out that a ward system accounts for two-thirds of

councillors in local government. The result is a shocking lack of

experience in municipalities – two thirds of councillors are

first-timers.

Yet Lewis’s question remains. The Zuma

administration may have shown much attuned responsiveness in its first

100 days, yet there is little to enforce it other than the goodwill and

sense of people such as Mantashe. Which brings us to this notable

change in the first 100 days – the enhanced role of the ANC in

government.

“Who does run the country?” a young woman asked

Mantashe at the forum. “The Presidency, or the ANC? And how many times

a day do you speak to Zuma?”

Mantashe was unequivocal in his

reply: “Who runs the country is the ANC. I talk to the president as

regularly as I can. If I pick up a controversial thing in the

newspapers, I speak to him and say have you seen this, go and find out.

I talk to the staff in the office to bring this to his attention.

“It’s

called political oversight. That is the responsibility of the ANC. I

don’t want to be apologetic about it, we must do it more.”

Although

this may raise questions about the separation of party and state, it is

a notable change from the previous administration, which ignored the

ANC, to its ultimate detriment.

The objective conditions

today – severe revenue shortfall and economic recession – are more

challenging than any other since 1995, when the country clawed its way

back from the brink of bankruptcy. There can be no doubt that delivery,

particularly of jobs, will demand toughness and sacrifice.

Yet

there seems reason for cautious optimism. “We have put together the

building blocks of government, put institutions in place, made the

right appointments,” says Maseko.

So it will be in the next 100 or even 1 000 days that the real gains of the first 100 will be judged.

 

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