Tjatjarag: We’ve come a long way in 18 years

2012-06-30 08:18

On the one hand, President Jacob Zuma says the media does not tell the entire South ­African story – the story of progress and hope.

On the other hand, the president says nothing has changed and this is why we need a “second transition”.

Closing the Free State provincial electoral conference of the ANC on Sunday, the president said people should not believe everything they read in the media.

Opening the national policy conference of the governing party a day or so later, the president said almost nothing had changed in the material conditions of black South Africans; thus, we need a second transition, a document on which, when you read it, sounds pretty much like Cambodia’s chaotic Year Zero plans.

We need to go back to start, do not acknowledge anything good that has happened in the past 18 years, or go straight to jail.

Which is it? South Africa is both profoundly transformed and profoundly deformed.

Leading a country like ours is a tough business, so it is little wonder our Citizen One sends out mixed messages.

What I found deeply troubling about this week is the way in which the ANC failed to take credit for the many, many good things it has done in the past 18 years, sacrificing the credits for the short-term palliative of what is now called a Second Phase of the Transition.

People like me, black managers and professionals, would have continued to be stymied and frustrated like our parents were it not for the forthright employment equity project the governing party put in place.

There are now hundreds of thousands of us where the numbers of black and female managers were tiny before 1994.

A black middle class has boomed and flourished in the past 18 years, largely due to the ambitions and campaigns of the ANC and Cosatu, the latter of which has bargained so well that a large part of its membership is now solidly and comfortably middle class.

This class heralded the great era of consumer power in the early 2000s and held the worst ravages of the recession at bay.

In addition, the ANC has built a welfare net to cover about 14 million South Africans.

And the party’s various housing ministers – from Joe Slovo to Lindiwe Sisulu and Tokyo Sexwale – have constructed a marketplace of working-class housing stock.

We have been extraordinarily well-served by public finance and economic managers, all of whom have come from the democratic movement.

Europe would cry now for the ­vision and the political buy-in practised and enjoyed by finance ministers Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan, Reserve Bank governors Tito Mboweni and Gill Marcus as well as their various deputies.

All of them have earned us the monetary and fiscal space to play with other policy options mooted at the policy conference this week.

Of course, the wealth gap is a political imperative to manage as is youth unemployment, the campaign we are undertaking at City Press.

Both are fundamental challenges to grapple with where no grandstanding should be allowed or dogmas entertained to tackle them.

But I do think that an extension of Steve Biko’s theories of black agency, power and sense of self might well be apposite.

The ANC cannot now call up that hoary old chestnut and declare that it has been in office and not in power.

It is simply untrue if the billions it has accessed in revenue and spent publicly or our position in the G20 and the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are taken as markers.

These are but two indicators of the very real power and influence the governing party has wielded since 1994.

If the ANC accepts this, then the party needs to take a hard look at where it has failed at creating an able state, despite huge expenditure.

It needs to do a dispassionate assessment of cadre deployment to see where it has been well-served by soldiers of the revolution in peace time and where it has not.

It needs to audit land returned under restitution and reform policies to see whether policies have failed only due to expropriation grundies or whether the policies of the democratic state have played a role, too, in failing to get farmer and agricultural support off the ground.

And, beyond the ritualised call to find the new cadre, the ANC will have to tackle the bogey of graft, as it imperils development.

We can point out scores of education, health and infrastructure projects which have come asunder because of tenderpreneurship.

When its work is done, the national task team at work in Limpopo will revealbillions of rand have been lost to plunder.

Is it conceivable that we may have been further down the road in the fight against crime if two post-apartheid national police commissioners had not been put to pasture after fraternising with rotters?

The second transition, or whatever its ­iteration, should not throw out the baby with the bath water.

True freedom has a way to travel for most South Africans, but it is not as if we are still in the starting blocks.

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