A schizophrenic state

2011-04-04 00:00

LAST week Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was in the United States drumming up support for more investment in South Africa. He told the New York Stock Exchange that South Africa needs greater investment to support productive activities to increase the overall competitiveness of its economy.

A few days earlier, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema berated the West. He said South Africa does not need a leadership scared of the West. He was responding to the South African government siding with western governments and backing the United Nations resolution supporting a no-fly zone over Libya.

Of course, everyone says don't pay attention to loud-mouth Malema. While Malema was insisting that mines and banks are going to be nationalised in a few years' time, government was saying there is no such agenda. However, the ruling party in its national conference did not come out on one side or the other on the issue, opting to do more research on the subject. Hence foreign investors are wary about dismissing Malema's utterances out of hand.

South Africa's stance on Libya also seems a contradiction. On the one hand we have a foreign policy based on strong humanitarian principles and yet the support of a no-fly zone means the bombing of Libya by American, British and French war planes — what is being left unsaid is that there will be civilian casualties.

The Economist in a special report on South Africa in June last year summed up these contradictions. The report said South Africa's relations with the world are often confused, almost schizophrenic, as it struggles to understand what it is and what it wants to be.

The same could be said of what is happening within the country. Marxist analysts have long said that the ANC positions itself as a pro-poor party, dependent on votes of the poor and the working class, but whose policies largely benefit the rich.

A recent report on the exorbitant salaries of directors-general in government gives substance to this argument. Trade union Nehawu issued a press statement lambasting Pretoria's hedonistic state managerial class.

Nehawu secretary-general Fikile Majola said that a developing country with enormous socio-economic challenges as ours is needs to apply Third World standards when it comes to the remuneration of senior managers and politicians. Majola noted that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has acknowledged that 50% of the population lives on eight percent of the national income.

Some of the biggest contradictions are over what is said about combating corruption and what is in fact happening on the ground. A commentator once said that South Africa has the Rolls Royce of a constitution, laws and policies, but the engine of a Tata to drive it all. Despite this plethora of regulations it was scary to hear Special Investigations Unit head Willie Hofmeyer spell out in Parliament last week how graft has penetrated just about every facet of the state system. He said billions are haemorrhaging from government departments and public entities. He noted that every municipality in the North West Province is under investigation for fraud corruption and maladministration.

While there must be a level of gratitude that there are still the mechanisms to weed out corruption, one can't help being sceptical at the slowness of bringing culprits to book. Pietermaritzburg is a prime example. It is just over a year now since Msunduzi Municipality was placed under administration, yet to date not a single person has been found responsible for bringing the city to its knees.

Just last week former chief financial officer Roy Bridgmohan, we learnt, was allowed to resign.

The statement from KZN Local Government MEC Nomusa Dube was that he had not been implicated in any fraudulent activities.

She said pursuing charges of not running the administration properly could prove costly, especially since it would be difficult to prove his responsibility in a situation where others were also involved in the running of municipal affairs. The same argument could apply to the other suspended staff, who, like Bridgmohan, have sat at home earning a salary for a year now. The most likely outcome could well be more resignations or some of the suspended staff returning to work.

Disgruntled minorities would point to the contradiction of Jimmy Manyi's numbers game and social engineering of the employment of minorities, that stands in contrast to a constitution that promotes non-racialism.

Then there is the ANC's attempt, according to the Sunday Tribune, to stem the tide of disaffected members within its ranks registering as independents in the forthcoming election. In a democracy, shouldn't there be the encouragement of more candidates rather than fewer? The various factions within the ANC trying to gain control is in itself throwing up its own contradictions.

An argument can be made that we are still a young democracy trying to find our way, hence contradictions and confusion are bound to arise. But, isn't it time we begin to define who we are and what we want? A good start would be the forthcoming local government elections. Stop the rot setting into the new councils by dealing quickly and decisively with wrongdoers implicated either in corruption or for not doing their jobs properly.

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