Clem Sunter

Spring is in the air, but which one?

2012-09-14 12:06

Clem Sunter

I love this time of year. I can walk around my suburb in Johannesburg in shirt sleeves, the plane trees have new green leaves and the flowers are out in profusion. Spring is in the air and it is a great time to be alive.

But there is another spring in the air too - the one that has happened in certain Arab countries to the north of us. At the beginning of June I wrote a column on the latest South African scenarios in which I said that one of the red flags for a "Failed State" scenario was high youth unemployment combined with active social networks combined with a growing alienation from the authorities by young people. This meant that we were one random event away from our own version of an Arab Spring.

Could Marikana be that random event? We are seeing things happening which have never happened before. The mining industry is almost turning into a general rebellion not only against employers but against the unions too. Workers are discovering a new-found solidarity amongst themselves as they fight for better wages. Meanwhile, Julius Malema has become a motivational speaker addressing any group that has a grievance and saying things about our political leaders which not even the bravest commentators would say in public. The service delivery protests also seem to be ratcheting up to a new level as ordinary citizens are no longer afraid of the long arm of the law descending on them.

On this very website, the anger and the vitriol of the comments are reaching new heights on subjects like employment equity on the one hand and how the political settlement in 1994 has proved to be totally disappointing in providing economic improvement for the vast majority on the other hand. It is almost open warfare on any controversial column written by News24 columnists or bloggers with an axe to grind. News developments are greeted by joy or derision depending upon which side you are on.

To put it mildly, the temperature in this country has risen by a substantial number of degrees and, as we all know, heat can produce some very intense reactions.  I am sometimes criticised for putting the "Arab Spring" scenario on the table on the grounds that we are a democracy and the affected Arab countries were all dictatorships. My response is to point to the two days of mayhem in London last year when young people went on a looting spree and burnt down some significant buildings. Britain is a democracy and in a minor way had its own version of an Arab Spring. France, Spain and Greece are all trying to cope with a citizenry who have become increasingly restless as a result of austerity measures. They are democracies too.

All in all, we could be at a pivotal moment in our history where we could tip into the no-holds-barred anarchy of a Failed State; or we could accept that the game has to change in order to create an economic democracy that goes with our political democracy - in other words begin the process of transforming our economy into an inclusive one offering genuine economic freedom and the chance for ordinary people to better their lives and circumstances.

This cannot be done overnight but most people do not have that expectation. They want to see the arrow pointing in the right direction and incremental success being achieved. For some time, I have been listing the initial steps that I would like to see being taken. They are as follows:

1. The holding of an Economic Codesa involving government, business, the unions, civil society champions, entrepreneurs, NGOs and ordinary citizens. A new blueprint has to be hammered out with give and take on all sides. It is a joint exercise, not the government handing down yet another plan.

2. A complete change in mindset towards small business and entrepreneurs where the bulk of the new jobs to bring down our unemployment rate to reasonable levels will be created. I attended a 702 small business awards ceremony this week and that is the future of South Africa. Like America, 70% of the top 100 businesses in 30 years time in South Africa should be relatively unknown small businesses today. Think about it - nobody knew about Microsoft when IBM was at its peak and nobody really rated Apple when Mircosoft was at its peak. You need the creative destruction of capitalism to produce a world class economy and that is not to be dismissed as a neo-liberal slogan.

3. A radical shift in black economic empowerment where workers have a real stake in the economy as opposed to a few favoured individuals. Every major company in South Africa should have an employee share ownership programme.

4. The government should concentrate all its energy on improving service delivery in education, law and order, health and all the other services that governments normally provide by hiring the right people for the right jobs. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we must get rid of cadre deployment. They should as far as possible keep their noses out of business and wealth creation because that is the domain of entrepreneurs. Equally NGOs are superb at fighting the war on poverty but they do need the money.

I am sure there are other steps that I have forgotten which readers can add. The upside of what is happening now is that it must be seriously rattling the Establishment so they should be more willing to entertain new ideas and take more risks. Necessity is the mother of invention so let’s create a spring as good as Mother Nature.



Send your comments to Clem

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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