Ralph Mathekga

On the state of debates in South Africa

2017-05-01 10:57
Chris Malikane

Chris Malikane

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Among some of the nearly impossible things to come across in South Africa these days is a decent debate. 

When I listen to what’s being aired in the public space regarding economic policies and the way forward, what comes across is an attitude of outright dismissal and unwillingness to engage with ideas. For example, it’s difficult to engage with ideas around economic policy and transformation without running the risk of the debate plunging into a discussion regarding the influence of white monopoly capital and the Gupta family in this regard. 

Whichever side you pick, some within the ANC are carefully cultivating this turn of events because it helps to divert the attention away from some of the issues that can be dealt with more practically with a level of seriousness by requesting accountability from policy makers. 

The focus recently has been to elevate to the public discourse an approach to debate that essentially aims to arrive at a deadlock. In order to partake in a debate regarding our economy and the direction that needs to be taken, one is confronted with a false choice of having to chose between what is perceived as white monopoly capital on one hand, and the Gupta’s perceived route on the other. What if one has no interest in either perspective, but simply would like to engage with ideas about this country with anyone who could spare a moment?

The recent installment that shows how distorted and contaminated the public discourse is in South Africa can be seen with the ongoing debacle regarding public remarks made by the Wits professor of economics, Chris Malikane. Malikane has since been appointed as an advisor to Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. Malikane is a good friend of mine and I have known him since days at Wits. I believe there are some of my ideas that the industrious professor disagrees with, just as there are some of his that I disagree with. 

What I find disturbing though is that, it is difficult to engage with Malikane’s ideas because the environment says he is pushing ideas such as nationalisation on behalf of an interest group in South Africa (read the Gupta family). Anyone who knows Malikane would tell you that he has always been consistent with his ideas regarding how the economy needs to be managed and structured. He never minces his words about this and he often passionately defends his views. 

Do I agree with him? It does not matter; what matters to me is what Gigaba’s intention with hiring Malikane is and then publicly attempting to ridicule Malikane for remaining consistent. 

There is one thing I can say with certainty, Malikane is committed to his ideas and he has worked hard in developing some of them. He takes a principled position on a matter and he does not waver in the interests of political expediency. I am not sure if minister Gigaba is committed to using Malikane’s advises or engage genuinely with his ideas. Perhaps there is something at play with Gigaba’s decisions to retain Malikane as an advisor.  

I have seen calls made by the DA that Malikane should be fired as an advisor. That would be a wrong decision. Advisors should not be retained because everyone agrees with their ideas; they are there to advise and give ideas without having to worry about the public mood. 

If people are confused about the direction that treasury is going in, they should take up the issue with minister Gigaba and not with Prof Malikane. 

Prof Malikane has been consistent about his ideas for more than 15 years; and it is not his job to explain why treasury hired him. It is minister Gigaba’s job to clarify his commitment to ideas that would come from Malikane. It’s unfair to chastise Malikane for ideas he has always committed himself to. 

Indeed there are those who have recently found political refuge in ideas such as nationalisation and those are the people who have not shown commitment to such an idea in the past. I just don’t see how this is Malikane’s problem, just to be fair! 

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

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.

Read more on:    chris malikane  |  malusi gigaba  |  economic policies
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