The current regime’s politicians seem to have become experts in dreaming up, canvassing and lobbying for policies; I just wish that they would expand a fraction of that energy on the implementation of such policies. Should they implement such policies, South African citizens would see a better service delivery and an improved quality of life.
I was there in 1993, in the dawn of democracy, when the most critical policy of all was signed up by the then government of the day (National Party) and the potential new rulers (the ANC and its tripartite alliance). I am talking about the agreement that steered in the elections and ultimately democracy; this policy was followed by the constitution of the land. Not knowing much about politics then, one thought, hoped and prayed that once a new regime is in power, more time and effort will be spent on improving the lives of the majority. As it turns out, this is still a pipe dream to this day, for a vast majority of our people; that is really sad, and it is also unforgiveable to our politicians.
Over the years, I have seen how regimes changed hands from one president-plus-cabinet to another, which is legally and democratically sound. However, with that change, I also noticed how most policies from a previous dispensation almost always get to be reviewed or abandoned by the new dispensation before much could be done on it. My problem with this approach is that so far every new policy that came in was elaborating the same issues as the previous policy, with a few different semantics and some rearrangement of concepts so that the layout looks different to the previous policy. Needless to say, the money spend on the drafting of such policies, the effort, the time and all other resources spent generally renders them a costly exercise to the tax payer.
Mandela’s regime came up with the RDP policy, which for all intends and purposes was a policy full of hope for the masses. This policy was formulated by the people and drawn up with inspiration from the ANC’s Freedom Charter. Of course it had a few gaps in it, what policy in the world doesn’t? The economic realities of the South African landscape were not clear to those who participated in the drawing up of the policy.
Also, the people that drew the policy were not technically or economically savvy per se, they were not experts in drawing up government policy or governing a country for that matter. They were a bunch of literate individuals, consulting with the masses on the ground to formulate a plan that was meant to steer the country in the right direction.
One of the six principles of the RDP was to link growth, development, reconstruction, redistribution and reconciliation into a 'unified program'. On the face of it, the RDP was a fairy executable program that required some adjustments as we go along, to fill the gaps we identify and draw additional policies for continuity. That is what the whole country and the world thought.
Implementation of the RDP program was a dismal failure in my opinion, not because it was a poor policy, but because the government lacked the capacity to implement it. RDP staff lacked proper implementation skills, therefore huge backlogs in providing access to basic services as defined in the RDP occurred. Eventually the RDP operation was included in mainstream government institutions, with the belief that the program will be implemented better.
Fast forward five years later, along came Thabo Mbeki and his regime, who, for some reason decided to come up with a new policy, instead of pursuing the RDP policy already in place. And that is how GEAR was born in 1996. Apparently there was panic during those times because the economy was receiving a hammering from unforeseen external factors; for one, the rand crashed against the dollar and the South African economy was on a downslide. Then, Trevor Manuel (minister of finance at the time) tabled this policy as a non-negotiable, the primary focus of which was economic growth.
The GEAR policy, contrary to the RDP program, was drawn by 17 ‘experts’ drawn across the spectrum. It signalled a definite shift in economic policy and was welcomed by some, however it was criticised by some members of the tripartite alliance (e.g. COSATU and the SACP); their main contention was that there is no material difference between the RDP program and GEAR. Comparing the two policies closely, I seriously agree with them; I think that there was no real reason for the RDP program to be abandoned.
In 2006, still in Thabo Mbeki’s regime, another policy was drafted and adopted, AsgiSA; the primary focus of which was to reduce unemployment and poverty for South African citizens. The then minister of finance (Trevor Manuel) was involved and he was leading the team of collaborators that were mandated to the drawing this program. This program was duped not to be a government program, but rather a program resulting from a consultative approach with all economic stakeholders (including the masses).
Again, this was an elaboration exercise on the concept of economic growth, which was touched on in the RDP program as well; maybe there was less detail in the RDP program or in GEAR but I still can’t figure out why the programs had to be stand alone and not link back to the work that was carried out through previous programs.
Fast forward to 2007, when Thabo Mbeki was ousted out of power and the country inherited another president, Jacob Zuma (the worst inheritance of all in my books). Now he is an epitome of the saying that “little knowledge is dangerous”. So, for five years, the government was fiddling around, executing very little of its mandate; corruption increased to its all-time high, a culture of self-enrichment in public service institutions became more visible, tendrepreneurship took a turn for the worst in terms of quality of service and service delivery to South African citizens has now dropped to the lowest levels imaginable (if the service delivery protests and complaints by ordinary citizens are anything to go by).
In the meantime, while everyone is faffing around, the income distribution gap between the rich and the poor (Gini Index) grew and keeps growing; South Africa is one of the countries with the highest Gini Index ratings for a long time now, sitting at 63.1 in 2009 according to the data obtained from the World Bank. South African citizens have labelled this phenomenon “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
The year is 2013 and we see the birth of yet another policy or program, the National Development Plan (NDP); from the government whose president a lot of South Africans would love to hate. The plan, as delivered by a team of 26 people in 18 months, who were led by none other than minister in the presidency, Trevor Manuel, focuses primarily on economic growth and development; after all, if the economy does not grow, life as we know it will deteriorate to the worst possible state imaginable. Who wants that? Curiously though, the logic of this plan is similar to the RDP program; the ultimate objective of this program is to improve the lives of all South Africans.
The plan has just been unveiled but a section of the working class, in the form of NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers), is already criticising it. They claim that the policy is not ‘working-class oriented’ and seems to have been copied from a DA policy. Chances are this plan will be abandoned the day a new president takes the seat.
The moral of the story:
I am not against politicians making policy, if that policy is aimed at improving the lives of South African citizens; also that policy has to be consistent and should link back to a policy that is existing. I am against policy making becoming the sole point of focus, at the expense of execution. Our politicians spend a huge effort and financial resources on policy making, while the masses sit waiting for better service delivery.
In my opinion, this policy writing drive is motivated by political ego’s of these leaders, who are all focused on branding a legacy before they leave the public office. I would easily say that they are all competing for a seat and a spotlight in the Mandela table; I wish someone would advise them and help them understand why it is so unnecessary to spend so much time and effort (money) on such pipe dreams.
Until this practice stops, we are all in for a whole pile of policies, with different acronyms and names that spell the same economic challenges we have always experienced, with excellent plans to counter those challenges, however, with no one willing or able to execute those policies, plans or programmes. Enough of the lobbying Mr President, the nation is hungry for real action.
For me, an effective solution to this little but expensive ego-driven problem is a reform to the current electoral policy. Let’s put in place a mechanism that will ensure that politicians take accountability to the voters and not to a political party, from the local councillor all the way up to the president. Until the point where politicians are directly accountable to the people that put them in government, rather than a political party, politicians will spend all their time on the easiest part of their tasks, which is lobbying for new policies.
If this carries on, we run the risk of being a country with the most regulated political and economic environment, with a widening income distribution gap between the rich and the poor. Frankly, I think we are already there; but it is never too late to do something about it.
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