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On the outside looking in

27 June 2012, 09:36

I feel like I’m watching a long string of pseudo-jackass videos with the ANC as the lead actor. The big difference is that in Jackass they’re telling you the plan is for things to end badly and then sending slightly insane volunteers to get hurt. In this movie, however, the lead actor is saying the plan is to do good while driving policy and messaging that result in one bad outcome after another.

Sure, bad politics exists everywhere but in advanced economies it’s layered upon a stable commercial base supported by strong & fair policies. And as a result bad politicking can only result in decisions that seem even slightly stupid being publically displayed and those responsible being brought to task. No one ever talks about rewriting a constitution, expropriation of land or nationalization of business in these winning economies. Because frankly, it’s obvious that none of those initiatives can grow an economy, improve education or feed a population. Others have tried and failed any number of times. Sure the stock market crashed a few times - look where it is today. Yes, a few corporations are no longer around but these countries prosper - trash is reliably collected, the lights turn on, kids go to amazing schools and folks are comfortably working towards retirement. Even those in the “blue collar” segment are actually rather well off, as much as they bemoan their status in life. This I have seen for myself.

The things the ANC (and friends) talk about publically are, for the most part, stupid. The broad lack of intellectual & cultural maturity is terrifying with only a few exceptions. For example: every word uttered by the ANCYL leaders, the info bill, second transition, land expropriation, nationalization, proposed changes to the constitution, etc. And the latest is of course the conference focused on policy discussions from which the ANC have assured us miraculous improvements will magically appear. We wait with baited breath. This conference attended by the very people who continue to prove how unqualified they are to run a country every time they open their mouths or make a decision. Again with a few exceptions. Almost every decision or proposal increasingly fractures the economic & (already rickety) cultural framework that exists today. It’s visible to anyone anywhere in the world but seems to go unnoticed by the voting majority. And consider the following: if those public announcements are the best the ANC can select then could you imagine the level of absolute, morose conversation that happens behind closed doors?

As a South African I’m frankly embarrassed when I read publications quoting the ANC and am ever-so-thankful that the Americans around me are so deeply engrossed in continuing to build their most-stable-economy-in-the-world (arguably) to notice. For they would surely laugh derisively. The inability for our leaders to communicate concisely and eloquently certainly shows a lack of language skills but could also imply a number of other shortcomings. The speeches delivered aren’t though provoking, they’re hard to understand and empty. The ability to reason through proposed changes and outcomes is completely absent. It’s shoot from the hip even when no shooting is required.

 A few semi-rhetorical questions:

·       Why does the voting majority, those last classed as disadvantaged more than 18 years ago, not see that the ANC is actively (regardless of published intention) driving a low standard of education? That’s rhetorical. The answer is, of course, that the majority doesn’t have exposure to basic education to draw analytical conclusions as to the destructive nature of the ruling party. The “stupid-fication” (as opposed stupefaction) or suppression of education for the majority is one vital component of maintaining power and guaranteeing votes in near future. For greed is short sighted. In corporate terms, a business which keeps its employees in the dark with regards to its intentions will fail none the less. Employees find out and leave, most before the final curtain. They will seek fulfillment elsewhere. Any excuse by leadership is simply weak and more likely direct admission of guilt.

·      Why does the majority still adhere to primitive tribal strictures that are 1) obviously so culturally and intellectually limiting and 2) directly result in massive resistance to progression & growth? No word for gay or lesbian in certain languages. No word for albino. And as such they simply don’t exist. So many forced to live in closed environments, much like the cultures of the middle east, and restricted by respect born of fear. Or simply by fear. Brainwashing the young so that they may continue making the mistakes of the previous generations. In business terms, where there is no development and appetite for change, or destructive changes are executed by design, a business will shortly cease to exist. People will leave, they will seek fulfillment elsewhere. This component of guaranteeing votes is achieved by classifying certain social groups, topics and progressive thinking as contrary to tradition.

·      Why does the majority believe that the expropriation of land will solve so many completely unrelated issues? Logically, there can be no benefit to this policy. And using Africa as a point of reference: in practice this policy also does not work. Farming is complex, so complex that all but the most shrewd and miserly of famers fail. Frankly, if it were easy then everyone would already be doing it. Those farmers who are successful are naturally or educated business folk who understand how to balance risk with reward, invest wisely and always expect the worst. An obviously good political decision would be to massively subsidize farming – this would create many jobs and increase our national ability to feed our own while increasing exports. Include subsidized farm education and require that today’s farm labour be educated so as to be tomorrow’s farm manager. Or perhaps owner. Somehow the ruling party continues to fail to understand this most simple solution to this most fundamental issue.

·      Why does nationalization sound like a good idea? How could the most progressive country on the African continent ever evolve by applying policy that has resulted in the systematic destruction of every other country (except Botswana)? Why use last place as the basis for improvement? A few European countries, plus Canada and Australia, have successfully socialized aspects of service delivery (medical) but they did that after they’d built a stable economy and had loads of cash in the bank. In business terms, Lean/Six Sigma says that the last thing you do is apply significant change principals to a struggling business. First stabilize, do simple things that produce results and once you’ve achieved predictable delivery start planning for significant change.

By the way, I use the word “stupid-fication” simply because stupefaction implies being struck dumbfounded in a rather quaint and congenial way. This is usually a temporary event whereas the actions of the ANC will deliver a longer term result.

There are many more components and many far more eloquently written articles and papers that one could refer to. However considering only the sum of these four components one ends up with a beautiful recipe for destructive mediocrity. It feels like our ruling party are, by and large severely lacking in basic common sense. However, as we all know - sense isn’t common. It’s based on experience, education, moral integrity, self preservation and cultural awareness to name a few.

Don’t put your hand in the fire, you’ll get burnt. Don’t steal, you’ll get caught. Don’t lie, or make promises you can’t keep. Ignoring something doesn’t mean it doesn’t (or ceases to) exist. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Don’t abuse power. You will likely think of many more phrases that describe basic common sense, probably far more descriptive & applicable than those I’ve noted.

Each time I hear or read a statement by the ever consistent ANCYL or taxi associations, our ministers or political leaders I have the same internal response of “are you effing serious”? With a few exceptions, primarily located in fiduciary policy. It’s a lot like watching that bad movie during which you cringe each time the main actor does something so blatantly stupid. And then you watch it again, for some reason with the same response. And then watch the sequel because you have no choice. What a terrible nightmare.

There are so many smart people in South Africa who could so obviously have huge positive impact on the country - yet they’re ignored for one reason or another or, and this is more likely, simply couldn’t be bothered. Why would the latter be prevalent? Would I put my name forward to help drive change? Sure but first there needs to be visible appetite for change. As things stand, based on the outcomes delivered, there is no desire for positive change. Simply put, positive words are empty unless followed by constructive action at the highest levels of leadership. Until then I shall mitigate risk. Call me a coward if you want. I’ll call it common sense.

And now I shall take a step back and try to look at the bigger picture. I see all of the amazing things being done by South Africans returning home, and those that never left. I’m aware of the (very) slow intellectual and cultural evolution taking place, the desire by most to simply live safe and stable lives. The family and friends I talk to on a weekly basis tell me that there’s nothing that would make them leave, they have everything they want and need. I recognize that the pull I feel will likely never fade. But I am burdened with perspective, weighed down by responsibility for my family and embedded in a socioeconomic environment that throws the challenges lying ahead of South Africa in very stark contrast. To tell the truth I am consumed by the pending decision. I wish simply to follow my heart.

So, “what’s the point of this article” I hear you thinking? Is this just a “bitch session”? To a certain degree, yes. In addition I hope this conveys the passion which I still feel for the country to gave birth to me. By the way, this also reflects the collective views of so many South Africans living abroad that I’ve discussed this with over many, many years. Also, I appreciate this will be not be seen by those in a position to affect change however there may be some in whom this sparks realization? To be fair, as an adult I no longer rely on hope as a driver for change and so I primarily write this as a “stake in the ground” by which I will measure the progress of the country I still call home. These measurements will be the key inputs as I make the final decision on where to hang my hat.

One more thing. Statistically the child of successful parents is more likely to succeed. The opposite is also statistically true. As is the likelihood that the abused will become the abuser. But really, the ultimate decision is ours to make. And soon I will make mine.

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