On the 5th of February, The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) organised a debate at the prestigious Johannesburg Country Club in Auckland Park for the representatives of the six major political parties to present their policies to improve the business and economic landscape of South Africa. The parties represented were the DA, COPE, ACDP, IFP and the UDM. It may or may not be surprising that the current ruling party failed to send a representative.
Members of SACCI and their guests were invited to the debate, consisting mostly of well educated business-minded individuals. I am writing this article not as a political expert, but as the average well educated layman to the South African political landscape. Each candidate was given 10 minutes to convince the audience why we should vote for their party. They all gave excellent presentation and clearly pointed out all the problems that the current ruling party is causing or have failed to fix since they came into power. However, on reflection at the end of the debate I felt that none of them really gave any particularly convincing argument as to why I should vote for them. Especially not as a person living in Gauteng – South Africa’s largest contributor to the National GDP, the Province which attracted the vast majority of voters after KZN in 2009 (24% and 20% respectively of 17.68 million voters), as well as the Province the DA is dedicating the majority of their efforts in this election to win.
Each candidate gave the expected dismal statistics indicative of the breakdown of South Africa since President Zuma came into power – the economy is reversing. There are 1.4 million more people unemployed, bringing the total to about 7 million people. SA has gone from a net food exporter to a net food importer, a significant factor behind the national debt reaching a record high of 6% of the GDP, after a large percentage of it was cleared under Mbeki. SA’s economic growth rate has dropped to 3.6% – on par with developed countries, when as a developing country we should have a growth rate of between 5 and 7%. Government corruption is estimated to be between 25 and 30 billion Rands per year, only 8% of the black population is actually benefiting from BEE, strike action is increasing and is deterring foreign investment, etc. And then each of them gave their emotive and believable declaration of what their party would do to improve this situation. They would reduce the red tape and costs to improve the success of small businesses; reimburse training costs to employers; ensure proper implementation of existing positive polices such BEE and the NDP; fight corruption and nepotism and ensure tenders are awarded to the best skilled and equipped applicant. And of course, improve the quality of education – identified by each candidate as one of the most critical issues facing South Africa today.
At the end of the 5th speaker I had a tragic realisation that if the ruling party had sent a representative that he or she would probably state many of the same problems and give many of the same promises to fix them. Excluding only who’s to blame.
I am sure that all of the delegates in that room are well aware that the current education and economic policies need to be drastically improved. And I am sure that I was not the only person who wanted to know how they planned to tackle these massive challenges. I am desperate for any party to stand up and say that they are capable of taking my country away from the hands of the people I see as doing more harm than good, and reversing the degradation that is spiraling out of control. Last week I found out that amendments have been made to the Health Act which will actively prevent thousands of health workers and volunteers from helping some of the South African people in greatest need.
Maybe 10 minutes wasn’t enough for them to get into the details of how. Maybe I feel like an entitled Gautie. But I wanted to know how they are going to deal with the issues that impact the economy I interact with, like crime and badly managed traffic and road accidents during peak hours. Are Gauteng crime levels and millions of people sitting in traffic for 2 to 3 hours of their day not considered to be significant enough impacts on the economic and business landscape of South Africa to deserve mention? Do these factors not impact access to education and the success businesses, big and small? An integrated and cost-effective public transport system is seen as the backbone of well functioning overseas economies. However the closest any of the candidates came to discussing the need to improve public transport was a generalised commitment to improve infrastructures nation-wide. The current ruling party has also numerously stated these commitments. South Africa has already inherited the best infrastructure in Africa. Surely what is needed now is better strategic spending to improve its efficiency? I want to know that at least one of these parties is aware of the massive improvement a dependable public transport system would provide to Gauteng’s economic, educational and social issues, as well as the rest of the country.
My decision of who to vote for would be easier if one of the parties stood up said more than what all the other parties are saying, and are clearer and more specific about what they can realistically do if I give them my vote. But at the end of the day, even if none of them have any specific plans of what needs to be done first to begin remediating what is currently a very sorry state of affairs, I have been convinced that none of them will do any further harm to this country, unlike the current ruling party. It is also reassuring that in one way or another all of the opposition parties support each other. The South African people are considered world-wide as being some of the most motivated and caring. We have ‘chutzpah’. Business in South Africa has a reputation of having a very good social conscience. If a new party does little more than to allow the people of this country to simply do what they can to help their own country, it will be a better place.