Cope's agenda

2008-12-12 00:00

DRAFT policies announced ahead of this weekend’s launch of the Congress of the People (Cope) raise questions of considerable national importance. Among other issues, the agenda emphasises manufacturing and agriculture in the context of job creation.

One of the many failings of current government policy has been unquestioning acceptance of globalisation. Cope’s policy chief Smuts Ngonyama criticises the outcome as exporting production; but might more vividly have described it as importing unemployment. This is a disastrous situation for a developing nation still emerging from the ravages of apartheid. Not only have many people lost their jobs, but imported goods are at the mercy of a weakened rand.

While short-term remedial measures should be sought, in the long term world trends are unavoidable and Cope is right to isolate education as the crucial sector. This country will rapidly fall behind others unless the crisis in primary and secondary education is addressed and reasonable levels of literacy and numeracy are achieved by the majority of school leavers. The suggestion that compulsory schooling be extended to the age of 16 is thus commendable.

The new party’s affirmation of the inclusive, non-racial vision of Nelson Mandela will be widely welcomed. Cope’s importance lies in the challenge to the centralising, vanguardist tendency of the ruling party and its desire to live in a liberation-movement time warp.

Adoption of a policy of electoral reform that allows direct election of key office bearers could offer the electorate a real chance to make a more meaningful mark on the political landscape. Such change would remove from the ruling party the luxury of the dubious practices of deployment and recall.

But reports have omitted to mention another important idea aired at the November national convention that would address the meltdown in government at all levels. This was the suggestion put forward by Thozamile Botha that no public servant should be allowed to be a party political office bearer exposed to potential conflict of interest. The importance of Cope lies in its willingness to promote policies that strengthen democracy. Independence of the public service should not be forgotten.

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