Clem Sunter

Judgment day for Julius - what next?

2011-11-11 08:47

Clem Sunter

I wrote an article a few months ago called Redirecting Julius. In it, I said that while I admired his popularity among young people and the fact that he had put the issues of poverty, inequality and absence of economic freedom at the centre of the national debate, his recommended solutions were dead-end policies.

Nationalisation would either bankrupt the government if fair value was paid; or lead to a new round of international sanctions if it was not. Land expropriation without compensation would at best introduce deep divisions within our society, and at worst cause civil war. He therefore had to redirect his energy into pursuing the vision of Steve Biko which is summed up in the latter’s statement that handouts do not improve your self-esteem, doing it for yourself does.

I maintained Julius should change to a three-pronged agenda:

- giving young people a decent education in this country so that they have the ability to do their own thing;
- giving young people the entrepreneurial space so that they have the freedom to do their own thing; and
- using pockets of excellence in the black community to give young people the confidence to do their own thing.

After yesterday’s judgment by the NDC, I would give Julius the following additional advice. Don’t take your gloves off and try and fight this judgment. I doubt whether it will be overruled in any way in the appeal process because the NDC has gone to incredible lengths to use the founding principles of the ANC as the context for this judgment. They have been meticulous in following due process. Trying to get the NEC involved as the top decision-making body of the ANC has little chance of success as such intervention could undermine the very discipline and unity that the centre of the ANC is now seeking. It will be seen as a purely political gambit.

Moreover, operating from the sidelines outside the organisation, it will be very difficult for you to get your agenda to become the central debating point at any of the major conferences held by the ANC in 2012 and beyond. This is particularly so given that the National Planning Commission is due to release a proposed economic blueprint for South Africa in the near future. The public have already been invited to participate in the subsequent debate.

Obviously, you may have other woes to contend with in terms of the investigations into your own financial affairs, your trust and tax position. Assuming you can provide satisfactory answers to these questions, what should you do next? I would advise a five year sabbatical from politics during which you find out about the real world, having spent your entire life in the hothouse of the ANC. Now that you will no longer get a monthly salary as a senior official of the party, a good start will be a trip to the recruiting agencies to see what jobs are available in the communications field in the private sector. Maybe you should be looking at joining an organisation involved in promoting social entrepreneurship and actually giving disadvantaged communities a shot at economic freedom.

Sometime during the five years, I would also think a part-time MBA would come in handy so that when you return to politics in your mid-30s, you have the knowledge about how wealth creation really takes place and how an economy should really be run. One of the reasons the world is in such a mess is that politicians in the West have no clue about keeping a sensible set of accounts, the risks of being an entrepreneur and what it takes to be competitive. They have spent their entire lives drawing a public sector salary and pontificating about problems they have never experienced themselves.

So there you are. Treat the judgment as an opportunity to learn about life out there so that when you return, you can be a more effective leader.

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