Guest Column

Avoid absurd policy contortions to save face

2018-06-03 11:09
National Assembly during the urgent debate on violence against women and children. (Paul Herman, News24)

National Assembly during the urgent debate on violence against women and children. (Paul Herman, News24)

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The contestation for political relevance in our body politic seems to be premised on the notion of annihilation of one another. This zero-sum game risks fuelling the rising radicalisation and racial polarisation in our society.

Also, denial by some privileged white compatriots of the painful past that defines our present, doesn’t bode well for the imperative for us to advance racial reconciliation, nationhood and prosperity for all.

Let me explain.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the beleaguered party of OR Tambo has lost primacy as an intellectual and moral lodestar. The moral disrobing of the ANC became all but assured with the unflattering depiction of former president Jacob Zuma’s metaphorical spear at a Joburg art gallery.

The galvanising shock of Zuma’s egregious looting of state resources, coupled with the ANC’s apparent imperviousness over wanton malfeasance, spurred voters’ rejection of the party at the last local government polls.

Depending on what transpires in the next 11 months, the pictures and footage from the Independent Electoral Commission’s 2019 national election results announcement centre might not turn out to have the lasting resonance of the 2014 celebratory images for the ANC.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, regarded by many as arguably the most consequential leader after Madiba, has assiduously immersed himself in the task of helping to navigate the ANC and South Africa away from a perilous course.

As he does so, Ramaphosa hardly ever countermands or bypasses his party’s top structures or operates as if his is a government of one. He is constitutionally enjoined to appear before Parliament periodically to account as head of the executive. He seems to take his obligations earnestly and enthusiastically.

It is thus disquieting when some MPs abuse this opportunity to provoke the worst instincts in Ramaphosa, rather than focus on debating pertinent issues.

Pesky behaviour by some opposition party leaders, merely intended to embarrass Ramaphosa, is symptomatic of their endemic contempt for the presidency as an institution and the republic this institution represents.

It appears the DA and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), still trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle that entrenched itself during the Zuma era, seek only to validate their own worst prejudices by provoking Ramaphosa.

Notwithstanding the compulsion and “duty” to gainsay Ramaphosa as they exercise their power and privileges, opposition politicians do not have to behave in a gratuitously disdainful and disrespectful manner towards the president and Parliament.

Without seeking to sacrifice their ideologies, these pesky politicians could try coming across as more considerate towards others, particularly those with whom they disagree. Self-righteousness is rarely attractive and even more rarely rewarded.

The EFF and DA might just be more effective at causing resentment, especially among the very voters they need to unseat the ANC, than winning them over. Inexorably, their conduct serves as racial fodder for populists among us.

It is not by happenstance that race-baiting AfriForum leaders recently went globetrotting with the intention to invite embarrassment and harm to the republic. Rather than expend their energies contributing towards seeking solutions to our deep-seated problems, these well-resourced apartheid apologists in AfriForum intend the international community to unduly demonise and ostracise South Africa.

AfriForum and the DA seem to have a lot in common. Both deny the existence of white privilege. Although the DA disavows the reality of black poverty and the unfair head start in life apartheid conferred on whites, AfriForum fervently disputes the UN resolution declaring apartheid a crime against humanity.

These deplorable postures and denialism serve only to harden attitudes among increasingly restless blacks, who assert that the denouement of the struggle for economic justice is a consequence of political expediency during negotiations for a new political dispensation.

To help turn the rising tide of populism and accelerate much-needed socioeconomic transformation, the ANC could perhaps refrain from pursuing populist policies, particularly when it is apparent that implementation thereof would be impracticable.

For instance, it is patently clear that government can’t expropriate, without compensation, mortgaged land. To try to do this would be tantamount to nationalising banks’ assets, something fraught with dire consequences. This would also imperil government’s plans to raise much-needed new foreign direct investments.

To second-guess this, government might be compelled to exempt mortgaged land and property, something equally ominous.

It is understandable, in fact more desirable, that the ANC unashamedly maintains its pre-Nasrec land policies rather than tries to outflank the EFF.

Otherwise, government must stick to invoking the bogeyman of “amorphous markets”, threats to food security or any of the other caveats neatly tucked into the ANC’s impracticable Nasrec land resolution.

It is a sad indictment on the ANC that section 25 of the Constitution has not been sufficiently tested. In fact, years ago government itself regrettably abandoned a potentially precedent-setting land expropriation case at the doorsteps of the apex court.

It is for this reason that most legal pundits argue that until the available land expropriation regimes are explored to the limits, it would be ill-advised to amend the Constitution.

Thus, land summits purportedly “to discuss modalities of implementation of expropriation without compensation” are clearly intended to placate the “Nasrec-wounded” in the ANC. It appears that ANC leaders, using land summits as “inconvenient-policy” release valves, seek a “get-out-of-jail” card to avoid certain backlash.

Whichever way ANC land summits conclude, it is inescapable that the party is at a crossroads.

In earnest the ANC must be prepared to risk yielding some electoral support to the EFF on this issue, rather than engage in absurd policy contortions as it tries to save face.

Lest we forget, the ANC is not completely out of the woods with voters, especially in Gauteng. The party still needs to regain lost faith particularly with those of its longstanding supporters who voted for opposition parties in 2016.

The good news for Ramaphosa is that, despite the mess he has inherited and the tricky terrain he must still navigate, he is currently polling favourably.

This contrasts sharply with ANC internal polling insights that suggest the party will hobble in in 2019.

The “Ramaphosa effect”, if it endures, could provide a crucial firewall between voter disapproval of the ANC and the choices to be made at the ballot box.

Another encouraging development for the ANC is that the DA is battling internecine discord, including mismanagement of relationships with political allies, which distract it from focusing on 2019. Swirling rumours that the party could soon be headed for a split also add to the DA’s woes.

Meanwhile, the ANC seemingly needs constant reminding that it is the incumbent governing party. As such, it has no business trying to outwit others on populist stakes.

The ANC must seek to detoxify vexing issues and offer a vision rooted in reality. That may seem an unrealistic expectation, but history instructs us that double-speaking or raising unrealistic expectations is undesirable.

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