SA’s failed leadership has been its downfall

2017-12-17 06:12
(Phill Magakoe, AFP)

(Phill Magakoe, AFP)

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The reality we need to accept and understand is that on the eve of the transition in 1994, the new democratic state had inherited the most profound structural and racial inequalities imaginable. This presented a formidable and complex democratic transformation project and development challenge for the incoming government.

There is consensus, however, that the ANC government’s policy choices and responses reflected a clear understanding of the enormity of this. The focus on reducing the crippling debt inherited from a bankrupt apartheid state was successful and provided much-needed fiscal space for resources to be allocated to poverty alleviation and other pressing social needs. Our successful social welfare programme required disciplined fiscal consolidation.

The governing party was morally compelled to conceive and implement development plans that would realise the society envisaged in our Constitution and entrench a democratic value system and culture. We managed to conceive such plans. But they had mixed success, as history has shown. The successful transformation of the SA Revenue Service (Sars) into a capable and efficient revenue collection entity is a case in point.

To successfully implement a development plan, the state must be capable, efficient and accountable. There must be a unifying leadership to ensure the necessary resources are in place. But, more critically, there must be a champion at the top, with the requisite political charisma and gravitas to oversee its implementation.

But something egregious and deleterious seems to have happened since 2009. The country has been on an accelerating regression curve that has resulted in a junk economy. The economy has been in decline against consistently rising population growth. We are getting poorer on a per capita basis. An even more ominous development is the haemorrhaging at Sars, that has resulted in the current estimated revenue shortfall of R50bn. This is likely to hit R60bn by the end of the financial year. We are consistently failing to achieve the promise of a better life for all as poverty and inequality are on the rise.

Zuma’s reckless actions

Why have we been regressing when our peer countries are recording growth rates that exceed 3%? The often-stated response is that the global context that followed the 2008 financial crisis imposed conditions beyond our control that affected us negatively. But the real truth lies somewhere else.

We have had a failed political leadership in the past 10 years. The policy plans that were enthusiastically sold to us have not materialised because all the key elements required for the successful execution of development project plans cited above are absent.

We promised to build a caring developmental state, as elaborated in most policy documents of the governing party, but failed to build strong and capable institutions and state-owned entities critical to its achievement.

The extremely worrying thing about this weakness is that the highest political office is accused of leading efforts to undermine the achievement of a capable state. The latest revelations of corruption provide incontestable evidence of this subversive effort from that office. What seems to have been successfully attained is a parallel patrimonial state designed to serve the interests of the crony elite.

The Auditor-General has provided ample evidence of an increasing lack of accountability at all levels of government. The worst of this trend has been exposed by the state capture inquiry by Parliament’s public enterprises committee. This merely confirmed what the previous Public Protector exposed, but we are yet to see action by law enforcement agencies that have been systematically de-fanged.

The other critical element for successful execution of a development plan is a unifying leadership. Here again, we have seen massive failure. There is no consensus as to what we should focus on as a nation to achieve minimum success with the democratic project of reversing the apartheid legacy. To make it worse, there is no coherence on policy priorities as the ANC has failed dismally to transcend the ideological divide in its alliance.

What is indisputable is that the leadership of Jacob Zuma has wrecked whatever unity ever existed. The alliance is in disarray, and Zuma is at the centre of this chaos.

We have failed to provide the final element, a champion to provide oversight and guidance. None of the current growth plans has credible and focused political leadership.

The conclusion is clear: the political leadership in the past 10 years has failed South Africans. Zuma’s reckless actions can reasonably be assumed to have been calculated to undermine the constitutional state to benefit a parallel shadow state designed to serve the interests of a select few.

As the ANC branch delegates and other leaders converge for their elective conference, it is critical that they reflect on the damage that has been done by not electing selfless and ethical leaders with integrity and strategic foresight.

The future of South Africa depends on whether the elected leaders embrace the formula for successful execution of the development plan at the centre of this article.

However, what divides the camps of the two leading contenders, Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is capable of splitting the party. Yet the people have been waiting in hope for the past 10 years, under an ANC-led government and leadership that clearly lacks a discernible consciousness for social justice.

- Matsohi is a strategy consultant at Lenomo Advisory

Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  politics

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