Guest Column

The art of broken pieces

2017-07-02 06:11

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Tiego Moseneke

Be wary of those who profess to heal the cracks that mark our country but speak of all else but growth in the economy.

Our country is a gargantuan battle between opposites.

It is a battle, though, that cannot be won, at least in this epoch, by any one of the protagonists without destroying the victor and the vanquished alike.

It is a battle set in circumstances where the protagonists are as complementary as they are contradictory.

Our fortunes and our curses lie side by side, like inseparable lovers in an embrace of lifting passion and heart-wrenching violence.

Our past is complex and twisted.

Our present both an epic triumph and a shameful failure.

Our fragile bowl has been broken too many times. Cracked, scarred and always threatening to fall apart again and again.

Our people have been blessed with an imperfect determination to protect, preserve and repair the bowl like a great kintsugi. They know that our troubled past and our triumph against it, however imperfect, is our very charm. Our scarred kintsugi is more beautiful than the original, because they know that history cannot be undone. All one can do is to repair it with such finesse and mastery, that the repaired item ends up more beautiful than the original.

Sadly, there are those who are as determined to smash our kintsugi. Some because they would rather have the broken pieces to themselves rather that have all of us drink from our imperfect bowl. Others because of the honest but mistaken belief that there is a shimmering new bowl somewhere in the distant mirage that will not have the scars of our painful and twisted history.

Will we use the gold, platinum and silver we have in abundance to restore our broken bowl into a masterpiece more charming, more beautiful than the original piece, or are we going to hanker for the non-existent virgin bowl?

Are we going to fuel the battles between the rich and the poor, between capital and labour, between the landless and the barons, between black and white, between Zulu and Venda into an all-consuming and all-destructive war of attrition which cannot be won by anyone? Or are we going to harness all these, our fault lines, in order to keep our painful history in mind while we take the opportunity to boldly confront and correct the many other things we have failed so woefully at, such as fixing inequality, poverty and joblessness, and nation-building?

Alert and nuanced leadership

I am, as a general rule, suspicious of anybody who professes to (really) love the poor, vulnerable and unemployed in our country but is not obsessed with ensuring that the economy grows, at the very least, at the same rate as the increase in the number of people seeking employment.

Eye with suspicion those who speak of all else except growth in the economy. Be wary of those who do and say things that undermine direct long-term investment in our economy by local and international capital. They often do not (really) care about the poor, vulnerable and unemployed. They are either on a mission of their own or know too little to be entrusted with leadership.

Treat with care and circumspection those who promise to decree prosperity. A growing economy is a prerequisite, albeit insufficient precondition, for prosperity for many. Prosperity for many is a painstaking process that requires a long-term view, consistently sound policy choices, pinpoint execution capacity and crafty leadership. Without these, no amount of grandiose promises will come to anything for the many poor, vulnerable and jobless. The more bombastic the promises of decreed prosperity, the more heightened your circumspection should be.

Similarly, dismiss contemptuously those who do not eyeball the real and urgent need to tackle the structure of our economy to ensure that it does not reproduce our current, mostly racially determined, ownership, control and management patterns.

Step away from those for whom the restructuring of the economy only means that a small select group should be admitted to the ranks of the rich white few or to replace them, instead of opening the floodgates of prosperity to the masses of our people who have been waiting, rather patiently, for too long.

Embrace those who are insightful enough to realise that the holy grail lies in simultaneously and dynamically reconfiguring the architecture of the economy to include the many poor, while driving growth to achieve a reconfigured economy that places the inclusion of the many excluded into dignifying and empowering economic activity at the centre of our developmental agenda.

This is a complex task that requires alert and nuanced leadership. A leadership that can win the confidence of the poor majority in a new era, that places the many poor at the centre of all our endeavours, that is about to begin. A leadership that can win the reprieve and space from the many disaffected poor.

That selfsame leadership must be able to persuade local and international capital that we have a long-term, clear and predictable policy plan to make this, our country, the preferred destination of progressive long-term capital.

Be wary of those who come carrying widely changing policy plans which are untested but are tempting to the ear. Like they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it is probably not true.

It must be a leadership that can persuade labour about our shared need to work with government and capital to progressively increase labour’s share of the value generated on our factory floors while creatively finding ways to increase the number of employed people in our economy.

It must be a leadership that can persuade progressive African and international talent to come and ply their trade, skills and capital in the safety, beauty and hospitality of our country. We are after all internationalists and this can only help the many poor, vulnerable and unemployed.

Be a nation in the first place

We must whip and flagellate ourselves as a society for having made such little progress in changing, fundamentally, the ownership patterns of land in favour of the dispossessed African majority and simultaneously and sharply increasing the productivity of our land, most of which lies fallow, with the active and constructive involvement of the highly developed farming capabilities in the Afrikaner community – as complementary as it is contradictory.

A prerequisite for success for any nation is that it must be a nation in the first place. Nations at war with themselves are always amongst the poorest in the world.

No one who is serious about improving the circumstance of the poor, vulnerable and jobless can simultaneously be hard at work to undo our difficult and disappointingly unsuccessful nation-building project.

Even though some white South Africans continue to refuse to be part of our new nation, our principled commitment to a non-racial future is not a gift to them but to ourselves.

Many of them will come screaming and shouting and begging to be part of our prosperous and happily non-racial future if we, ourselves, do not get infected by their disease.

The greatest revenge against the racists is to restore dignity to all our people, and help them to a prosperous and active life of dignity.

Quite clearly, bombast, threats, seizure of this or that, wildly new policy positions, racially charged rhetoric and left and radical-sounding sound bites of dubious origin and which on close inspection are the work of right-wing Philistines, are way below what the moment requires and our long-suffering poor, vulnerable and jobless deserve.

Visionary, nuanced, thoughtful and strategic leadership with an acute tactical nous and hearts exactly where they should be, is required for this, our epoch.

Recklessness, grandstanding and senseless populism must sit down. History, not of a distant kind, will look upon those who are entrusted with these decisions in the next few days with a smile or a deadly stare-down.

We pray that it will be a smile, so we can return to our desks.

Moseneke is a businessman

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