Max du Preez

Only unpopular decisions will lead SA out of Zuma ruins

2018-11-13 08:28
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: AFP)

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Unemployment and inequality feed populism and ethnic nationalism, but instant solutions and socialist dreams can only make it worse in the longer term, writes Max du Preez.

Right now, President Cyril Ramaphosa is South Africa's best hope to stop the epidemic of cheap populism in our political culture. But that can only happen if his party achieves a convincing victory in next year's election.

Ramaphosa may have many shortcomings, but we have enough reason to accept that he is committed to lift our national ethos from the gutter, to restore political accountability and the rule of law and to improve the quality of life of citizens across the spectrum.

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It will be a tough task. The Zuma years corrupted our body politic and bent the trajectory of political and economic development sharply downwards.

But most of all, Zuma brought us an era of cheap populism, identity politics, narrow nationalism and post-truth that will complicate Ramaphosa's normalisation project.

Just as Zuma's star was beginning to wane, his political offspring, Julius Malema, became more prominent and, with the help of the media, put populism on the national menu as the main meal.

The EFF rages at the ANC, but in reality it is still acting as the de facto Youth League, awaiting the moment of return to the mother body. Its influence on the ANC's political culture is obvious.

The EFF's social media army spits fire when anyone points it out, but in terms of political style Malema and his fellow EFF leaders are becoming more and more like Donald Trump: a total disregard for truth and facts, appealing to the base instincts of voters, quick with threats and intimidation, a deep-seated hatred of the media and unashamedly nationalist.

The dynamic young French president, Emmanuel Macron, is one of the European leaders threatened by populism and nationalist politics. He admitted this in a weekend interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria and explained his survival strategy.

Macron realises that his popularity among the French is very low right now, but he says he has five years before the next election and will only then be judged on what he has achieved.

He says unemployment and weak economic growth are fertile ground for populism. He is going to make unpopular decisions to make the economy more competitive and streamlined. His targets are excessive regulation, counter-productive labour legislation, a reluctance to modernise and improved education and skills training.

Macron says his challenge is to continuously communicate and explain his vision of the transformation of France to his voters.

He believes in a market economy, but equally strongly in social justice. He is a proponent of multimateralism and international cooperation, but doesn't want the global markets to determine France's future.

During a speech at the Armistice Day celebrations on Sunday, Macron said in a clear reference to Trump that nationalism was a betrayal of patriotism. Patriotism is based on values.

And yet, he indicated during his interview, he found common ground with populists when it comes to national pride, cultural development and sovereignty.

I was hoping Ramaphosa was also listening to the Macron interview. Strong and brave leadership is necessary to prepare the ground for economic growth and an efficient state in South Africa. In the process unpopular decisions are inevitable.

Unemployment and inequality feed populism and ethnic nationalism, but instant solutions and socialist dreams can only make it worse in the longer term.

Education and skills training are critically important. The end vision of a new model for South Africa should be communicated and explained to citizens properly and continuously.

The serious corruption and abuse of power of the Zuma years now being exposed so dramatically before the Zondo and Nugent commissions of inquiry assist Ramaphosa to be able to say with credibility: that is what Zuma, the so-called champion of black emancipation who brought you radical economic transformation and white monopoly capital, really stood for. That is what populism gets you.

Ramaphosa's decree at the investment conference that the insults to business people in South Africa as white monopoly capital should end, was a risky but brave and helpful thing to say. It is impossible to inject new energy into the economy without the private sector.

It appears as if Ramaphosa has found a good partner in his rather unorthodox Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, to present South Africans with a new, realistic scenario.

Together they will promote black empowerment and economic transformation, but with the eye on inclusive economic growth rather than simply redistribution, and on rebuilding the country on the ruins left by Zuma.

The populists will scream and threaten, but after next year's election Team Ramaphosa has five years to get South Africa back to work and to make the country a better place for all on a sustainable basis.

But if the ANC dips under 50% or even scrapes in just over half the votes next year, the populists will have a field day and the dream of a better life for all will once more be deferred.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    anc  |  eff  |  emmanuel ­macron  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  jacob zuma  |  julius malema  |  france  |  corruption  |  populism
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