Max du Preez

Unproductive, incompetent state at heart of SA's problems

2018-08-21 10:08

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Underlying most of South Africa's multitude of problems and challenges is the reality that the state is incapable of executing any plan properly or applying any policies correctly and efficiently.

Unproductive. Lazy. Incompetent. Corrupt. These apply to many of the national departments and state-owned enterprises, but especially to local and some provincial governments.

It is a depressing thought that these entities will be entrusted with implementing something as complex and important as land redistribution through expropriation. 

If the economic and development plans since 1994 had been executed properly, South Africa would today have been a much less unequal society with much less unemployment, homelessness and crime.

It would not be realistic to expect Swiss-like precision and super effectivity, but we are entitled to at least expect civil servants to pitch up every day and do a few hours of work without stealing anything.

Expectations for a better quality of life and opportunities naturally grew over the last two decades, especially among the lower middle class, the workers and the unemployed.

When these expectations could not be met for most citizens, those in power found it very convenient to blame white monopoly capital, white intransigence and racism.

Apartheid was a crime against humanity and its nasty legacies are still very much with us, but it has become just too easy to blame the past to cover up present-day incompetence, laxity and graft.

The ANC's mission was to build a new, fairer and equal society on the ashes of colonialism and apartheid. 

Clever and innovative people have proposed many solutions and the government's own National Development Plan provided an excellent framework. 

There are many examples where big money was thrown at problems with very little result. Like land reform and basic education.
There are a number of senior members of Cabinet, leaders in the ANC and civil servants who know and understand the challenges and the solutions, but they could never really get the rubber on the tar.

It was understandable that the ANC had a tough task when it took over government in 1994 and had to run a sophisticated economy and infrastructure. The party leadership and thousands of its cadres spent the previous decades in exile, and some in the bush.

During apartheid black education was inferior and few young blacks had the opportunity to receive tertiary education, so the pool of skills and experience from which administrators had to be drawn was small.

But it's 24 years later, and not much has changed. In fact, on the level of local government (and more than one province) governance has actually deteriorated.

I was reminded on Twitter yesterday that the ANC made this statement in 1998: "Transformation of the state entails, first and foremost, extending the power of the National Liberation Movement over all levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank and so on."

Cadre deployment. It hasn't changed much since 1998.

We are experiencing record levels of local uprisings in 2018 – "service delivery protests" the radio calls it when they warn us to avoid certain routes.

I agree with political analyst Ralph Mathekga when he says the collapse of municipalities is the biggest risk to our democracy. It will create an institutional vacuum that is very dangerous to democracy, he says, and allow the emergence of lawlessness and chaos as society battles to find ways in which to survive in a situation where government is nowhere to be seen. 

We can shout "New Dawn" as hard and as often as we like, but if we cannot significantly increase the levels of productivity and honesty of our administrators and bureaucrats, the sun will struggle to rise.

Unfortunately, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team will remain hostage to the trade unions in the civil service and the ANC's political culture of entitlement until at least the general election next year. 

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