The time for ideological debates and intellectual masturbation will again come and we can deal with our differences then, but not now, writes Gcina Mtengwane
A democracy is not built on the personality of an individual president; it is built on the legislation, policies, institutions and mechanisms that make the country work.
With that said, the best intentions of government can be greatly affected by weaknesses in those institutions, and the poor implementation of policies and legislation.
Weaknesses in these institutions and in the implementation of the policies and laws can be traced back to poor programme and project management at provincial and local government levels.
To amplify this, political parties sit for policy conferences to decide their programmes of action should they be elected into national government. However, a country is not run according to the desires of a sitting president.
A president assumes the role of the spearhead in the implementation of the policies that make it into a country’s legislation.
To that end, no party in South Africa had a Covid-19 policy. The pandemic came as a surprise to all of us, including our leaders.
Any measures to mitigate the social and economic implications of Covid-19, therefore, cannot be bound by ideology.
That is where pragmatism comes in. We are in a crisis.
Rather than having debates on -isms – socialism, communism and capitalism – we ought to focus on what will most likely work best in the present situation.
Rather than theoretical questions, we should be asking ourselves what could realistically work.
What can take us out of the Covid-19 pandemic and its social and economic repercussions, especially for the poor in badly resourced communities?
There is a great need to strengthen the provincial and local spheres of government.
The stronger these are, the stronger the implementation of whatever policy stance is taken by government.
A weak local government is tantamount to poor policy implementation. South Africa is hailed for its good policies.
The country has a reputation for having great planners, so much so that, if there was such a thing as a planning world cup, we would certainly make the finals.
If anything, South Africa’s poor execution of its Covid-19 strategy and the alleged corruption associated with the pandemic teaches us three things.
The first, is the urgency to get rid of the tendering system; the second is the importance of a meritocracy; and the third is the importance of pragmatism.
Here is why:
- Tendering is a problem because, in the climate of a pandemic, people are asking themselves how best they can benefit from this crisis instead of how best they can contribute to lasting, cost-effective solutions.
We have people with no special knowledge, no special skills and no special expertise using their proximity to certain politicians to milk this situation. That then spells out the importance of building state capacity.
An education department that does not have the mechanisms to execute the most basic of tasks, such as directly procuring and distributing masks and sanitiser, is extremely weak and vulnerable to corruption.
Sadly, that same department was at some point adamant that it was prepared to receive vulnerable pupils from poor, badly resourced backgrounds back to school amid a raging pandemic.
The principal flaw of the tendering system is that it has widened the income inequality gap in the country and created an elite class of people who produce very little, if anything, and leave out the majority.
A non-producer economy cannot create jobs. A “buy and resell at an inflated price” economy is not sustainable.
- Meritocracy is about putting the most capable people in positions of public responsibility and leadership.
Talent, skills, special knowledge, effort and achievement, rather than wealth, affiliation, race or age, should be the main criteria. The best of us ought to take up the responsibility for the rest of us.
- Pragmatism is important because nobody is an expert in Covid-19 management.
It should therefore not matter if the most well thought-out solutions come from somebody in red, black, yellow or red.
What should matter more is that the idea on the table is the one best suited for the present situation. That idea should be informed by a true interpretation of the problems we find ourselves grappling with.
The time for ideological debates and intellectual masturbation will again come – but this is not it.
It’s certain that the magnitude of our problems would be far less if we did just a few things right.
Mtengwane is a lecturer in the community development programme at the University of the Free State
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