Democracy, meritocracy and pragmatism in SA’s Covid-19 battle

South Africa is hailed as a country with good policies. It has a reputation of having great planners so much that if there was a planning world cup, we would certainly make the finals. Picture: iStock/ utah778
South Africa is hailed as a country with good policies. It has a reputation of having great planners so much that if there was a planning world cup, we would certainly make the finals. Picture: iStock/ utah778

VOICES


A democracy is not built on the personality of the president at a given time. It is built on the legislation, policies, institutions and mechanisms in those institutions.

That said, the best intentions of government can be affected by weaknesses in those institutions and the poor implementation of policies and legislation.

These weaknesses can be traced to poor programme and project management at provincial and local government levels.

To amplify this, parties sit for policy conferences to decide the programme of action should the party come into national government. However, a country is not run according to the individual desires of a sitting president.

That individual’s role is to spearhead the implementation of policies that are part of the legislation.

To that end, no party had a policy on the Covid-19 coronavirus. The pandemic surprised the rest of us.

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 debates on –isms – socialism, communism, capitalism and even Mtengwanism – we ought to focus on what works for the present situation.

We are in a crisis. Rather than debates on –isms – socialism, communism, capitalism and even Mtengwanism – we ought to focus on what works for the present situation

Rather than theocratical questions, we should be asking ourselves what works from a realistic perspective.

What can take us out of the Covid-19 pandemic and its social and economic repercussions, especially for the poor in low-resourced communities?

There is a great need to strengthen the provincial and local strata of government. The stronger those levels are, the stronger the implementation of government policies.

A weak local government is tantamount to poor policy implementation.

South Africa is hailed as a country with good policies. It has a reputation of having great planners so much that if there was 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 looting of solidarity fund teaches us three things.

First, there is an urgency to get rid of the tendering system, second the importance of a meritocracy, and third the importance of pragmatism.

Here is why:

1. Tendering is a problem because during a pandemic, people are asking themselves how best they can benefit instead of how best they can contribute to lasting, cost-effective solutions.

We have people with no special knowledge, no special skill and no special expertise using their proximity to politicians to selfishly milk this situation to their benefit. That’s why it’s important to build state capacity.

A basic education department that does not have the mechanisms to execute the most basic tasks such as directly procuring and distributing masks and sanitisers is extremely weak and vulnerable to corruption.

Read: Tito Mboweni resuscitates the myth of a ‘good story to tell’

The saddening part is that same department was at some point adamant it was ready to receive vulnerable pupils poorly resourced backgrounds during this pandemic.

The principal flaw of the tendering system is that it has widened income inequality and created an elite class of people who produce very little and left out the majority.

A non-producer economy cannot create jobs. A “buy and resell at an inflated price” economy is no sustainable economy.

2. 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 responsibility for the rest of us.

3. Pragmatism is important because nobody is an expert in Corvid-19 management. It should therefore not matter if the most well thought solutions come from somebody in red, black, yellow, blue or red.

What should matter more is that the idea on the table is the one best suited for the situation and is informed by a true interpretation of the problems we find ourselves grappling with.

We have people with no special knowledge, no special skill and no special expertise using their proximity to politicians to selfishly milk this situation to their benefit. That’s why it’s important to build state capacity

The time for ideological debates and intellectual masturbation will again come – this is not it.

I try my best to shy away from oversimplifying complex issues. I, however, know for certain that the magnitude of our problems would be way 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, QwaQwa campus. He writes in his personal capacity


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