SA needs a holistic approach to rebuilding its economy; not a piecemeal one - and the rebuilding cannot rely on the shoulders of one man or woman alone; it should be systemic.
Or to put it another way, If SA had more powerful institutions, it wouldn't need to put so much stock in individual people to keep its economy afloat.
Now, just less than a month to the 2019 general elections, there are many conversations about which party is best suited to be given a chance, or another chance; which politician is best positioned to lead such a party and, eventually, the country, and which programs must be invested into and implemented ahead of all the others in order for South Africans to have a sense that the country is irreversibly on the up.
If President Cyril Ramaphosa’s succession of the one whose name shall not be mentioned allowed us a collective sigh of relief, back in 2017 when he took over the reins of his party and again in early 2018, when he got to deliver the State of the Nation Address, the 2019 general elections should allow all voting South Africans an opportunity to take out the only democratic weapon we have and play the role we must in determining what direction our country will take.
'Political South Africa' must never underestimate its part in paving the way for sustainable economic recovery and growth.
More confidence building measures will be needed because many fund managers and other investors are still waiting to see what will happen after the elections, before they can start making longer-term decisions regarding South Africa.
One thing is clear, corporate South Africa has a strange fear of the ANC, but I hear that this was also the case during apartheid, when the National Party was running the show.
Some will make pledges when asked to do so - to give a semblance of renewal and market confidence - and pretend to spend, but the bulk of the money they pledge is either money already budgeted for projects already in their stalled pipeline or funds that will only be made available when there is clarity that something positively irreversible is beginning to happen.
A big chunk of their business relies on government spending and other public sector contracts. So they would rather express their disdain of bad government conduct or policies in the safety of private conversations, in the company they trust.
The cost of corruption
We have seen over the years, and more recently in Alexandra, that diverse communities across the country have to be a component sine qua non of South Africa’s journey to recovery. The ‘still-to-be-fully-quantified’ opportunity cost of state capture and other forms of corruption that have robbed the public purse of more than a trillion rands can be felt in the levels of social unrest at local level.
So, if we connect the high-level dots; state capture and other forms of corruption robbed the state of the resources it needed to deliver services; this robbery included depriving our tax revenue collection service, SARS, of taxes that should have come from many illicit businesses, among others, that, thanks to their political connections, were allowed to get away without paying their dues to the taxman.
Let’s continue connecting the dots: the social unrest at local level sparked the formation of extreme left political groupings that often use race victimhood as bait to attract unemployed, often uneducated, youth, into their folds; race victimhood finds it easier to point a finger at apartheid and white citizens, in general, for their plight, with little attention given to the criminals of our time, criminals who happen to look like their victims, something that seems to make it easier for them to be allowed to get away with their deeds.
Our only hope?
There seems to be a growing and, going by the consistency of its messaging, almost centrally scripted, “vote to strengthen Cyril Ramaphosa” campaign that is gaining traction and confusing a lot of undecided voters ahead of the coming elections.
The central slogan of this campaign seems to go something like “Cyril Ramaphosa is our only hope”. It is unclear whether he is the only hope for the ANC - which would be without any doubt - or for South Africa - which would be very sad indeed for our country. It is a cunningly conceived campaign because it combines some truths with some deceitful claims.
Less discerning voters and those scared stiff of a predicted rise of the EFF or an ANC reliant on an unholy alliance with the EFF will fall for it. To them, the EFF is the “rooi gevaar” of our times. So, it’s “better the ANC we have come to know”, with all its warts and blemishes, than an EFF that has shown all the signs of not being scared of what happened to Zimbabwe, a once thriving regional economy that has been turned into a sad, hopeless, basket case.
When it comes to the Zimbabwean story, the EFF is a fool who, having just experienced a serpent bite someone, walks over to pick-up the same serpent with bare hands. So, those who are scared of what South Africa could be turned into, were the EFF to be given more power, have reason to be scared. In the same vein, they’re correct to deem a Cyril Ramaphosa led-ANC as the devil they might cope better under. But it will be a hard choice to make.
And of course, choosing level-headed Cyril Ramaphosa over an easily emotional and cantankerous Julius Malema is a no-brainer. There is no doubt that Ramaphosa is a politically attractive man; but definitely not the party he leads. Many of my clever friends, black and white, would rather talk about the good that the “strengthened Ramaphosa” stands to do for South Africa.
If you want to keep their friendship, don’t dare remind them that it is to the ANC, not Ramaphosa, that they would be giving their vote and therefore the ANC that would be strengthened by it; not Ramaphosa. Doing so makes you sound like an unthankful fool who doesn’t know what is good for the country. It takes guts to look my good friends in the eyes and disagree with them on this emotional matter.
They would rather focus the discussion on the good that their minds tell them the “strengthened Ramaphosa” would do; reduce the size of government, get rid of criminals in his party, ensure that only the right people get employed to run our state owned companies and other levers of government, etc.
Going by Ramaphosa’s track-record so far, some of that is possibly true; but not all of it. And that is where the cunning campaign gets tricky and makes your head spin if you fail to ask the right questions. How will a strengthened Ramaphosa get rid of the criminally implicated characters in his party, especially those found in the NEC and Top Six? Which ANC President has ever fired a duly elected Secretary-General? And how in the world would a “strengthened Ramaphosa” ensure that his current deputy never gets to become president, with a strengthened ANC?
Even if strengthening Ramaphosa were possible, which I doubt it is when one considers the current power dynamics in the ANC, our electoral system, and what the ANC has become in recent years, it would be foolhardy for South Africans to make the fate of such a lovely country depend on the goodwill of one man.
To use Barack Obama’s words, South Africa needs strong, independent, democratic institutions, not strong men. Such institutions, buttressed by an unassailable system of checks and balances, must be led by ethical men and women of substance.
That is what we should be working towards if we want to recover economically from the madness of our recent past. Strengthening the hand of the same political formation that got us into the mess cannot be the right way to go.