I'm not trying to be president with state capture book – Mcebisi Jonas

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Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas on Monday took on critics who believe his new book "paints a bleak picture" of the South Africa in a bid to advance his own political interests.

Jonas, whose book After Dawn: Hope after State Capture chronicles how the Gupta brothers offered him the position of minister of finance in exchange for R600m, was speaking at the Cape Town Press Club. The book was published last month.

The main focus of the book is the crisis in South Africa's economy, and how it can be turned around. 

"Some people are cynical, thinking I wrote the book because I want to run for president. They say the book paints a bleak picture," said Jonas.

"But don’t confuse bleakness with despair. This is not a book about despair. I paint the bleak picture so we can have a realistic look at how we can have constructive responses."

Populists 'missing the point'

According to Jonas, the only people who seem to have answers in SA at the moment are populists. This is despite their answers being "shallow sometimes, simplistic sometimes and missing the point sometimes," he said.

"Populism is a road to nowhere we cannot take as a country. Just look at Venezuela and Zimbabwe." 

To him it is not as simple as to accuse former president Jacob Zuma of having created all SA’s problems, and expecting President Cyril Ramaphosa to fix them.

"Our problems are more complex than that. We need a national consensus – a bigger idea or national framework," he said. "We need to be obsessed with inclusive growth, having a functional and effective state and good public education."

Asked what he thought of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni's recent economic policy paper, Jonas called for robust, short-term interventions. 

He would like to see a central focus on job creation, including for the unskilled. He would also like to see the potential of SOEs like Eskom be unlocked by creating private sector involvement to break monopolies.

SA's social contract expired

Jonas believes South Africa’s social contract reached its sell-by date by 2008 already. He said to create a form of stability after democracy, the current social contract accommodated SA’s white elite.

At the same time, the new black elite is facing challenges, he added. In his view, their participation in the private sector has not been as successful as it should have been.

According to Jonas, BEE is still delinked from productivity. "We must find a way the connection is established," he said.

The third factor is the change in organised labour in the country, he argued, saying economic decline means the government cannot always sustain the wage increases demanded, which leads to frustrations.

He would like to see SA shifting to a meritocracy where citizens are more active "for good" as he cannot see political parties solving their problems by themselves.

"For the social agreement to be successful, we require sustainable growth, something which we have not had after 2008," said Jonas.

"The state would have had to be more efficient. Political parties, including the ANC, as well as labour unions have become increasingly self-serving and disconnected from the mass base. The worst that can happen is that we get a dictator."

He believes it is clear that contestation in the country will increase. At the same time, he thinks it is unlikely that SA will have a "blow out" like Venezuela, but rather a steady decline. 

"The elites will challenge the system and the poor will challenge the system," he said.

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