Wise up on SA politics

SA Politics Unspun, by Stephen Grootes

I SEE business books as tools, sources of information and practices that I can use in my business and in my consulting practice. I mention this because I bought Stephen Grootes’ book for my general reading and not for business purposes.

I have a high regard for Grootes. Whenever I come across an article he has written, I read it with interest. He is insightful, informed and extremely smart.

By the time I finished reading this very accessible book, I was convinced its subject matter should be known by all South African business people.

Political decisions impact on the context in which all businesses operate. As such, the more one understands about the politics of the country, the better the quality of decisions one can make.

Two levels of understanding are required. The first is the processes and vehicles through which our country is governed. The second is the positions, competency and conduct of the major players in this arena. Without a grasp of both these levels of understanding, business decisions cannot be well informed.

Many business people appear to be operating as if politics is for professional politicians and they can function effectively with only a casual political awareness. I bring this book to your attention, because that is a dangerous delusion.

Political decisions affect our economy, positively or negatively, and the economy affects every business positively or negatively. I suspect that the general lack of interest in the politics of our country is a function of its bewildering complexity and general lack of opacity.

Enter Stephen Grootes.

The book opens with a brief history of South African politics. Despite the brevity, it offers keen insights into the salient areas it touches. The first section explains why the ANC “blames it all on colonialism/apartheid”, and the second part explains why the DA “keeps blaming it all on the ANC”.

There are illustrations and sidebars that add clarity and titbits of information with Grootes’ signature humour and cynicism.

On the illustration of the political history of South Africa pre-1990, he notes the date 1488. This was when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and was proclaimed in apartheid textbooks as "the beginning of SA history". (No human beings lived in South Africa before this date…)

A sidebar on the ANC’s post-democratic record cites a Harvard study that estimates our HIV/Aids policy cost 330 000+ citizens their lives. It quotes Mamphela Ramphele as estimating that R385bn was “stolen from poor people due to corruption to mid-2013".

The complexity of formulating the constitution in 1996 is explained through the compromises that had to be made to build a viable country. The interest groups participating in this process had vastly differing needs and values that needed to be accommodated.

This acclaimed foundational document for the governance of our country is a bulwark against the abuse of citizen's rights, among other weighty matters. As such, all actions that could weaken or change this document should be of concern to all. 

The Judicial Services Commission is the body charged with appointing our judges. Judges not only adjudicate cases, but also pronounce on and interpret the constitution. Their appointments could affect not only the outcome of controversial cases, but also the interpretation of our rights.

This could theoretically affect where, how and with whom you can transact business.

In addition to explaining how the various structures of government work, there are hard-hitting portraits of the cabinet, the premiers and provincial leaders.

Each leader is evaluated according to the “Grootes Power Rating”, a score out of 10 for the power they wield, and a score out of 10 for their moral standing.

High up with the best of political leaders is our minister of finance with an 8 for the power he is able to wield in the country, and an 8 for his moral standing. Our minister of health gets a 7 for the power he wields and a 10 for his moral standing.

At the bottom is the minister of state security, with a moral score of 1.

The relationship between the ANC and its alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, provides useful insights into many of the burning issues we face in the country. Even the fortunes of Vavi become more comprehensible when the power plays within the ANC itself and its reverberations into Cosatu are understood.

A host of other issues are also described, from the prevalance of security motorcades for even minor public servants to the “police rot” that has led to the standing of police dropping to an all-time low.

In the end what makes this book worth reading, even if you believe you have a grasp of the complexity that is South African politics, is Grootes’ views. The tone is informal and the insights sharp.

You will not be filled with hope and enthusiasm for our glorious future when you finish reading this engaging book, but you will be better informed and in a stronger position to make decisions for your business.

Readability:    Light -+--- Serious
Insights:        High -+--- Low
Practica:        High ----+ Low

 - Fin24

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy. Views expressed are his own.

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