South Africa is broken and political parties and the ruling elite continue to exacerbate the decline – in fact benefitting from it, writes Mmusi Maimane.
Ever so often there is a moment in our national discourse wherein South Africans are offered a sobering glimpse into the extent of decay within our body politic.
This is a moment in which those in the political elite demonstrate just how out of touch they are with our substantive challenges and, crucially, that there is no vision or plan in place to build for the future. The past week has presented that moment once again, a moment South Africans cannot afford to ignore.
Consider this fact. It’s the middle of April 2021 and only three South Africans who are not healthcare workers have been vaccinated in protection against Covid-19. The President, his deputy, and a billionaire from Stellenbosch. The rest of us have been relegated to the sidelines, watching as our government makes failure after faux pax in the procurement of vaccines.
There appears to be no sense of urgency or prioritisation in addressing the material reality facing South Africans.
Fifty percent of citizens live in poverty, more than a third are unemployed, our economy is in a skills deficit logjam, crime is rampant, and you just don’t know when the lights are going to be turned off at Eskom. It’s all broken, to put it bluntly and without subtlety. We are seeing no light at the end of this dark tunnel. Instead, political parties and the ruling elite continue to exacerbate the decline – in fact benefitting from it.
Last week’s "moment" was a holistic look at the priorities and agendas of the big political party players. A candid picture of inward-looking, self-serving organisations unfit to lead our country into a better tomorrow.
The ANC spent the entire week focused on battles between a former leader and president, the current leader and president, and its secretary-general. Will Ace step aside? Is Cyril in control? Will Zuma spend a single day behind bars? Why is Cyril praising Zuma, calling him his elder and leader? That is what South Africans heard for an entire week and more.
The DA spent the entire week in internal disarray after a former leader attempted to scapegoat another former for the party’s state of disaster, and in doing so again demonstrated its true colours – and that their race problem is worse now than ever before. Significantly, that the party cannot be trusted when it says the party is for all South Africans.
The EFF, though a in a much quieter week than their counterparts, spent the week driving its agenda to undermine democratic process and postpone the upcoming local government elections. This is particularly telling, because neither of the "big three" political parties have money to run an election campaign.
On a personal level, in reflecting on these developments I truly do lament the loss of the prospect of building a strong, resilient, united country in which we can all work, live, and prosper together. These political organisations are lost causes, led by the "old guard" and engaged in politics of the stomach while South Africa suffers. We are required to dream of a different option, a new way, a fresh start, a roadmap for hope.
Therefore, what does 2030 South Africa look like? We can’t simply carry on for the sake of simplicity with the same vehicle travelling on the same path. We will indeed end up with the same sorry outcomes or potentially worse ones.
So, where to? It begins with citizen-led government. If we are to change the trajectory of the vehicle, the nuts and bolts of the vehicle need a wholescale overhaul. Direct elections of individuals to all spheres of government is the first, most vital step. This means a public servant serves the people, not the political party. This allows decision-making to become localised. Debates in Parliament change from internal political party mudslinging, to being centered on the developmental and aspirational needs of South Africans.
This naturally leads to meaningfully addressing vast disparities between South Africans – in wealth, in access to opportunity and in power dynamics. If our economy is able to grow inclusively, we can make huge strides. And this must be buttressed by a stronger safety net – a justice-based basic income. We must be radically committed to entrepreneurs, supported by a jobs and justice fund privately and publicly administered on equal terms.
Skills for the future must be a central focus. Building a blended education model that allows our young people to compete with the best in the world, while assisting schools and training colleges that have fewer means. I am currently working to create an equity fund that will roll out in schools, allowing the standard of education to increase holistically.
Reforming energy means looking ahead 50 years and then working backwards. Coal power is a player, but not the main player. To better diversify, creating a SADC grid that can incorporate natural resources of gas in Malawi and Mozambique, solar in the Northern Cape and hydropower in Zambia is a real option.
Our economic language must move away from the circular flow of money to a space where we can promote "human prosperity in a flourishing web of life". This demands of us to pay better attention to our ecology for the future, to trade, the capability of the state, the education of our youth, and the safety of our citizens. These require deliberate focus.
In terms of race relations, we must forge ahead with creating a new identity that identifies us as South Africans. We must stop degrading each other, talking past each other and scapegoating each other. It’s not only within the body politic, it’s what happens on the sports field, business, healthcare facilities, and the like. This is a moment we should build on what One South Africa truly looks and feels like.
There is a timeless biblical text that is instructive for a time such as this. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.
We have new wine, let’s build the new wineskins.
- Mmusi Maimane is Chief Activist of the One South Africa Movement.
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