Recent turmoil in SA parliament symptomatic of shallow politicking!

2015-02-17 15:08

South Africa has a choice about the type of politics it wants to conduct. That is to enjoy the shallow waters of the proverbial ‘political’ sea where one can splash each other with water, run around and play all kinds of games, run to mom and dad if the frolicking gets to tough, but best of all building sand castles to be washed away later by the incoming tide. The other option is to learn how to swim and go for the deep waters where one can explore the depths of the oceans, catch some fish, do surfing or even best provide a professional service such as life guarding.

The recent turmoil in parliament sadly though is symptomatic of a culture of ‘shallow water’ or trivial politicking that has replaced the culture of ‘deep water’ or visionary politicking that is fuelled by the values and ideals of our national constitution.

Not only has the building of ‘sand castles’ become the norm in parliament, but also the most atrocious behaviour and utterances by elected representatives. We have indeed reach a low point where parliament is beset by hooliganism, physical manhandling and removal of parliamentarians, disrespect for parliamentarian rules and codes of conduct, plain rudeness, barbaric behaviour and blatant disrespect for the electorate through the disregard of reports on the abuse of tax payers money by those implicated. This is ‘shallow water’ or trivial politicking at best.

Swimming the ‘deep waters’ of politics requires a certain degree of physical and mental fitness, commitment to a day after day exercise routine, a competitive streak and ‘can win’ attitude, but most of all an acute awareness of the dangers that lurk in the ‘deep waters’ of the proverbial ‘political’ sea. In other words not only a high level of accountability to ensure the safety of oneself, but also to the loved ones who are waiting anxiously on one’s safe return. Arriving safely back on shore must therefore hold tremendous satisfaction, self-pride and reward for the few who embark on such a mission.

Playing in the ‘shallow waters’ requires none of the above and our current political discourse and culture is indicative of just that. No real commitment to address the fundamentals that drives economic growth which is instrumental in addressing the issue of social justice. No in-depth engagement with those who are instrumental in driving economic growth. No real development of a local and national environment conducive for investment and economic expansion. No real effort to hold political office bearers to account and to clamp down on corruption and lack of service delivery.  Shallow water easily gets murky, so does 'shallow' politics.

Not only does it pose a serious threat to our constitutional democracy, but it contaminates every political layer of society. Such contamination puts us on a slippery slope to civil conflict and economic hardship. South Africa is therefore in serious need of ‘deep water’ political and socio-economic leadership to lead and to inspire our people to greater heights and depths. And it is needed right at the top.

At this level we need visionary and servant statesmanship that is committed to the values and ideals of our national constitution. A good reference in this regard is the annual state of the nation address which in essence is a visionary statement of an ideal future and which reflects on the current political and socio-economic status of the nation. In the presence of all and sunder one would expect an honest and comprehensive assessment of the nation's achievements, but more so of the socio-economic challenges and solutions required.

More importantly though the state of the nation address serves as a template for all spheres of government and influences the thoughts, words, actions, habits, values at and ultimate destiny of local, provincial, national government and all related state owned enterprises. Einstein reminds us time and again that 'setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means'. An undergirding principle well worth to bear in mind when delivering the state of the nation address.

One would therefore have expected that it would have dealt first and foremost with the huge amount of state resources spend on the state president’s private residence. This credibility and integrity of the highest office of the land is in serious jeopardy and a clear and honest pronouncement and a willingness to accept accountability could have avoided the embarrassing state of affairs at the opening of parliament recently.

Another great concern is the decaying state of the South African economy. Fortunately some issues in this regard were comprehensively addressed, but at a symptomatic level.

The merit of the nine point economic plan and actions aimed at resolving the energy challenge, revitalizing agriculture and the agro-processing value chain, advancing beneficiation or adding value to our mineral wealth, more effective implementation of a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan, encouraging private sector investment, moderating workplace conflict, unlocking the potential of SMMEs, cooperatives, township and rural enterprises, state reform and boosting the role of state owned companies, infrastructure and broadband roll out, water, sanitation and transport infrastructure as well as operation Phakisa aimed at growing the ocean economy and other sectors cannot be disputed.

However these are ‘shallow water’ issues that will come up year after in some form or another to be promoted as the panacea for the economic challenges we face. However it does not address the fundamental issues that relates to the balance of annual produce and consumption which is instrumental in terms of bringing about economic prosperity or decay and the undergirding ideology that drives it.

In this regard Adam Smith in his book ‘Wealth of  Nations’ wrote this invaluable truth more than a century ago: ‘If the exchangeable value of the annual produce exceeds that of the annual consumption, the capital of the society must annually increase in proportion to the excess. The society in this case lives within its revenue, and that what is annually saved out of its revenue, is naturally added to its capital, and employed so as to increase still further the annual produce. If the exchangeable value of the annual produce, on the contrary, falls short of the annual consumption, the capital of society must annually decay in proportion to this deficiency. The expense of the society in this case exceeds its revenue, and necessarily encroaches upon its capital. Its capital, therefore, must necessarily decay, and together with it, the exchangeable value of the annual produce of its industry.’

Indeed a ‘deep water’ economic truth that requires much deeper thought and engagement and ultimately choosing as a nation the most pragmatic economic and political ideology. We are indeed at a cross road given the current forecasted GDP growth of 1.4%, the low return by state owned enterprises on assets, the continuous call for more and more tax payers’ money to bail them out, high unemployment, attracting capital inflows and real investment, state debt, infrastructure and service roll-out as well as our budget and current account deficit.

A choice therefore has to be made. Between frolicking in the shallow water or swimming in the deep sea. Between hooliganism and self-enrichment or setting an example and fulfilling the needs of civil society. Between honest, caring and visionary political and business leadership or perpetuating corruption and self-enrichment.

Between creating a pro-business policy environment or fostering anti-business sentiments. Between building sandcastles to be washed away when the tide rolls in or building infrastructure conducive for people and economic development. Between increasing South Africa’s annual produce through the employment of our own as well as foreign capital or irresponsible consumption, capital decay and debt.

Ultimately it boils down to the ‘shallow water’ stuff  - rigid ideologism, radicalism and racial division versus the ‘deep water’ stuff - flexible pragmatism, innovation and social cohesion. The choice is simple.

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