State Capture: Zuma not the Cause - but the Result!

2016-11-04 12:28

Accountability to civil society has never been big in South Africa. It is

just not the way we do things.

Under the National Party (1948 – 1994) in excess of 90% of the population was precluded from the right to representation and since 1994 a significant and growing minority has been victim to a distorted hegemony based on ethnic and cultural majoritarianism.

In the former it was understandable, albeit indefensible - because a minority white electorate’s interests were protected by the State and that was the brief of its electorate. But since then we are supposed to have been enjoying the fruits democracy in a nation where all are entitled to basic human rights, access to the resources of the nation, and equality before the law.

And yet accountability remains sorely lacking.

It is no new phenomenon. Accountability and a democratic ethos were a false dawn long before the Zuma epidemic that has now come to a head; it has been a continuum. “State Capture” has been around in various guises, sometimes hardly visible to the naked eye and it is only its recent excesses that have made it impossible to ignore as personal greed and palpable incompetence have displaced motives of personal power and ideological delusion.

From the very outset - had the state not been captured by the deplorable values of the ANC led tripartite alliance - we would very likely not be suffering from the world’s highest rate of unemployment (according to Economist magazine), nor would our parastatal corporations have necessarily broken down.

It is even distinctly likely that government departments at many levels would have got clean audits and provided services to the people they are supposed to serve.

But they do not because we are governed according to “extractive” values and absolutist principles.

In the book “Why Nations Fail”, the point is made that extractive values are derived by absolutist regimes for the benefit of one or more section(s) of society at the expense of others.

The South African state has, since 1994 followed absolutist principles to extract value for chosen constituencies, with the harvesting of such value made possible on account of the enormous mandate won by the ANC in the ’94 elections. Zuma cannot be blamed for that.

Examples abound.

Take the teaching profession.

The unseemly haste with which high quality and experienced teachers were substituted with inexperienced, ill qualified and poorly prepared teachers was a harbinger to our now notorious basic education standards and shocking maths illiteracy. To make matters still worse, quality teachers were paid good money to vacate their positions and the dead wood that replaced them was protected by Sadtu – the Cosatu affiliated teachers’ union.

To this day – and indefinitely into the future – South African state education will remain dirt poor in quality other than in pockets where excellence prevails in the face of continuing  extractive pressures. It is probably the greatest shame of our so-called new democracy.

The vested interest in this example was clearly the new corps of (often poor quality) teachers loyal to the ANC and the union movement. Those paying the price are the generations of children who have suffered ever since from sub-optimal education and being deprived of better opportunities in life.

Other examples are obvious from other avenues of  life – from crumbling infrastructure and water management, to our dysfunctional parastatals and pervasive corruption and criminality.

Zuma thus does not stand alone and can share the blame with his predecessors - who have all been poor.

Mbeki and Mandela before him bought in to the notion that the “New” South Africa portended a dividend based on past exploitation rather than seizing on it as an invitation to new growth based on enterprise, innovation and hard work: it was time to extract what was already in existence for the short term benefit of the party’s support base – not the start of nation building.

Little did they recognize that there was not enough in the piggy bank and that the costs would be long term and cripplingly high. They also failed to recognize that the modern world no longer works the way they had hoped; that if you do not innovate, self destruct and rebuild, you go to the wall.

Government should have followed the opposite trajectory to what it did.

Had it promoted a strong work ethic, sense of duty and a thirst for self improvement, people would very likely have behaved differently. If instead of stoking sentiments of entitlement people had been incentivised with the prospect of self betterment and personal empowerment; and if an ethic of deferred gratification and meeting long term goals in an environment of strong, democratic institutions had been encouraged - we could be living in a very different nation.

Instead government promoted long outdated and destructive institutional values designed to protect the new “haves” - the absolutists - in the emerging ruling establishment.

A state capture investigation is thus the logical result of such extractive policies in a democracy because ultimately enough people get hurt and start to ask questions. It could not be any other way if democracy was to survive at all.Let us only hope that the nation learns from this shrill and urgent wake up call and that new principles of governance can be established.

It is our best chance to date.

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