The State of Zuma’s Nation – Smoke, Mirrors, Devious Charm and Predation

2015-02-27 05:49

Zuma’s State of the nation wrap up address beguiled some as he spoke better than he generally does with his nose buried in a script. But a rudimentary analysis of its contents emphasises again the nation’s plight – and must heighten the concerns of thinking people. On the evening of Thursday 19th February, we saw Zuma in the ill fitting role of historian, visionary and economist, praising the ANC’s achievements of the past 21 years and pronouncing on the nations prospects. Some news reports even used the words “statesman like” to describe his address – albeit mainly from compliant publications such as the amusingly styled “Independent Group”.

He might have set at ease those open to his utterances but too lazy to ask the important questions; he might also have fooled those unquestioning of his dodgy economic logic. And those ignorant of the broader history of mankind might even have swallowed his standard diatribe about colonialism being the ultimate evil, courtesy of Jan van Riebeeck and others.

He was of course addressing the rump of his education-starved electorate, and the house, the majority of who –along with a sprinkling of the far left - are easily beguiled by vacuous promises. Thus critical analysis was always going to be limited.

And after the embarrassments of the preceding SONA debates he must have figured that a little stroking and brown-nosing was called for. It was show time.

First there was Zuma the Historian

In his opening, Zuma said “For more than a century, millions of our people led by the ANC pursued relentless and heroic struggles against the dehumanising system of colonialism and apartheid.” and went on - “They devoted their lives and were always ready to pay the ultimate price for the cause of building a more humane South Africa, underpinned by a better life for all”.

To further embellish his point he went on to mention the “radical transition from Colonialism to a National Democratic Society, founded on the strategic vision of the Freedom Charter”.

And to cap it all said - “Since then (1994) we have never looked back. “

So let us see - has the ruling party indeed done as good a job as it says?

Whilst more people have potable water and housing – this was primarily a result of the abolition of the apartheid system which had quarantined resources for the benefits of mainly whites. It is thus difficult to imagine how such an improvement might have been avoided.

Indeed the competence of the ANC had little to do with these outcomes. Instead it distorted resources with tender corruption, “preferencing”, and an archaic labour regime that ignores productivity and merit.

The point I am making is that they would have been hard pressed not to succeed in addressing those backlogs because of what had preceded them. To have done them well might have been an achievement but instead we have collapsing RDP houses; crooked tenders; failing utilities; appointments by patronage and an appalling state education system.

And Zuma’s history treatise fails in two other respects as well.

In lamenting the nation’s colonial past he overlooks the fact that hardly a nation in the world has not at some stage been subjugated by a more advanced civilization. In the context of world history the example of colonialism is but one of many conquest models, a common phenomenon resulting from cultural, intellectual and technological asymmetries between peoples of the planet.

That is how peoples learn from others, get ahead and evolve.

But Zuma prefers to portray colonialism as a holocaust rather than embrace it as a potential agent for promoting new skills, wider knowledge, infinite markets for everyone's benefit and a vision to uplift an underdeveloped and previously retarded political economy.

And to make it worse still, he extols an impending “National Democratic Society” as enshrined in the Freedom Charter – which, through association with the National Democratic Revolution defines a universally discarded model based on communist ideology.

Then we had Zuma the Visionary

According to Zuma - We are (right now) on course to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society, as expressed in the Freedom Charter and in the Constitution of the Republic.

There is nothing really new in such utterances – but after 20 years I do find the word “prosperous” a bridge too far. And have we not been “on course” for as long as most of us can remember?

Where in excess of 35% of the labour force is unemployed and 87% of peoples’ main concern is the availability of work, the word “prosperous” should be quarantined and we should certainly have found our bearings.

then Zuma the Economist

According to Zuma – “We (have) outlined the areas of work that we believe are necessary to tackle, for us to ignite growth and create much needed jobs.

Have you ever noticed how the most economically ignorant (Zuma, Malema and trade union hacks as examples) have no difficulty at all espousing banal economic solutions? How they “ignite growth” and “create jobs” remains unsaid for they have no idea how either are achieved.

They fail to acknowledge that employment is a bye product of value creation, enterprise and human ingenuity.

Let us pause for a moment –

1. How many times have we heard similar promises?

2. How often has the NDP been mentioned - and promised - over the years?

3. How many millions of jobs has Zuma promised from one year to the next?

And yet, since Zuma became president the economy has lost 1,6 million job.

Nonetheless, he continued -

we have not fundamentally touched the structure of the economy in order to effect true economic transformation. It is for this reason that 20 years into freedom, we are still grappling with poverty, inequality and unemployment” and “Inequality is still staring us in the face.

Clearly Zuma wants to show concern about poverty and inequality - but how to resolve the issues?

It seems from his comments that he would like to lead the restructuring of the economy and effect “economic transformation” more vigorously than over the past twenty years - which in itself is concerning, since neither he nor his cohorts have any concept of the remedial strategies needed.

Neither do they recognize the difference between much needed economic growth and the irreconcilable goals of income equality, minimum wage levels and full employment.

His utterances are akin to a doctor diagnosing terminal cancer as a head cold.

Indeed the very direction that the economy is being pulled by Zuma is in fear of further leftist inroads - as confirmed by Daniel Silke, Political Futures consultant in an article in Politicsweb (24th February). He concludes "The ANC's history and the current threats it faces means it can easily slip into shoring up its Leftist/populist flanks at the expense of centrists or the business community."

And then finally – Zuma the Predator and Jailbreaker

From Zuma’s 9-point plan announced in parliament it is clear that he is moving away from a market friendly economy to one where the state holds all the levers in an ever more restrictive “Developmental State”.

As a result, the ANC reneged recently on the envisaged (and very sensible) energy strategy agreed in 2013 where Eskom would lose exclusive control of national energy to an umbrella entity; it would have ensured increased competition, introduced other energy suppliers and technologies, benefited consumers and restored energy availability to previous levels.

Instead, the state went back on its word and left Eskom in charge.

Further, the roll out of broadband has been manipulated in such a way – and in defiance of legal tendering procedures - that Telkom has been appointed as the leading agency, again subverting private enterprise, competition and the interests of the end consumer.

What these have in common is that they make ANC cadres rich – as do the serial bailouts of SAA, the protection of roads agency SANRAL and fostering other state monopolies that provide vehicles for patronage and filling ANC coffers.

And who pays?

At every turn it is the people - most notably the poor and ignorant who get a chance every five years to make a change - but fail to do so.

It is conceivable, I hope, that some day they might awaken to the fact that they have been preyed upon and deprived of their rights to dignity, meaningful work, quality governance and a decent life as individuals. But then, can those in bond to ignorance and poor education make that call? So far the ballot box says "no".

And so the benefits of the “Development State” are multiplied for Zuma, with the prospect of getting ever richer and dispensing largesse to his loyal acolytes in return for their protection. But the big prize for him is that it increases his chances of staying out of jail.

Still, it’s tough on the poor. And I would have so loved to see him in an orange jumpsuit!

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