A worrying insight! I received this e-mail today. What can the man in the street do about this .. or how many ordinary citizens are actually aware of it?
Dear Insight Reader,
The first Insight appeared in the second half of 1987. That was an uncertain time as far as South Africa was concerned and international companies were anxious about the shape the future would take and what risks there would be in remaining involved in the country or, if they were not already in South Africa, becoming involved. So the service which Insight provided was in the nature of risk analysis – in the beginning mainly to British companies, later German and American. The major focus is still international business, investors into Africa and South Africa in particular and potential investors. A good number of South Africans and Africans also find the newsletter of value, which naturally pleases us very much. We have always tried to present events and trends as we see them. If anything, using the analogy of the glass of water which is either half-full or half empty, we’ve tended to the half-full view.
However, over the past eight months we have been critical at times of the ANC and the government’s attitude toward the Constitution, its simplistic understanding of the doctrine of separation of powers, and its controversial view of the role of judges. Naturally, we have also highlighted corruption and inefficiencies within the public service. After all, one cannot ignore the numerous service delivery protests and demonstrations which are occurring all around South Africa. But more recently, there are trends that are setting off alarm bells.
Firstly, it is true as Business Day put it last Friday, that there is a desperate lack of leadership at the top.
Secondly, there is a dangerous blurring of the distinction between the political system and dominant party and the state – a distinction which is critical not just to a constitutional democracy but to any democratic polity.
Thirdly, the administration and management of public affairs, public funding, and the simple normal things which all governments are expected to provide, seem to be grinding to a halt. Meanwhile, in a society with serious unemployment and income imbalances with all the negative social consequences this implies, these grow ever wider as government and state-owned enterprise salaries add up to over 14% of GDP – a percentage, according to one authority, which is among the highest in the world.
These views are not only my views – they reflect the overwhelming consensus of South African media, analysts, and most business people of all communities.
To illustrate the point, last Friday, Business Day carried an editorial somewhat unusually on its front page under the heading “Desperate at the top – It is no longer clear who runs the country.” The editorial goes on to speak of the “poverty of political leadership in South Africa” and gave two examples: the reinstatement of Lt-Gen Richard Mdluli as the police’s crime intelligent head, notwithstanding “a raft of charges and allegations around him”. It also referred “to the casual way in which the African National Congress (ANC) and labour federation Cosatu a fortnight ago agreed to delay e-tolling in Gauteng – notwithstanding the minister of finance’s serious concern at the financial implications this would have for the country and for South Africa’s credit rating. It was a decision in any event which should have been taken not by a political party and a trade union but by Parliament. Said Business Day in its editorial: “This is President Zuma’s strange republic at work, a place where politics trumps principle, the reputations of the state and its officers are of no account, and where no price is too high to pay for the re-election of Mr Zuma as head of his party this year and of the country in 2014.”
Business Day ended its editorial with: “The question should be asked: Who runs this country? The democratically elected government, a particular faction of the ruling party, or Cosatu? Or is it the small group of securocrats Mr Zuma has surrounded himself with in his desperate bid to keep out of the courts?”
The blurring of lines between the state and party was the main point Donwald Pressly, Business Report’s political editor, raised under the heading “Power shift into party hands takes toll on state”. He wrote: “Somewhere along the line the exercise of power has shifted from the Union Buildings in Pretoria – and the ministers’ offices at 120 Plein Street in Cape Town – to Luthuli House, the ruling party’s political headquarters in Johannesburg.” He also illustrated this with “the astounding about turn of government on Gauteng road tolls” which was announced not in Parliament or by the government but after a meeting of the ANC and Cosatu leaders.
“This exposes a major fault-line in our political system.” Neither Business Day nor Pressly in Business Report, notwithstanding the seriousness of their accusations, drew a single comment from government.
As regards the administration and management of the public service and of municipalities, etc. the state auditor-general Terence Nombembe this week spoke of government and the public service presenting a “dire” situation that has seen a weakening of the pillars of governance protecting South Africa’s democracy. “Things are serious, and they are even more serious than we thought they are. They are more serious because the people that are employed by the government to do the work are least prepared and equipped to do it. The situation is “dire”. Incidentally, the next day Business Day commented on the auditor-general’s statement: “The Office of the Auditor-General has been ringing increasingly urgent alarm bells over the state of management of South Africa’s public finances, particularly at the municipal level, for years. But the message has now taken on a note of helplessness and despair that is truly disturbing. A picture is emerging of a public administration that is in a state of collapse across great swathes of the country and – even worse – is the political leadership that is so preoccupied with securing its own position and access to state resources that it is either deaf to the warnings or indifferent to the consequences of failing to act.”
What this all adds up to is a profound sense of depression. I suspect that Phylicia Oppelt, an experienced, perceptive and courageous journalist, gave vent to this in her column in The Sunday Times also last week under the heading: “The beat I hear is South Africa’s heart of darkness”. She wrote: “We are standing at the precipice and it’s time to choose: either return to our democratic values or plunge into horror.” She tells of listening to two reporters who were working on a story for her newspaper The Times on Richard Mdluli, the person so tainted by a myriad of allegations who has not only managed to survive, but to flourish and, if President Zuma had his way, will still become South Africa’s top policeman. “As I listened to these reporters, the space of our freedom and democracy closed around me – as if South Africa suddenly had values such as optimism, hope and honour sucked out of it. In its place, we face a country that is rancid with old practices and the fetid, stale air of darkness, dishonour and madness.”
These are extraordinarily strong sentiments held by somebody who was part of “the struggle”. And I must stress that she’s not alone. However, one important qualification: in all these expressions there is a profound sense of disappointment – and therefore of hope – that as Phylicia puts it: “But, we say, surely the saner minds and purer hearts in the ANC will prevail. For there must be comrades who remember a virgin purpose whose sentiment, ideology and commitment translated into a vision of real change? ….. Those in the ANC who stand by idly while their president appears to be the chief architect of these deeply disturbing developments will have to live with carrying the burden of responsibility for the state we are in. And when they manage to discover values such as valour and heroism again, it will be too late.” The same sentiment, incidentally, is expressed in the Business Day editorial: “Why do other senior ANC leaders sit on their hands while the freedom they fought for is sacrificed to save one man’s skin?”
There certainly are people in the ANC – in fact at the centre of the ANC and in the alliance – who will be as concerned as these journalists at the trends which they are reporting on. But how to draw them out? – that is the question.
*Two developments which occurred late this week need to be mentioned. Firstly, Lt-Gen Mdluli has been switched by the Minister of Police to a new position while the charges against him are investigated. Secondly, what probably precipitated this is the fact that Tokyo Sexwale, who is a minister and one of those whom Oppelt and others are relying on to take action, brought a legal suit against Mdluli for having allegedly made certain defamatory statements about him.
Dr Denis Worrall
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Denis Worrall is Chairman of Omega Investment Research, a South African based investment advisory and strategic marketing consultancy. He is a graduate of the University Cape Town (M. A.), University of South Africa (LLB) and Cornell University (Ph.D) where he was a Fulbright Scholar. He started his career as an academic lecturing at universities in the US, Nigeria and South Africa. His last post was as research Professor at Rhodes University. He practised as an advocate for seven years in Cape Town, before going into public life. He has been a Member of Parliament, chairman of the Constitutional committee of the Presidents’ council, South African Ambassador to Australia and the Court of St James’s (London)