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20 August 2014 06:42 (South Africa)
Opinionista Xhanti Payi

Mangaung: The fine arts of mixology and music

  • Xhanti Payi
The ANC conference must deliver a strong cocktail blended from leaders and firm policies that are in step with the demands of global finance, while emphasising local issues. And the party best get in tune with labour.

Among the activities we can expect in Mangaung is a fair amount of drinking and dancing. And as I read an article a friend sent me last year, which had appeared in the Financial Times in November 2011, I couldn’t help but marvel at the quirkiness of it all. In that article, titled “The dangerous cocktail of global money and local politics”, Moises Naim argues that “we have no choice; we must make local politics more attuned to global imperatives and make global finance more responsive to local needs.”

This conclusion seems obvious enough and, with the year that has been in South Africa, quite affecting. But can we find the harmony Naim speaks of in Mangaung and beyond?

The tragedy that occurred in Marikana and the international interest we saw in response speaks to this very cocktail, and the need for our politicians to understand the cup they hold. If you left South Africa during that time, or spoke to a foreigner, everyone wanted to know what was going on. I was in China for a conference in November, and every time I said I was from South Africa, the standard response was a question about Marikana, the mining sector and our labour issues. Again, speaking to a Danish journalist visiting South Africa, so much of the interview seemed to be about Marikana and our economic progress. So, can Mangaung produce a set of leaders and confirm policies that are in step with the demands of global finance, while emphasising local issues? 

What is clear is that while we face our troubles head on, which Marikana highlighted, we have to be clear about the fact that people are interested. They are not interested in because it’s a human interest story about the deaths of so many. They are interested because they may very well be the source of the funds we need to fill the infrastructure deficit we have, and balance our ever troubling current account. 

This is perhaps what the Banking Association of SA was talking about when it “warned” the ruling party about decisions it takes on industry and policy. The response by the ANC as reported in Business Day, saying that it would not make decisions that “necessarily make banks happy” is therefore not comforting.

Among the things Marikana highlighted is the collapse of labour relations, a rift between government and business, and a systematic failure generally – with old problems still far from being solved. When Mangaung is finished, will the delegates have bestowed on South Africa a group of people who can improve our labour relations, connect government and business towards a model of cooperation and shared prosperity, and create a system that is adequately equipped to deal with crisis? 

No doubt, during the days of the conference, there will be plenty of dancing and singing, as is ANC tradition. But on the other side of Mangaung, will we find a group of leaders that not only can dance and sing, but can play good economic music, to use an analogy attributed to Brazil’s former president, Lula da Silva, who has become something of a media and analysts’ icon lately as they speak of our future.

Da Silva made the point, as told by Dr Michael Power in his article entitled “New Growth Path”, that “in today’s world, you cannot make economic music without the labour-rich left playing its full and proper part in the development process. But neither can you make melodious music without letting the capital-rich right play its role either; each side alone creates the equal of the sound made by one hand clapping.” Thus, “To make good economic music, you must hold the instrument of state in your left hand, and let it be played by the right.”

We’ve heard much from the ANC about “organisational renewal”. Organisational renewal of the ANC for the ANC itself is not enough. Organisational renewal has to capture in its bosom the renewal of relations among our social players. That process and those leaders will have to make sure that our politics are in step with international issues, while the international world understands and is responsive to the problems South Africa has and the solutions we must find. 

The balance Mangaung must speak to local politics, unity and cooperation, and a South Africa that is increasingly international. 

If not, we will find that the picture Moises paints comes off the frame, with “money that moves at the speed of light, governments that move at the speed of politics, and labour that does not move much.” 

The question is, considering what happened in August in Marikana, can we still afford to leave labour behind? DM

  • Xhanti Payi
XhantiBW

Xhanti Payi is a suit during the day and has worked for almost ever South African bank, and moonlights as a columnist, having written for the Weekend Argus. His main ambition is to win the Nobel prize, for whatever. Ok, maybe Economics.

He has the misfortune of being Xhosa, and carrying a name with a click in Cape Town. Xhanti enjoys jazz music, and displays anti revolutionary tendencies in drinking copious amounts of good red wine.

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