Africa, Business, Media, Politics

Moeletsi Mbeki on SA’s good, bad and nouveau riche

By Andy Rice 1 August 2011

When Moeletsi Mbeki wanders the country, sharing his views on the political state of South Africa and the ANC's shortcomings, Mac Maharaj and Jackson Mthembu quickly jump to fight the offender. Ever a strong critic, Mbeki still believes there is hope for our country. Daily Maverick shared coffee with the “disrespectful” man. By EMILY GAMBADE.

Mbeki, an entrepreneur, ex-journalist, writer, political analyst – and, of course, brother of former president Thabo Mbeki – was recently in Cape Town to promote his book, “Advocates for Change”, a compilation of solutions-based analyses by influential thinkers across the continent. The book offers what-we-do-wrong and what-we-can-do-better for a sustainable future on the African continent. His comments on how the ANC has been misleading the country have created quite a stir. Yet Mbeki is not an angry man, he is just eager for change.

Stability is an important factor to help a democracy grow and governments improve standards of living. But stability should not be confused with stagnation. “The ANC is stagnating, it doesn’t have new ideas, but it does have lots of corruption, incompetence – and people are now realising it is not solving their problems.” While it does sound like a direct attack towards his old party, Mbeki’s comments are also simply exposing the crying necessity for a proper, strong opposition. When the ANC loses votes it means people are not only dissatisfied with the party, but also looking for something else: new ideas, new solutions and different options. “If we use the model of Mauritius, it is very clear that in South Africa and in other countries on the mainland, there has been resistance to opposition parties, to the emergence of opposition parties. If you look at Zimbabwe, they killed members of the opposition party, ruined the election process; at one stage, Kenya and Tanzania even declared it illegal to have opposition parties. So this has been one of the biggest differences between the main land countries and Mauritius. Mauritius allowed opposition parties to emerge and to compete for support, in terms of ideas. In South Africa, we have one dominant party. This is one lesson we have to learn from Mauritius, that political competition benefits the country; it does not destabilise it. There is this false belief in Africa that multi-party democracy causes instability. Actually, multi-party democracy causes stability.”

A real, functioning multi-party democracy is essential to increase confrontation of propositions and ultimately, a certain competition of ideas. When the ANC doesn’t have anyone to compete with, it suddenly becomes an apathetic entity with no urgency to respond to its voters’ expectations. Mbeki adds, “in South Africa, there are a number of possible centres that can develop new parties. The DA, of course, is one. The black population is getting more class-divided. You are having an emergence of an economically privileged elite, then you have a great majority of the black population staying in poverty, an emergence of a new black professional class, which was not there before, a new black middle-class, the black billionaires like Ramaphosa, Patrice Motsepe and so on… In my view, we are going to have new parties emerging in South Africa along the class divisions. If you look at Cosatu, for example, it is very unhappy with the ANC. Why it continues to vote for it, I don’t know, but it is completely unhappy. Now, it cannot carry on, unhappy, and do nothing about it. Eventually new leadership will emerge with new ideas (…). We saw Cope, for example. In no time it won 7% of the votes from the ANC; it didn’t come up with the policies to be able to sustain itself, but it was an indication that the political and social landscapes of South Africa arew actually ripe for new political parties.”

The country is ready for new parties – for the ANC losing some votes might not be such a bad thing after all. Yet, the party and more evidently the ANC Youth League, are still religiously fighting opposition. Using race as the ultimate torch to light up the issues of South Africa, they don’t leave any breathing space for opposition parties and confrontational thinkers.

“The ANC doesn’t know any other language. Malema (may be) young, but he is old-fashioned. He thinks in this old-fashioned way, just like (when he speaks about) nationalisation. We have been through this nationalising ‘thing’. England nationalised railways, it nationalised the coal mines, where is there a coal mine in England now? They are all closed! And where is the railway? They sold it to the private sector. Zambia nationalised its copper mines. What happened? Eventually, they had to sell the copper mines. This is old-fashioned thinking from the socialist thinking of the 19th century which at that time had (a) certain strength. But now, the structure of society has changed; in the 19th century, the social groups were powerful nationalisation made sense; even the Chinese realised they had to open the economy to private entrepreneurs. But first and foremost, the ANC doesn’t have the capacity, doesn’t have the engineers to nationalise. It cannot run a sewage plant, so how is it going to run a gold mine? Look at the shantytown; it cannot manage the urbanisation of a shantytown, so it thinks it can run a goldmine that is three or four kilometres deep? With who? Where are the skills? They don’t have the skills! This is just dreaming.” And the man rolls his eyes and bursts into laughter. There is no anger in his despair and although he is not content with government’s proposals, he is eager for debate that would finally burst the ANC’s bubble and enrich democracy. Moeletsi Mbeki comments and criticises, but also brings solutions to the table. Whether one wants to follow is another question. But it is a refreshing one.

“The ANC is run by the nouveau riche. People have to understand, for the nouveau riche, consumption today is the priority. The ANC has become the party of the nouveau riche who want to own big cars, big houses, glamour, holidays in the south of France…”

One reason behind the appearance of the nouveau riche is that someone who has risen to a higher economic status in a short time, but not necessarily to the equivalent in terms of social standards, might be well-rooted.

Mbeki says, “The big companies created BEE. Not the ANC. Those companies wanted an ally in government. How do they create the ally? They give him wealth. These companies are very big. They have huge numbers of assets. An example (could be) Nail, the first major BEE, created by Sanlam. Sanlam was then the biggest insurance company in South Africa. It had a life insurance company, Methold, which was for black people; it had 85% – 90% of its policy holders in the black community, so it was a marginal company (with) black (policy holders) being at risk from HIV/Aids. They wanted to buy ANC leaders to be their friends, so they gave them the company. Anyway, because of the risk the company was facing, they got rid of it by selling the company to the black people. Double benefit for them. The company is called Metropolitan Life. They gave Metropolitan Life to (Nthato) Motlana, Cyril Ramaphosa; they are happy, instant billionaires, they don’t know about the risk because they know nothing about insurance, they don’t understand that they are being used to get rid of the ‘risk’. Now the company is obliged to pay the people who die as a result of Aids. If you sell it and you give it to the black people, then you wash your hands. The ANC had no BEE policy; the ANC was a multiracial organisation, so when we were in the struggle, we had to unify everybody. We could not have policies that favoured this race over that one. We wanted to unite. We could not say ‘we have a policy that favours the blacks and not the whites, not the Jews, not the Indians,’ because we had to organise all those people to fight together. And now, (it still goes on) because it benefits the political elite, the black elite, the nouveau riche. In fact, it creates the nouveau riche. You don’t have to work, I will pay you a million Rand a year, you just show your black face now and then… You know, they make a lot of money and do nothing.”

True, but still hardly a new problem. The South African economy still has a 25% unemployment rate; despite a high portion of the budget being spent on education, the country has one of the poorest systems on the continent. Its entrepreneurial spirit is almost nonexistent and many artists are leaving the country to survive; in short, the future of our country doesn’t look promising. Could it all be blamed on one party? The need for some shaking up is urgent. “The time has changed and the people in North Africa have demonstrated this.  The era of leaders like Mandela, coming with a solution is past. If you look at Egypt, who was the ‘leader’ who overthrew Mubarak? There was no leader that overthrew him, it was the people. The notion of leaders solving the problems is an archaic notion. The question is how do we all mobilise the population for all of us to participate in finding solutions? The levelsof sophistication of populations in the world is becoming very high, so the power is no longer with the leader. The power is with the individual citizen, who has Internet, Facebook, Twitter, cellphones… The individual in today’s world is becoming more powerful and so the (notion of) leader is becoming less relevant.”

What Moeletsi Mbeki wants is pretty simple actually. A multi-party democracy representing the different layers of society and fighting stagnation, and he says it clearly and hopefully even if it means wandering out of the revered politically correct wilderness. “Once I went to speak to Total for a team-building event. I was asked to address them on the political situation in South Africa. They were from all nationalities and they had been visiting different parts of the country, townships, mines, factories, etc. … Then, one French manager said to me that he had been studying South Africa for those last 10 days and he had come to the conclusion that there is a race in South Africa, between the good guys and the bad guys. Nobody knows who is going to pass the finishing line first; if the good guys get there first, the country will take off and be a big success. If the bad guys get there first, then we are going to sink into a hole. I thought this was beautiful imagery. Now, when and who will get there first, who knows! Many people get depressed, but you know what, the race is still on.” DM


Photo of Moeletsi Mbeki courtesy of BooksLive.

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