For South African democracy to thrive we need strong political parties that offer clear alternatives in their manifestos and thereby breed confidence and certainty across our society. If politics is about “bread and butter issues”, we need substantive parties that have practical solutions to our problems of poverty, inequality, unemployment and increasingly, a stagnant economy.
The reason why strong democratic parties are so important is because we need the virtuous cycle of certainty, producing confidence, that in turn leads to investment and consumption, that then produces more confidence. That is the basis for socio-economic progress in all open societies. The opposite, where weak parties scramble for power using underhanded means such as bribery and corruption, produces a vicious cycle of uncertainty, breeding divestment and resulting decline. The latter is most vicious towards the poor who are left starving.
Can the ANC remain a strong contender politically without brown paper bags passing under the table to appease the patronage chieftaincies it has spawned across the provinces that it leads? There are indications that the ANC first needs to trim the tree, to prune the party and cut off some of its rotting vines. But that process feels an awful lot like “breaking the party” and if your dinner depends on party loyalty, it is a scary prospect. It is a choice between two negatives; either you split the party now by ousting the deviants, or you hold it together until after the policy conference this month and the elective conference in December, and then live in a house divided. The first option will draw blood now, and who knows who will win the fight? The second option will bleed the party dry slowly, metro by metro, province by province, ward by ward. It is a choice between a loud, ugly, open spat, with winners and losers, versus a prolonged street fight where everyone ultimately suffers.
The current consensus seems to be, “rather the devil you know…” kicking the con down the road until South Africans eventually catch on that these are a bunch of crooks altogether. That would be a sad end to a heroic movement.
Like it or not, South Africa needs investment by holders of capital from abroad. The reason is partly because South Africans do not have a culture of saving, in which case we could have invested our own capital. No, South Africa is an upper middle-income country that must compete with global peers such as Mauritius, Turkey, Brazil and Argentina for global interest. We can’t do that if we keep scoring political own-goals in the name of party loyalty.
To attract investment we need certainty. Investment produces companies, factories and mines, that produce jobs, which is the issue that lies at the root of our current socio-economic problems. Not even land distribution will address this basic issue. Unless new landowners borrow against their new asset, using the loot for productive investment in some form of enterprise, all they will remain are survivalist subsistence farmers. The last time I checked one cannot buy airtime and pay for your education using mielies or milk, so we need more wage-paying businesses across the country, not Zimbabwe-style romanticised agro-survivalists.
This means that South Africa needs policy certainty like we need oxygen. It means that a commitment to the good of the country trumps the interest of any political party. It means our hearts should leap when we think of Brand SA, more than brand ANC. We should be ruthless in withdrawing our support of a party if it does not act in the national interest. Those who love the ANC should do everything in their power to cleanse the party, now, for the sake of the country’s future. However, there will come a point where the ship will sink no matter how much effort is put into plugging the holes in the hull. That point is fast approaching for the ANC.
The test of leadership in the ANC lies in this challenge: break the party now in the interests of the “good people” in the ANC who want to build on the liberation legacy, or break the party later, when it becomes clear that some have pretended to be “card-carrying members in good standing” while they run around town currying favours, pun intended, from people who should have no standing at all in our society. History will judge the silent majority in the party harshly, for lounging around as one scandal after another smears the ANC. The “collective leadership” approach of the current ANC cuts both ways. You cannot say “not in my name”, if you failed to say anything while a faction captured the party and a family captured the state. That, I’m afraid, was done in their name and in the name of their beloved party. DM
Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics. He oversees the Future of Business in SA project which uses strategic foresight and scenario planning to explore the future of South Africa
Photo: ANC supporters at the launch of the party’s 2014 election manifesto at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit Mpumalanga, Saturday, 11 January 2014. Photo: SAPA stringer
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