Since the elections on 10 May 2019, the expectations of a “new dawn” led by Cyril Ramaphosa and his new administration are becoming distinctly muted. The influence of factions within the ANC on the selection of cabinet ministers and the largely superfluous deputy ministers is a symptom of the continued ineptitude and stasis within the ruling party.
Policy consensus is conspicuous by its absence. The multiple factions comprising the NEC can be distinguished by their vested interests masquerading as either ideological or populist solutions to South Africa’s many challenges. The common feature of these groupings is the determination to maximise personal gain at the expense of the taxpayer, but ultimately of the poor.
The wisdom of Paul Collier, in his book The future of Capitalism, is lost on most members of the NEC, for whom reading and study is a foreign exercise. This is unfortunate because much of what Collier proposes is highly relevant to South Africa’s situation. He strongly argues against either populism or ideology as drivers of policy formation, suggesting that pragmatism and common sense should rule the day. He goes on to reject the principle of self-enrichment but argues instead for a dispensation in which demands and obligations are matched in an ethical society.
Certainly, in South Africa, there is no shortage of demands on the state, driven by the hegemony of the human rights narrative. What is sorely lacking is a matching commitment to meet one’s obligations to society. Collier describes two contradictory approaches, both of which are fundamentally flawed. The one he describes as the headless heart and the other the heartless head. Both descriptions expose and illustrate the problems that arise when demands are not balanced by reciprocal obligations.
In the Sunday Times, the political commentator Xolela Mangcu described the new Cabinet as “the same old, same old”, and in many respects, he is quite correct. The retention of the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, typifies the stranglehold that the South African Democratic Teachers Union holds over the education of this country’s children. Mangcu describes how the bulk of South Africa’s learners are functionally illiterate to the extent that they are unable to understand the written word in any language. Under these circumstances, any kind of economic renewal is impossible. SADTU’s attitude is similar to that of Cosatu, who refuse to accept any responsibility for increasing worker productivity or retraining in the face of rapidly changing working conditions.
The union’s arguments are based on socialist rhetoric harking back to the mid 20th century which serves to obscure the true nature of organised labour – commercial enterprises operated for the benefit of a small elite who exploit the ignorance and grievances of a declining pool of workers in the formal economy.
It is said that politics is about messy compromises, and in this respect, South Africa is no exception. In our situation, the concern arises from the naked greed which underpins these vested interests, skilfully obscured by populist and/or ideological rhetoric.
Under these circumstances, policy coherence based on pragmatism, experience and common sense are unable to prevail. The futile discussion over the mandate of the Reserve Bank is but one of many examples. While political parties continue to attract those who consider public service as the refuge of the unemployable, an economic revival will remain a dream. DM
John Cowlin is a medical doctor who later registered for a BA at Stellenbosch, followed by a Hons (Cum Laude ) and last year graduated with a Masters. He is working on his Ph D for next year, with a particular interest is the economics of poverty in South Africa.
"Sin consists not in desiring a woman, but in consent to the desire." ~ Peter Abelard