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Ditch ‘Useless’ Politicians, Top South African Banker Says

Ditch ‘Useless’ Politicians, Top South African Banker Says
Residents by an entrance to a building in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. South Africa’s presidency is proposing spending as much as 88.5 billion rand ($4.6 billion) a year to tackle poverty at a time when the National Treasury is cautioning that the country has run out of money.

South Africans should use next year’s elections to vote out “useless” politicians who have failed to prioritize jobs and drive investment, and choose leaders who will get the struggling economy back on track, according to one of the country’s top bankers. 

“You have to have a half-decent government and I don’t think at the moment we are anywhere close,” Investec Group Chief Executive Officer Fani Titi said in a speech at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg last week. “We get the government we deserve because we either don’t vote or when we vote, we vote poorly.”

The African National Congress has led Africa’s most industrialized nation since White-minority rule ended in 1994. The government made initial strides in tacking poverty, unemployment and inequality, but its performance deteriorated markedly during President Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule, which was marred by repeated corruption scandals, policy missteps and inappropriate appointments.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in 2018, has struggled to turn the situation around, with output constrained by electricity shortages and logistics bottlenecks.

The economy has expanded less than 2% a year over the past decade, the International Monetary Fund doesn’t expect its performance to improve markedly until 2028 at the earliest and the National Treasury has warned that state debt is approaching unsustainable levels.

Read More: Tax Shortfall Lumps South Africa With No-Good-News Budget

“If you are not a little scared about the country, there’s something wrong with you, because the trajectory is not good at all,” Titi said. “We are governed by guys in their late 60s and some in their 70s with no idea about how the world works.”

There is reason to be hopeful however, he said, because there is now realization of the need for urgency to tackle the country’s challenges, with the private sector now working with government to address energy shortages, logistics constraints, crime and corruption.

Several opinion polls show the ANC risks losing its national majority for the first time next year, an eventuality that would force it into a coalition if it wants to retain power. The next administration has to focus on creating an environment that unlocks private sector investment and allows business to create jobs, according to Titi.

The upcoming election will be an opportunity to vote in younger people who have ideas on how to move the country forward, and the 2029 vote “will be critical,” he said. “If we don’t get it right, then you get to a tipping point where you can easily deteriorate into a Zimbabwe, where the courts don’t work, where the economy doesn’t work” for those without political connections, and that can’t be allowed to happen, Titi said.

Read More: South Africa’s Ruling ANC Sees Support Slip to 45% in Survey

While the ANC and Ramaphosa concede that the country confronts a number of challenges, they say significant progress has also been made, including that more than 90% of households now have access to electricity for lighting and more than 80% have piped water.

The ANC’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately reply to a call or a text message seeking comment.

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