Opinionista Steven Boykey Sidley 9 September 2016

Alarmists and alarm bells in our midst

The failures of governance and government have got larger, longer, deeper and bolder. From a million here and a million there in the ‘90s, state graft has slid frictionlessly down the pole of larceny to where the large mining and nuclear and other infrastructure deals offer billions to the loyal and continuing protection from a government that has long looked the other way.

In the slew of forceful opinions concerning matters of state over the past couple of weeks, there were two seasoned political analysts/journalists who chose to make their very different views of the world known, even as they swam through the same sea of rumours and facts.

In an article earlier this week, Justice Malala asserts that Zuma is no longer the problem; the Guptas have captured so many other powerful apparatchiks that even were Zuma to be recalled with prejudice, the country would still be neck deep in a cabal of thieves and a confederacy of dunces. Zuma has been neutered by the secrets known only to him and the Guptas. “The country is run from Dubai,” he concludes.

But Steven Friedman, on the other hand, argues that our recent post-election reactions are alarmist overkill – Pravin is still there, Zwane has been sort-of scolded, and various rumoured plans for an orgy of cadre kleptocracy have not come to pass, at least not yet. He goes on to suggest that this unfounded alarmism will be as much the cause of a ratings downgrade as the financial economic facts on the ground.

Sadly, alarmism, at least at the level at which some of us tremor daily, is not a bad psychic choice. It is a prudent reaction to the facts on the ground.

If one were to line up the incidents of malfeasance stemming from the various villains in the Zuma fiefdom, it would read like a poorly plotted fiction. Stretching all the way back to the Gupta private landing at Waterkloof (quaint, in the light of current events), to the SABC vaudeville, to the chaos at SAA, to the shady Russian nuclear nod and wink, to the Nene debacle, to the Hawks’ use of political poison gas on behalf of Zuma, to the Eskom/Glencore/Oakbay/Tegeta robbery, to the Nkandla wrist-slap, to the hapless but still powerful Zwane, to the badly camouflaged Van Rooyen, to the Gigaba tourism destruction, to the extreme sycophancy of ANCYL, ANCWL and MK, to ministries offered in gilded receptions rooms in Saxonwold, to the grand houses and million-rand cars and blue light brigades and pointless five-star trips to fancy locales by a menagerie of acolytes.

And let’s not even get into the 0.6% growth projections, a figure guaranteed to exacerbate an already tragic employment abyss. There is much more, of course, but this is just an immediate list that comes to mind on a weekday afternoon.

So should we taper our alarmism as Friedman suggests? Does he have a point? I wake up every morning in a warm bed and open a full fridge and drive my car along reasonably functional tarred roads to work, halted periodically by mostly working traffic lights. When I come home at night the electricity works 99.9% of the time, as does my TV, internet and cellphone. My kids are getting an education and my insurance protects me from the vicissitudes of the universe. I have not been killed, robbed or even much insulted by anyone. To all intents and purposes I live a First World life. What’s to be worried about?

Ah, but it is not for me for whom the bell has tolled, although I can just hear it in the distance. It has tolled for the millions who have been robbed of a chance at education and homes and careers and healthcare which seemed finally to be within their grasp 20 years after democracy arrived. Perhaps it would be more difficult to explain to them that they should all calm down and be more optimistic.

Which brings us back to Malala, who sees the future though far darker glasses, a picture that makes a fool of optimism. If I were a risk analyst, prudence would dictate following the trends that bring Malala to his doom-laden conclusion.

Why? Because if we look at where we were in the late ‘90s compared to where we are now, there is a stark truth that emerges. The failures of governance and government have got larger, longer, deeper and bolder. From a million here and a million there in the ‘90s, state graft has slid frictionlessly down the pole of larceny to where the large mining and nuclear and other infrastructure deals offer billions to the loyal and continuing protection from a government that has long looked the other way.

It seems clear to me that alarmism is a pallid and wholly inadequate response. There should be klaxons and roars and protest and pushback from every quarter, all the time, without respite.

But there is not, and perhaps that is the greatest cause for alarm of all. DM

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