I have been concerned that those who have always mocked President Jacob Zuma since before he assumed the presidency – that he is uneducated, he is a traditionalist, that he is not modern enough for a South African economy, he does not come from political royalty or acceptable class – may today think they have been vindicated.
I have always been concerned that those who have been content to see the president mocked, the paintings showing off his manhood, cartooning the shape of his head with a shower to match, things that have never been rebuked by those who claim respectability, along with the media they own, I have been concerned that these people will take the simple criticism that the president erred in how he handled some critical issues and use it to finally say, “we have won our long war against this man”, for even his own people have finally turned against him.
I have always been concerned that those who have always sought to dictate to us that this man must be denied the presidency will think their class is winning. These are the people with a permanent dislike for the current president, people who have derived vanity on seeing our own comrades, the ANC stalwarts, the veterans, the church leaders, publicly criticising the president, will finally gloat that the ark is turning towards their vindictive shores.
I am under no illusion that even if we were to get this leader that we supposedly deserve, a brilliant leader with fresh ideas, that even that kind of a leader would still be subjected to frivolous attacks because the dislike itself is not particularly rational, it’s always been lurking at the door, waiting for incidences to validate.
President Mbeki pointed out back in 1993 that, disturbingly, to some sections of our society, the ANC was being judged according to sins we may commit in the future. To some sections of our society, the ANC has never really had much credit in the nation’s goodwill account and if the ANC was interested in growing this goodwill, we would have to meet the wish list of these particular sections. As a result, the ANC has been under attack even before the ink was dry on our Constitution.
It would however be disingenuous to convolute this permanent opposed posture against the ANC by some sections of society with the obvious errors that the current administration has made and the personal lapses in judgement of the president. As much as scepticism of a black government has always been part of our democracy, where mistakes have been made by this black government, we should not be afraid to admit such mistakes.
The recurring criticism about the president, somewhat legitimate, has been that he does not possess a galvanising vision, it’s not clear where he is taking the country, and the country itself feels like it’s on a zigzag to nowhere. Many have complained that we are neither enjoying economic growth nor economic transformation and that the past two terms have lacked that sense of urgency and clarity of the terms before. There is something to be said about such criticism.
Over the last few months, however, the president seems to have found his message. His message has become more clear, more defined, and more concentrated, summed up in the theme of the People’s Assembly on Thursday, “Radical Economic Transformation Now”. In every platform the president has been speaking on over the last few months, he has emphasised the issue of land redistribution, black economic ownership, the need to break the stronghold of the economy by white monopoly capital and the need to radicalise the constitutional imperative of dealing with the “injustices of our past”. The question is, will this message transcend all the negative narrative that has engulfed the president most of his second term?
The answer is simple. It will not. First because the newfound message of the president is at best reactionary. We will not accept it, even from our own president, as we do not from many fellow white South Africans, who, when we point out their own wrongdoings, mischievously redirect us to the mistakes of others on some misguided “mistakes by scale”. When we pointed out the Guptas as a cancer to our government, others pointed out to bigger cancers, whites who still own the economy, own the land, influence our Treasury, as the bigger cancers that must be priorities, not the Guptas who barely own 5% of the deals in many SOEs.
I must state it clearly that we reject this false choice. We reject the inability to humble oneself and accept our mistakes. The ANC will not lose moral superiority because of people who want to be vanguards of transformation projects as a misdirected ploy. It is therefore too late for the president to lead this charge of economic transformation because it presents us with this false choice.
What however the president has done, irrespective of the discomfort with his reasons, like the first man in a relay, is to give us, people who have been students of inequality, people who have studied its root causes, the market distortions, the oligopolies, Oxfam reports, Joseph Stiglitz, is to give us an impetus and political will for us to run with the cause and finally rebalance our economies and increase the human development index of our country and the general happiness of our citizens.
After taking the baton from the president, and counting on the might of the ANC government, we will finally confront the forces that have had a stronghold on this country for a long time now. We have stated it before that the ANC black government is not elected by the majority in order to govern over white affairs. When organisations like Oxfam, an international confederation working with 94 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty and what it considers as injustice around the world, tell us that two South Africans, Johan Ruppert and Nicky Oppenheimer, own as much as the bottom 25.6-million South Africans, we must act and act now. That is half the population of this country.
This corrosive picture, which deserves all our outrage, deserves the biggest marches on the streets. We commend the Youth League for filling up the streets of Johannesburg to make this point. Extreme inequality is corrosive; it hardens the attitude of the rich and powerful towards the poor and lowly; it builds acceptance of the incongruity of wealth and misery and exclusion, and it undermines the very notions of social justice and social cohesion. It makes a mockery of fairness and leads to the slippery path of class warfare as the only means of redress. We must never stop to organise and free the real governing power to fulfill our needs.
Jobs and justice, that is what black people need, that is what they deserve. Despite all the side shows and distractions, and small things made big things, the cry remains – jobs and justice. We want our people moved out of the confines of urban slums, let them move to the hills, let them move to live along the over 3,000 miles of coastline, no more shacks, we want a crime-free, drug-free, better standard of living for our black people and it starts with two words – jobs and justice. Only in this area do we have a right to fault the ANC for not using its bully pulpit to fulfill the needs of the black majority.
There will never be justice as long as we have oligopolies in every industry. As students of world economics we know that these oligopolies are not as a result of others working harder than others. They are products of market distortions, collusions, serving as hindrance to new entries in these industries and a hindrance to a more equal society.
There will never be justice as long as the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay is ridiculously going up while company performance is not keeping up. There will never be justice as long as the worker bargaining power is weakened, as long as worker unions are not fully supported, no justice as long as asymmetric state liberalisation continues, where capital moves but labour can’t move, corporate governance laws that provide relatively little check on abuses of corporate power by CEOs, and an increase of monopoly power because of network externalities.
Can the rules of the South African economy be rewritten to benefit everyone – not just the few. a stark picture of a country gone wrong?
The ANC policy conference has come at an opportune moment and must answer these questions with a detailed policy review.
In the end, this may well be the president’s legacy, giving us á push in the right direction. DM
Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.