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Collective Redemption: Radical Economic Transformation is not a zero-sum game

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.

The ANC, over the last few years, has been plagued by people who, out of ignorance more than by design, earnestly plug ridiculously simplistic answers to our most complex problems. They are sloganeers whose idea of thoughtful analysis is often limited to what will fit on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker.

These simple-minded sloganeers are doubly dangerous: dangerous because they can distract and confound our leaders and clog decision-making channels: dangerous also because of the chance that one of these slogans might actually became official policy.

Madiba always knew that if the ANC is to enjoy hegemony among all classes, all social strata, all social forces, in keeping with the ANC’s revolutionary mass character the ANC would have to possess almost a divine wisdom, with an exceptional ability to see opportunities that may help deepen unity of purpose. This wisdom began by acknowledging that it is not really ANC’s remarkable accomplishments that brings people hope in the future of our country, people’s hope about their own accomplishments. People did not want to hear that their concerns were less important than those of others, or that this redemption only belonged exclusively to others. Madiba understood this – that one man’s certainty threatened another’s.

Today, there is no shortage of people who want to wrap black people in their own perceived injuries, eager to escape imagined traps of white authority, that they are willing to cede values of the organisation, honour, generosity, Batho pele (people first), as if these values are somehow irreversible soiled by endless falsehoods that white spoke about black. Who said being previously disadvantaged excuses you from being respectful, who said being black excuses you from being kind, from working hard, from earning your living through hard work and sacrifice?

The curious phenomenon of South Africa is that the family in Constantia, entrenched in privilege, with a pre-conception about neighborhoods across the divide, has Madiba’s picture in their living room, as is the family in a crumbling makeshift shack in Phillipi townships. This speaks to the profound era of Madiba, which gave both these people a new idea of themselves. Madiba seemed to offer an opportunity at collective redemption. This, Madiba knew, reflected a reality that society’s sense of hope is indivisible. You cannot preach hope to one group and threat of despair to another and not have an overall sense of decay in all society. What the ANC needed to do was to leverage any sense of common threads that the birth of a new nation was showing, however small. That is why the best condition for economic transformation has always been economic growth. This would mean as boats are shifting their structure and ownership, they are also rising.

So what would Madiba think of today’s almost religious edict of Radical Economic Transformation, presented without any sophistication by the even less sophisticated RET champions. What would Madiba think of today’s leaders using RET to hide their mischief, and the almost scaremongering nature of its postulation.

What would Madiba say if he were here with us in 2017, at a time when our country has become even more divided, on race, divided due to corruption, poor leadership, and a nagging sense that our country’s decline is inevitable, our discourse pettier and more poisoned. Would he lose heart and declare the reconciliation project a failure?

I believe Madiba would commend the discussion documents the ANC has released towards its policy conference, particularly the organisation renewal section, especially its sophisticated nature, contrasted with the loud-hailing and noise by our leaders daily, but Madiba would lament that even these documents are proving vulnerable to the noise makers with an exaggerated sense of grievance. It does not serve anyone for us to undersell our accomplishments as an organisation for fear that we would lose those who are today too angry about the pace of change.

I believe Madiba would be proud that in the past 23 years, we have cut the gap between black earnings and white earnings by historic margins. But I believe he would not let us forget that the wealth of black households still averages less than one-tenth that of white households.

I believe he would be proud that for black South Africans employment is at its highest level in history, and black poverty is at its lowest level in history; thanks to the ANC, all South Africans have risen with the tide of years of a growing economy and empowerment policies. But I believe Madiba would not let us forget that black South Africans still earn much less than white South Africans; he would not let us forget that black unemployment is unbearably much higher than unemployment for whites.

I believe Madiba would be proud that the high school drop-out rate of black students has dropped significantly — and that more blacks are going to university and college than ever before in South African history.

If he were here today, I believe he would be proud that many corporate firms have appointed more blacks, more Indians, more coloureds, and judgeships and other high posts are more diversely held than in South Africa’s history. But I also believe that he would not let us forget that in so many places and professions, the glass ceiling that holds women back still has not been shattered.

I believe he would be proud to see how much we have done to banish discrimination from all sectors of society. But I believe he would tell us that we still have much to do in banishing discrimination from our hearts, and much still to do in enforcing the laws that are on our books. And I believe Madiba would then urge us to get busy on our project of completing national reconciliation and nation building.

But I believe Madiba would have a stern word with those who claim to be in favour of affirmative action as long as it does not affect their racial preserved spaces, rugby or cricket or the stock exchange.

Ultimately, I believe Madiba would tell us that God has given South Africa a mission, a mission to prove to men and women throughout this world that people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, of all faiths and creeds, can not only work and live together, but can enrich and ennoble both themselves and our common purpose.

As the great Tagore said, take us to a new country, a country:

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led by thee into ever-widening thought and action – Into that heaven of freedom,

My father, let my country awake.DM


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