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26 September 2017 05:35 (South Africa)
Opinionista Oscar van Heerden

From a scratch to the danger of gangrene

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

Having been part of the ANC National Policy Conference these last few days, it became quite apparent to me that the policy pendulum has swung from being State centric to Party axial. In fact, I have found that the conference is a battleground for various opposing policy positions between the two main factions, that is, the NDZ and CR17, as they have come to be known. NDZ refers to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and CR17 to Cyril Ramaphosa. In short, its psychological warfare at its very best.

In 1940, Leon Trotsky wrote some letters with the same title as this article, in response to some Americans who were arguing and advancing arguments at the time that he felt went contrary to what constituted Communist ideology and Marxist thought. In the end, it transpired that indeed these Americans were planted agents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tasked with destabilising the progressive left and the then government of Stalin. And so, Zuma and his ilk argue that there is indeed some foreign hand attempting to instigate some sort of regime change. They mention by way of example that it has happened in India, hence the Congress party is finally out of power there. It then supposedly moved to Brazil, where former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, and so they say that is why we have already experienced seven votes of no confidence in the President back home.

I, however, refer to a scratch because the current leadership of the ANC departs from the premise, like Stalin in his day, that our politics are about the numbers. This scratch manifests like an irritable sore, that itch and itch and you are expected to frequently scratch. It demands of you to give it the necessary attention, feeding it with ointments and constant scratching so it may spread further and further on the body.

And so, “we the branches are all that matters”, President Zuma exclaimed; even when we all agree that ANC branches these days can be bought.

The President went further and said to branches at the conference that “you and only you can hire or fire” a President – by implication, no one else.

This is also why the calls from the broader society with regards to moral decay in the State and the ANC simply fall on deaf ears, because they, the people, don’t matter. It does remind one of that very apt poem by Bertolt Brecht, The Solution. Brecht wrote it in response to the uprising in East Germany in 1953 and the then government’s repressive response to such uprising. Our ANC government would do well to take some lesson from it.

After the uprising of the 17th June

The Secretary of the Writers Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

To dissolve the people

And elect another?”

I need not remind the President and this ANC NEC that the last time I checked, the ANC was a people’s movement, not a branches’ movement.

Having said that, I must also hasten to say that we dismiss these ANC policies at our own peril because the final product will become the recommendations to the National Elective Conference in December and will be ratified there.

This is why the contestation on pertinent policy choices is so very important to the factions.

During the Thabo Mbeki presidency, it was generally agreed that policy-making was government-driven (to the chagrin of some party hacks) and took into consideration available resources and appropriate institutions that would see to the successful implementation thereof. It was understood that these were critical components to successful implementation of policy objectives.

The current crop within the ANC, however, simply don’t take these two critical components into account, according to me, and as such ends up being a wish list and not succinct policies.

The disconnect and disjuncture between policy-makers (politicians) and policy implementers (bureaucracy) is too great and hence stagnation takes place.

Take our NHI white paper recently made public by Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. The document remains long on promises and short on detail and he remains reluctant to tackle the serious sticking points, such as provincial health budgets (the bulk of the health budget) which will have to be reallocated to the national budget if the NHI is to work properly. Equally, the huge budget allocated to government employees’ health benefits will also be under threat so to speak and Cosatu will certainly have something to say about this. He avoids these contentious issues and hopes that the officials around him will be able to find solutions to them.

So coming up with a wish list and then wanting officials to do the dirty work and take the unpopular decisions will simply not wash. The very same can be argued about the seriously flawed Mining Charter also recently made public by the Minerals Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. That is and remains the domain of the politicians and decision-makers.

Perhaps this was the main reason why the previous administration was always so unpopular, because they understood that policy priorities can only deliver to our people if the necessary resources and the correct institutions are made available in considering such policy imperatives.

Not that all policy implementations went smashingly, but for the most part it was much better than the current policy stagnation. One only has to look at the great National Development Plan and where we find ourselves in implementing it.

Yes, I’m saying these last eight years we’ve seen and experienced policy stagnation of the worse order.

Just to remind everyone, including some in the ANC, the six policy priorities of the ANC in its last election manifesto were:

  1. Economy and jobs
  2. Land reform, rural development and food security
  3. Human settlements and basic services
  4. Education and training
  5. Health
  6. Fighting corruption and crime

What have been achieved in these areas thus far? The succinct answer is not very much.

On the economy, this administration has taken us to junk status and we have just entered a recession and in all likeliness will be experiencing a depression soon. As for jobs, the administration did manage to claw back about 750,000 jobs after the losses of 1,000,000 jobs immediately after the 2008/9 global financial crisis. However, unemployment remains stubbornly high in Mzansi. President Zuma did indicate though that “the economy remains our apex priority”.

As for land reform, this administration and the previous ones have managed to restitute, compensate and expropriate about 10-million hectares of land since 1994 and yet much still needs to be done on this front, hence the recent calls for land expropriation without compensation. This is in direct response to the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle not working for most. The call therefore is that the guidelines and provisions of the Constitution of the Republic must be implemented.

With human settlements and basic services, we observe that since the 2014 general elections only 331,108 housing units have been build, while the target is 745,000 units over the medium term.

With regards to education and training, though the matric pass rate has improved from 58% in 1994 to 72% in 2016, which must be commended, there remain huge and significant challenges in this sector – a very defiant Teachers Union, ill equipped and not well trained teachers, plus the removal of good interventions such as the annual national assessments in primary schools. The challenges that come with #FeesMustFall in higher education institutions also make for very real challenges in the sector generally.

Health remains fraught with so many challenges and, as indicated earlier, a National Health Insurance as espoused in the white paper requires serious political will and dedicated resources if it wants to see its genesis.

Finally, fighting corruption and crime simply leaves much to be desired. The levels of state capture and the corruption being exposed through the #GuptaLeaks is astonishing in its width and most worrying in its depth.

The far-reaching implication of the phenomenon, where we deal with wish lists and not considered policy priorities, taking resource constraints and appropriate institutions into consideration, will ultimately mean that in the next medium-term period in our Mzansi, we will continue to stagnate.

With no real service delivery to talk about and stagnation in policy implementation, we will simply see a continuation of what I call the Zombie State.

There will continue to be no real leadership to us as well as no clearly thought-through policy objectives provided, but the bureaucracy will tick on and keep giving us the semblance of a so-called functioning state. Much as is the case in Zimbabwe today. Where the living dead (leadership in both the public and private sectors) continue not to take bold and unpopular decisions but instead rely on officials to prod along with the affairs of state.

Our limited fiscal position cannot be corrected by the Reserve Bank, contrary to what the Public Protector might think or not think, if you take time to read her report.

I guess we should perhaps be impressed, at least with the fact that the ANC as a political party is engaging on these very important policy matters. They fiercely disagree with each other on critical issues of land reform, the state of the economy and so much more. If anything, we should take this positive element from it.

What Mzansi however needs is fewer wish lists and rather a good, ethical and decisive leadership that will not succumb to populism but take decisive decisions that will indeed see the country move towards inclusive growth and addressing the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

Let us hope that the policy pendulum will be corrected to reflect a healthy balance between government and the governing party, lest we concede to becoming that Zombie State.

The question beckons whether the current scratch already is the onset of gangrene, and as the medical profession tells us, we must cut and/or amputate or will we be arrogant about this disease called factionalism and by the time we get to the December conference, the gangrene would be too far gone throughout the body. And so we must just resign ourselves to its eventual demise. DM

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

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