Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 19 June 2019

A time for critical choices: we need a leadership that can drive renewal and support good governance

Since the outcomes of the national and provincial elections, South Africa has not yet focused on the introspection required from the custodians of our constitutional democracy, but rather on the inner workings of the party political environment from the fight for the soul of the African National Congress (and the ongoing factional battles) to the Democratic Alliance’s less than stellar electoral outcomes (which include the antics and views of Helen Zille) and the ongoing battle lines that the Economic Freedom Fighters are willing to wage. These are of course important issues; however, they do not confront or provide answers to the pressing issues facing South Africans at large.

The rhetoric of renewal and rebuilding has not yet been realised or articulated in the reconfiguration of South Africa’s Cabinet (which is still not fit for purpose) or the issues confronting State-owned entities such as PetroSA, Eskom, South African Airways or the SABC. The issues of national importance often can get lost in the tussle of news headlines, but the issue confronting the very well-heeled that will attend the State of the Nation is that South Africa is drowning in massive public (and personal) debt, crippled further by the growing inequality and perpetuated in growing unemployment and a restricting economic climate.

President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa will address a joint sitting of Parliament on Thursday in what will be his third State of the Nation except that this address will come in the wake of the ongoing tussle between the factions within the governing party. Factional battles that have played out in the deployment of various Cabinet ministers, Premiers as well as an ongoing philosophical battle around the role the Reserve Bank should be playing but more importantly about how the state is used as a mechanism for both policy certainty, intervention and for the exercise of power for a particular outcome.

The lessons of the past decade, as well as the years preceding the administration of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, should be an important reminder that state power can be used to achieve important outcomes that benefit South Africans, or it can be used to silence, vilify, side-line or in many recent cases create space for a Shadow State to benefit a few connected individuals.

The corrective measures required to remedy our malaise is not simply the appointment of executives that appear to be above reproach only, but rather capable individuals that are committed to a greater call of service – and that service must be to the Republic and its people. The realignment of the South African executive must continue with greater urgency, and importantly must not simply result in the consolidation of various ministries, but the reconfiguration of the functional clusters in order to ensure proper co-ordination, efficacy as well as co-ordination to ensure that the right policy is developed firstly, and critically that our policies are implemented, and actual outcomes are achieved.

The effort exerted by our judiciary and our media during the previous administration created the space and opportunity for others to begin speaking out against the malfeasance, greed, corruption and capture. However, what South Africans now require is a concerted, focused and unrelenting effort to rebuild the bureaucracy and systems that are required to begin the journey of actual renewal. The work of rebuilding a bureaucracy is not often front of mind, however, this is the real engine room that must work if South Africa is ever going to confront our structural realities and challenges, which form the bedrock for inequality, injustice, unemployment and poverty, and this is the space that our Executive, and Legislature, in particular, must provide scope for massive structural improvement.

The danger of not dealing with the system upon which our governance structures exist is that we will create an environment akin to the governing party where people like Ace Magashule are provided much space to wreak havoc and plan their next move with the knowledge and power of using the machine to drive their own often divisive agenda.

It is within this context that the role- players of our democracy become even more critical – the roles of various parliamentary committees, the Accounting Officers of our various state departments, the functionaries that make governments capable of execution – and our collective eyes and oversight must continue to watch vigilantly in order to ensure that the right people, who are both fit for purpose but also committed to serving the Republic, are appointed and retained within our government.

The same must be said for our state-owned entities that are crippled by inertia, ineffective implementation and a vacuum of both confidence and capability. This is the time to make the difficult choices, and critically to have leadership and executive teams in place that can drive the agenda of renewal that will support the governance agenda that South Africans must begin to hammer home to our political

President Ramaphosa has the benefit of being able to craft a particular message in his State of the Nation, as he did with his Thuma Mina call, however, South Africans cannot get to work with just a message. South Africans cannot provide sustenance for their families, they cannot access government services with just a message. Critically our country will not be rebuilt only with a singular and coherent message that will be uttered during the State of the Nation. The larger issues confronting South Africans will require drastic changes to how our government functions, and the new administration of Ramaphosa in the announcement of its new Cabinet has not been able to provide insight in to that necessary restructuring.

The restructuring cannot be about moving the deck chairs, or cosmetic improvements but must go to the heart of how our government functions, and particularly how our budgets are both allocated, prioritised but also spent.

Now is not the time to simply answer the President’s call, but now is the time to demand drastic reform – reform that is vested in the interests of all South Africans, but critically acknowledges the custodial nature of that power. Public power exercised and the policy direction of the Ramaphosa administration must provide South Africans with a real roadmap so that we can begin creating a new image of our government. A government focused on service above else but is willing to make the difficult choices in order to serve the Republic, and its people. DM

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