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Opinionista

In 2020, we must stand tall, together

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Wayne Duvenage is a businessman and entrepreneur turned civil activist. Following former positions as CEO of AVIS and President of SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, Duvenage has headed the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse since its inception in 2012.

Our reality is derived from the adage that ‘nothing changes until something changes’. And for as long as South Africa is beholden to a political system that is trapped in party patronage cronyism that places self- and party-interest ahead of the country, poor governance and lacklustre performance will remain the order of the day.

Over the past few years, I recall in my year-end reflections that each one was surely the end of our economic woes, and the year ahead had to be the start of a new era of prosperity and growth for South Africa.

My judgments appear to have been clouded by wishful thinking, as real growth in the economy and job creation or reducing poverty was absent from our statistics. One would be dreaming if we believed that 2020 will be any better than 2019. At best, we may tread water with not much change for the better.

Let’s face it, our government is not about to wake up tomorrow and suddenly realise the changes required and undertake implementation thereof to heighten our national prosperity. If there was a time for that signal to be sent, it was between the May 2019 elections and now. Instead, we’ve seen repeated blundering and fire-fighting by people in positions of authority, with some ministers excelling only in performing for the cameras. They blatantly ignore the oath they once took to serve the nation and its people, and this is the root of our anxiety.

That anxiety blinds us of the reality that 2019 was much better off than it would have been, had we remained under a Zuma or Zuma-influenced administration. It also hinders our ability to recognise the change and recent appointments that are cleaning up at SARS, the NPA, the Hawks and other institutions, most of which only began in earnest this year.

Our impatience for corrective action has given rise to our thinking that nothing is happening. Yet the fixing of these decimated institutions was never possible overnight. What we do know though, is that each of these enforcement bodies is much better off today and poised to take more meaningful action in 2020 and beyond. This alone will make next year much better than the past.

Our frustration at the slow pace to correct the downward slide is made worse by load shedding and endless bailouts, which are the by-products of the Zuma-era “decade of damage” that saw low maintenance, corrupt procurement and massive debt from unwarranted borrowing. Throw in mother nature’s wrath combo of droughts and floods to remind us of our wayward damage to the environment, and our anxiety levels get stretched to the limit. Our impatience triggers scorn and lamentation that only serves to feed our fears. The cycle is a viciously downward one.

We become our own worst enemies and open the doors for the corrupt cabal to feed on. Heightened negative public sentiment is the feeding ground for populism and political upheaval. This is the backdrop the corrupt cabal seek to seize and further upset the path of repair, albeit a winding one, that this country is on. They make it easier for us to cry foul to President Ramaphosa’s style of leadership or lack of courageous action. Our impatience blinds us to the pushback dynamics at play.

In my humble opinion, Ramaphosa is still South Africa’s best chance of recovery and growth. Replace him with any one of the shady characters vying for his role, and we run the real risk of losing the rule of law, of SARS and Treasury being hijacked by the real rogues, and a quick road to economic chaos.

So let’s accept that in 2020 we may have to live a while longer with intermittent load shedding, as the new Eskom CEO and his team consolidate their operational efforts to repair our broken electricity machine. Things will get better, given time and the necessary civil society pressure required of us. The recent blackout perils have had some positive impact in raising the debate and call for reduced barriers to entry of Independent Power Producers (IPPs). SAA’s demise has triggered business rescue and fewer future bailouts, and the possible inclusion of private equity partners. The disposal of more state equity in other entities may become a reality in 2020.

Over the past years, organised civil society has increased its role in holding the abusers of authority to account, and 2020 will generate more awareness and active citizenry that will heighten citizen’s oversight of dubious public service conduct. Add to this, the wrapping up of Judge Raymond Zondo’s commission and its recommendations to blow more wind into the sails of law enforcement. Confidence is high that in 2020, we will celebrate the arrest of some past leaders and executives whose wealth was paid for by you and me.

Of course, there will be permutations of pushback and other events that could throw our path of recovery off course. However, there are equally more events that could align and drive our economic recovery into a better space. The latter will depend on how we as citizens and organised civil society choose to behave and accelerate our prosperity, by working harder to hold government’s feet to the fire on transparency and accountability.

As the sun sets on what was another tough year for SA, let us remind ourselves that we have two choices to make in times of peril and degradation. We can choose to do nothing and watch our prosperity die, or we can act with conviction to rectify the situation. We can roll our sleeves a notch higher, or wallow in self pity. To be, or not to be. To make, or to break.

In 2020, let’s not for one minute stand back and remain quiet about that which is wrong. But please, can we be a tad calmer and cut through the endless ream of meaningless distractions. Let’s not be forwarding sensational social media tripe and fake news — just because it helps to justify our anguish.

Let’s choose to stand taller together and confront our challenges by participating in the fixing and building of stronger foundations for a better future that does await us. DM

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