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Opinionista

Just get on with the job, South Africa

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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 currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

It has been a year of lows, and some highs. But South Africans are resilient and with some decisive and strategic intervention from government, we can win back the high ground.

As we reflect on this past year, 2019 can be seen as a year of mixed fortunes. Some highlights and, indeed, lowlights.

The general elections in May, installing our six democratic Parliament and our fifth democratically elected president, suggest much can be celebrated in terms of the strength of our constitutional democracy. It is alive and well and also, as we have seen, not complacent. Voters are sending very clear messages to their preferred political parties that we are not simply voting fodder. The governing ANC has had its majority reduced and the opposition DA also lost support in this election.

A cursory look at the results of this election suggests that the centre is not holding (the centre being the ANC and the DA), it also suggests strongly that in line with global right-wing trends, meaning, narrow nationalist and anti-immigrant approaches, in South Africa voters too, are becoming inward-looking and protectionist. The electorate seems to be growing more and stronger laagers. There is a greater polarisation – defined by religious and racial/ethnic identity. This posits a real threat to our democracy. I see the growth of laager mentalities – inward-looking homogenous groups who are resistant to new ideas, intolerant of difference, and fundamentally conservative.

On the economy we see that the first-, second- and third-quarter results have not been good – we have managed to avoid a recession to date but our per capita of GDP has been reducing steadily for the last five years and all indications are that it will continue for a sixth year in 2020. This, in layman’s terms, means South Africans have been getting poorer year on year. This is a breeding ground for unrest and protest actions.

The Rugby World Cup came home again and infused a sense of togetherness. Though we remain a nation under construction, we know when to celebrate together and this was one such occasion. Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus, you beauties. Thanks for restoring our optimism as a nation, guys.

Then SOEs: bad, badder and baddest. Or shall I say it in Afrikaans, which just sounds better, sleg, slegter en slegste. Prasa, SAA and Eskom. Place them all under business rescue. A masterful move on the part of Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa with regards to placing SAA under business rescue, keeping the creditors at bay and working to find a lasting solution to the endless wastage of taxpayers’ money.

Just as we celebrated this clever move, darkness befell us. Whether it was sabotage, or poor maintenance of ailing infrastructure, we don’t care Mr President! We just want our lights on since we pay religiously and as responsible citizens. As for those that don’t pay or cannot pay, make a plan.

Then, as we are such neurotic citizens, just as we conclude we are moving towards a failed state, Zozibini Tunzi gives us a cheer – Miss Universe, wow, what a boost for us all. Black beauty reigns supreme. Well done sister Zozibini, you fill us with pride.

Floods in Centurion and not Mozambique were a clear sign of our infrastructure failures. Far too often we are so concerned with wanting to see people sent to prison or the return of some of the money stolen during State Capture, that we forget there were other consequences flowing from this period. Service delivery took a knock and our public servants have lost their empathy and their goodwill towards citizens. All frontline services, whether it be home affairs, social services, hospital staff or police stations, give us pathetic service. They have negative attitudes, many are “on the take” (soliciting bribes) and the government seems unable or unwilling to curb these practices. Do your job!

Minister Gwede Mantashe has finally given in and we will hopefully see independent power producers (IPPs) coming to the rescue. Eskom will dominate the sector for many years to come, but a little competition can only be a good thing.

I indicated in an earlier piece the five things the president must do to get the economy going again, and it’s worth repeating them here. These are things he can effect that will almost immediately contribute to GDP growth:

  1. Ease visa restrictions. Much progress has been made on this front, but some airlines, notably SAA, still request that parents produce unabridged birth certificates. This must stop. It is having a negative impact on our tourism numbers.
  2. Finalise and sustain policy certainty in mining. Mantashe must make some serious decisions about the IPPs and gas production. Issue the licences ASAP. Take responsibility for your ministry and don’t expect the president to jump in every time there is an emergency. Own up.
  3. Allocate spectrum. The minister of telecommunications must stop delaying this process, and telecommunication companies and the broadcasters must stop resisting this much-needed spectrum. This will improve the lives of the very poor and, yes, these companies will have serious competition and, yes, they are likely to lose some money, but just implement the spectrum. Do it now; September is too far.
  4. Reduce the cost of transport, logistics and communication. Data costs are too high and we the citizens are being taken for a ride. Data costs are very low in Nigeria and yet MTN here in South Africa doesn’t want to comply with the recommendations made by the Competition Commission. As for calls from some quarters that more competition is needed to reduce data costs, this is a joke since Vodacom, MTN and Cell C have the market monopoly and no others will survive here.
  5. Implement a more effective immigration policy to attract critical skills. Open the borders for critical skills. Maths teachers, doctors and engineers are desperately needed and if our own universities cannot meet demand then we must look elsewhere.

Fighting corruption cannot become the be-all and end-all because this will not contribute to South Africa’s development or economic growth. Judge Raymond Zondo must conclude his commission in June and not request more time.

Defending our Chapter Nine institutions, strengthening our civil society sector and instilling confidence in our country is what’s needed.

Alfred Lord Tennyson reminds us:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

We are not victims; we are in charge of our own destiny – just get on with the job. Blessed Christmas and may 2020 be our year of resilience. DM

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