Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 26 February 2020

United, we can reshape our future

The agenda for reform in South Africa is not simply the work of President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration, but will be reliant on the collective efforts of citizens, business and civil society.

A growing sense of hopelessness pervades South Africa. In part, this is because the pace of reform has not yielded meaningful results, coupled with the dire economic climate that has many South Africans in the grip of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

South Africans face a huge challenge to live dignified and meaningful lives. The challenge is to imagine a different country – a country that is not gripped by the failures of the governing ANC and the lost decade under former president Jacob Zuma. The extent of that loss is felt by every South African. It is a loss experienced when we attempt to access government services when we seek justice or redistribution, and it is a demonstrable failure of our young democracy. Failure that is extensive, pervasive and entrenched. Failure that is entrenched in our healthcare system, our transport system, our education system and critically, a failure that affects tens of millions each day.

President Cyril Ramaphosa attempted to provide certainty and structure in his State of the Nation Address last week, but the greatest challenge for South Africa is to reshape its future from a dire and depressing present. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is the man tasked with steering our fiscal ship when he outlines a programme during his Budget speech, but the market believes it will not improve our situation.

Mboweni has been thrust into a position that does not allow him any real latitude for progressive and urgent reform. Reform that has been stalled by process chatter, internal politics of the ANC, and the inability to make difficult choices that will require a drastic reduction in our government’s expenditure and the reprioritisation of our commitments and efforts. The lost decade under Zuma was not only reflected in the State Capture project, but also in the systematic erosion of state institutions, organisational capacity and institutional memory.

The war waged by the State Capture project class continues to plague our government, and it is a project that is not confined to the ANC. 

The jockeying for power after the 2016 local government elections meant that many procurement processes were circumvented and corrupted in order to secure deals. These deals need to be uncovered and then doggedly pursued by a recapacitated National Prosecuting Authority that is not only chasing the ghosts of the apartheid regime but also seeking to exact justice for the millions who want to see consequences for the treasonous and heinous State Capture project. All of this takes time and patience – sparse commodities in South Africa – to fix. The sad reality is that our young democracy has very few options available.

We have very few capable leaders willing to speak out against group-think. Our political system is built on the notion that individuals must suspend their own beliefs and values to exist within the party-political system. The process of reforming our political system stalled during the Mbeki years, was forgotten during the interim arrangement of Motlanthe and was suffocated and slaughtered during the Zuma years. 

Ramaphosa has an opportunity to remedy the structural challenges of our party-political environment, and he will have to do so with urgency and commitment to the country and not just to his party.

He must demonstrate this commitment by promulgating an effective date for the party-political funding legislation in the interests of creating a basis for transparency and accountability. He must move with urgency to strengthen the hand of Parliament to play an oversight role over the executive, and for the parliamentary office-bearers to begin actively holding members accountable, particularly in their disclosures, which often have very little regard for truth or detail.

South Africans have been desperately holding on for hope in the belief that Ramaphosa and his administration would be able to bring reform and begin the hard work of confronting the “ruling elite” who have gorged themselves on the public purse. It’s become clear that there are many actively working against the reform agenda. 

The agenda for reform in South Africa is not simply the work of Ramaphosa and his administration but will be reliant on the collective efforts of citizens, business and civil society. This is an agenda that South Africans cannot simply delegate or walk away from. It is a responsibility that we must continue to fight for. 

In these troubled times, South Africans must step up. Step up and speak out against the fightback of the looters, speak out against injustice and corruption wherever we may see it, and not succumb to what appears to be a malaise of our politicians – collective amnesia selectively applied.

A number of companies, professional service individuals and international organisations benefited greatly from the frenzied feasting that took place during the lost decade under Zuma. There has been a valiant effort to uncover and tackle this, with Bain & Company, McKinsey, Trillian and KPMG outed, but there are still organisations and companies that have not been held to account. 

The Zondo Commission, as it deliberates for a further 13 months, must consider and recommend key steps that can account for this perversion of ethics and integrity in the pursuit of cash from the public purse. There will need to be real accounting for those companies, professional service individuals and international organisations if we are going to begin anew a culture of responsibility, accountability and service. DM

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