Dear Herman, Lindiwe, Julius and friends,
The reason for my letter is to pose five pressing questions to you that need to be answered for South Africa to forge a better path.
I would really appreciate your help in answering these. You see, I fear that if we fail to answer all these questions, or any one of them, South Africa will realise the fears of RW Johnson and Alex Boraine’s failed state, falling over Claire Bisseker’s political and fiscal cliff. If we answer then, not only in our words but our actions, we might discover there is a pot of gold at the end of our rainbow.
While I don’t expect you will agree with me or one another, I hope you will agree that these are important questions. I hope that we might even have a productive disagreement about your views.
- Given the fact that ANC cadres have apparently again stolen funds and food destined for Covid-19 relief, what are the prospects of strengthening South Africa’s investigative and judicial system?
You see, as I understand it, a democracy can only function if the rule of law is upheld – which means that wrongdoers are investigated, charged, brought before the courts and jailed. Yes, democracies that function place people in jail when they steal other people’s stuff. ANC cadres stealing Covid-19 relief funds meant for personal protective equipment to protect our healthcare workers seems to me to be just such a case. So, what are your thoughts on how the investigative and judicial system might be put to work?
- Given the fact that under the ANC government’s rule half of our people can’t find jobs, what are the prospects of expanding South Africa’s economy to become more labour absorptive?
You see, whether economies are orientated towards being state-led, such as China, or market-led, such as the US, they all have one thing in common: economic progress is the product of increased value-creation, which is the product of increased productivity, which is the product of increased investment, which comes naturally on the back of increased confidence, which is the product of clarity about the rules and regulations that define the market. So, what are your thoughts about how South Africa’s economic system might be put back to work?
- Given the fact that the ANC-governed towns and cities are now mostly bankrupt, their infrastructure defunct and their core industrial capacity in rapid decline, resulting in migration to our cities, what are the prospects of strengthening the rural and peri-urban economy so that we don’t end up with derelict ghost towns but rather create new nodes of development?
You see, towns come to life because there is an economic or resource endowment, such as a river, a mine, a pretty mountain or an economic hub and business clusters, then emerge on the back of enabling infrastructure and incentives, driving up property prices and attracting skilled workers, all within the context of an increasingly sophisticated governance environment that often centres on a town hall and executive mayor. So, what are your thoughts about how our dying towns might be resuscitated?
- Given the fact that the ANC has done well to raise to almost 100% the proportion of children who begin primary school, but has failed to adequately raise the levels of children who leave formal schooling with any meaningful skills that they can exchange for a livelihood, what are the prospects of an improved education system?
Nations become wealthy when their people shift from an unskilled peasantry lifestyle to high-skilled innovation-orientated forms of human capital. The latter is the product of functioning schools, colleges and universities, with curricula that are responsive to the changing needs of industry and business, supported by a national innovation system. So, what are your thoughts about how our people might be uplifted from carrying water to extracting water from air, as is now being done in some innovative societies?
- My final question has three parts and is directed to each of you.
Herman, is there a prospect of South Africa becoming a better version of the now liberal, open democracy with a competitive economy nestled in the latest untapped emerging market in the world, that does not involve nationalistic populism?
Lindiwe, is there a prospect of South Africa graduating from the politics of the stomach to economics of the wallet in your generation, without first having to attend an expensive national funeral for a one-party state draped in an ANC flag?
Julius, is there a prospect of South Africa escaping the attractive myth that it is a black country, and realising that it is a country of people who are black, brown, white and a range of other colours and finding a rhythm that resonates with all its diverse voices?
I do apologise for saddling you with these questions. I would have preferred to ask President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet members, or the seat-warmers in the ANC NEC, but they seem to be preoccupied with the question of who gets to captain their sinking ship.
To those who graduate in political science, law and economics, what will be the story that you choose to live? A South Africa, once capable of nuclear power and a world-class stock exchange, looking increasingly like a badly run spaza shop after it was looted? Or will you create the mechanisms to build on our fractured but promising base, and make South Africa the first truly multiparty liberal constitutional democracy in Africa, where a nation of diverse builders turn their dreams into a better life for all? DM