Opinionista Herman Mashaba 12 August 2020

Yes, Marius, we can fix South Africa. But not with the ANC in power

Our reality in South Africa is that we are more unequal than we were in 1994. Not only do we have to overcome three centuries of colonial and apartheid history, but also the devastating impact of 26 years of ANC government.

Dear Marius Oosthuizen,

Your piece published on 6 August 2020 in Daily Maverick, “Five Burning Questions for Herman Mashaba, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Julius Malema and SA’s academic youth”, refers.

Five burning questions for Herman Mashaba, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Julius Malema and SA’s academic youth

I could not agree with you more. South Africa’s future is hanging in the balance and the prospect of a failed state and a collapsed economy is more real now than ever before.

We face the very real situation where 70c in every rand in our fiscus will now either go to servicing our national debt or paying the salaries of civil servants. We went into Covid-19 with 39% unemployment and now stare down the barrel of a projection of three to seven million jobs being lost.

It would be safe to say that there has never been a deeper and more urgent crisis from which we need to lift ourselves. The imperative is the need to galvanise South Africans around the decisive action required, because it is patently obvious that this will never happen with the ANC in charge of our country.

So, it is perhaps a fitting moment to turn to the questions you pose.

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?

Despite the sense of helplessness we feel as a country on the subject of corruption, it is not a complicated challenge to tackle. We have to change the fact that the corrupt in South Africa do not fear repercussions – when the president promises to clamp down on corruption, they laugh.

We have to free up funds to invest heavily in infrastructure. Our electricity network must be reliable and our road and rail network must be world-class. We need to end the control trade unions have over our government and revise our labour legislation to make it easier to employ South Africans.

First, there has to be the political will to declare corruption public enemy number one. Law enforcement agencies must be given the scope to do their work, without fear or favour or political interference. This political will must include the willingness to pursue members of your own party with even greater ruthlessness, because their betrayal of the public trust is even greater.

Second, we have to have the institutions to investigate and prosecute corruption in government. Public sector corruption is a niche area of law enforcement, relating to specific legislation that governs the management of public funds. It requires specialised structures of law enforcement, the National Prosecuting Authority, and our courts, that focus just on this.

Third, it cannot end here. Once the corrupt are in prison, their assets need to be pursued to recover every cent of stolen money.

I always say that we must listen to what people say, but trust what they do. This cannot be truer than when it comes to the subject of corruption in South Africa. You won’t find a politician in South Africa who is not publicly against corruption, and yet it thrives unabated.

To demonstrate the possibilities here, I turn to my three years as mayor of Johannesburg. With a dedicated anti-corruption unit headed by a former Scorpion, we investigated over 6,000 cases totalling more than R35-billion in expenditure. This unit effected more than 800 arrests because they knew they had the backing of the political leadership.

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?

Our reality in South Africa is that we are more unequal than we were in 1994. Not only do we have to overcome three centuries of colonial and apartheid history, but also the devastating impact of 26 years of ANC government.

Above all else, we need economic policy certainty. A strong message needs to be communicated about the future management of our economy: it needs to be clear and it needs to be decisive. Then, it needs to be executed without confusion or compromise.

We have to free up funds to invest heavily in infrastructure. Our electricity network must be reliable and our road and rail network must be world-class. We need to end the control trade unions have over our government and revise our labour legislation to make it easier to employ South Africans.

We have to overhaul our education system, revise our syllabus, performance-manage our teachers and build universities, FET and training colleges.

We need genuine support for small businesses. It has to start in school, with training young people in the skills needed to start and run a small business. We need to ease the burden on starting small businesses and we need to incentivise their growth.

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?

I believe we must reflect that urbanisation is a trend across the world, but we need to ensure that it is not arising from people feeling the slow death of the economies of our towns and rural areas. So, the one side of this equation is economic activity in these areas, and the other side is driving our cities as the catalysts of economic growth.

Infrastructure in these towns and rural areas has become a disaster that impacts any prospect of the investment needed to breathe life into their local economies. Large-scale investment into infrastructure must be prioritised.

Agriculture has to be the lifeblood of these areas, and currently this industry is under siege. The government must support farmers, both emerging and established, through subsidies that protect this industry, and grow our agricultural export markets. Equally, we must look at providing the incentives and special economic zones that encourage the value-adding agri-processing industries to establish in these towns.

Further to this, there has to be a focus on tourism as a highly labour-absorptive industry with the ability to generate economic activity in South Africa’s towns and rural areas.

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?

Our education system is a national embarrassment. Despite spending one of the highest global percentages of our budget on education, we have one of the worst schooling systems in the world and are, literally, last in maths and science – which are critical for the era young people are entering.

We need an education revolution which will overhaul the syllabus with the focus on preparing young people for the jobs of the future. We need to produce a nation of employers and not employees.

SADTU’s grip on our children’s futures must come to an end. Teachers and principals must be performance managed and teachers’ colleges must proliferate to produce a much higher standard of educator in South Africa.

Tertiary education must be more accessible for school leavers, with more universities and more creative ideas as to how students can be subsidised to attend.

You ask, “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?”

Without any doubt, it is possible – but it has to start with a growing economy that is creating jobs. This has to be the focus, because no country has ever improved the livelihoods of its people without increasing economic activity.

Our reality in South Africa is that we are more unequal than we were in 1994. Not only do we have to overcome three centuries of colonial and apartheid history, but also the devastating impact of 26 years of ANC government.

Addressing this inequality requires a social conscience on the part of all South Africans. It has to move past this narrow beneficiation of the politically connected to a new model that is opportunity-based. We have to redistribute opportunity by investing in areas where people still live under the painful legacy of the past.

Finally, I would like to thank you for your questions. We need a national debate on the future of our country. There is an urgent need to reimagine the future of South Africa and bring together those with the right questions and answers to develop the blueprint that will put our country and its people on the path to prosperity. DM

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