Defend Truth


For émigrés and those idealistic enough to remain, it’s all about trust, and there is very little to go around


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

If there is one thing we can agree on, it is that the ruling ANC has been a demonstrable failure when it comes to trust.

I recently floated a balloon about some of our compatriots who have left South Africa, and who will continue to do so in the coming years. Of course, I don’t believe that geography is destiny. People can move to and live where they are allowed to. Nevertheless, most of the “clean” replies I received had to do with a lack of trust in the state – and there is a whole lot of truth in that. But let me mess with some of the sensibilities of the émigrés. 

Very many of the émigrés have and will, inevitably, end up in countries like Australia, Britain, Canada (and even Norway). Norway surprises me. They stood by the anti-apartheid movement, and are now attracting its beneficiaries. It does my head in. Norway remains my favourite country, with Canada in second place; it has to do with snow and the absence of militarism and triumphalism. For the record, the Canadian and Norwegian authorities should not panic; unlike the émigrés they’re accepting I don’t make the cut. But that’s another story. 

So, when these émigrés get to, say, Australia, they will find something of a healthcare system that the state provides its citizens. In the UK, they will find the National Health Service, and I assume they would gladly pay their taxes. At this point we reach an important question. Why would they leave South Africa, which has promised to create a national healthcare system (and they complained about that), but are quite happy to enjoy the social welfare nets in highly developed countries? 

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and imagine that they are not racist, not opposed to affirmative action, not simply following the pattern of most colonial and settler colonial societies – and returned “home” to Western Civilisation’s metropoles. We should probably also accept that they “want a better life for their children” – this, after they, themselves, have over decades built up various forms of capital; social, cultural, symbolic, economic, etc.

It’s all about trust

But seriously, the one thing that we do agree on, given the responses I have received, and never mind some of the smug, self-righteous scribblers, individual hacks who gloat every time something goes wrong or not according to their individual taste, is the lack of trust in the government. I can be provocative and say they just don’t trust black people in government, and it’s only a matter of time before they return to the metropoles, as did settler colonists from Algeria to Zimbabwe. 

But yes, if there is one thing we can agree on, it would be that the ruling ANC has been a demonstrable failure when it comes to trust. Only this week, one of the politicians whom I trusted, Dr Zweli Mkhize, had to go on special leave or something for alleged unethical conduct. It is sometimes heart wrenching for those of us who gave so much to get rid of that old system and embraced the new system, but as they say in the old country, bukan tanpa kritikan (not without criticism). 

The economist Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) once remarked: “It can be plausibly argued that much of the economic backwardness in the world can be explained by the lack of mutual confidence.” Whether you’re a capitalist or a communist, you may agree that trust, or a lack thereof, is diabolical for confidence in policies and in policymakers. Research has shown that lack of trust, and of “mutual confidence”, have a diabolical relationship with production, growth, distribution and consumption – even in the most highly policed countries. Francis Fukuyama wrote about this causal relationship between lack of trust in government and political economic failure. 

“Law and order” alone is no guarantee of trust, mutual confidence and, by extension, in this case, in shared and inclusive growth, wealth, prosperity and overall wellbeing. At least not in highly diverse societies with fractious histories where various groups believe they have either been robbed of power, access to resources and influence while others have scores to settle. There certainly is an abundance of evidence of how rampant rent seeking (a portmanteau concept used here for theft, cronyism, corruption, nepotism, professional incompetence, etc) has eroded any and all trust in the government. There is certainly value in Karl Marx’s belief (which he shared with Immanuel Kant) that a shared sense of morality would help overcome the partiality and the inside-outside thinking of them and us. But at the base of all these arguments I would have to conjecture that trust is hard to measure.

Social cohesion qua trust?

One of the ideas that drive some of the better angels among us is the need for social cohesion as a precursor for stability and a shared prosperity. Social cohesion should not be mistaken for a remake of the Soviet Union’s All-Union Leninist Communist League of Youth, the All-Union Lenin Pioneer Organization and the Little Octobrists – all of which served primarily as political vehicles for spreading ideological propaganda and preparing future members of the ruling (Communist) Party and entry into governance. 

I’m afraid, though, that the trust train has left the station, and we are indeed left with probably hundreds of ANC members, the RET faction, Black First Land First (BLF), Economic Freedom Fighters, Cosatu and the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) who would insist that we establish a Marxist-Leninist state. Among these, the EFF are most explicit in their constitution. Numsa’s Irwin Jim ran in the last election as leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party. Other than Jim, who also heads Numsa, the BLF (a veritable group of ideologically lost bandits) and the EFF, who altogether make up about 12% of the electorate, all the others are in the ruling ANC and are all pulling in a different direction. It’s hard to know who you’re talking to when you talk to the ANC, because you cannot trust anyone, other than maybe five, six or seven people in and around the movement.

In all the literature on trust, from cultural, functionalist, rational choice, rigid economistic, symbolic-interactionist, Marxist philosophical and phenomenological, it is clear that any cohesive, stable and progressive society requires widespread trust among citizens. It is virtually impossible to build such a society without high levels of trust, and a sense of the common good – as well as burden sharing among the citizenry. In this sense it is relatively easy to conclude that without trust, a cohesive, socially progressive society that prizes economic justice – all the things we aspire to – is simply impossible. Trust is, therefore, vital. And if anything has further shaken my distrust of most ANC leaders, the Mkhize and Digital Vibes case has done very little to make me believe otherwise.

The National School of Government has a single chance to change all of that, and restore faith in the state. It has sought the advice and contributions from a range of successful states (such as the Civil Service College of Singapore), but unless the School of Government separates itself from the ruling ANC and establishes open and independent minds and not closed minds bookended by the ideas of the movement’s leaders – dead or alive, and with few exceptions – we can kiss trust in government goodbye.

The public usually trusts state policymakers to improve their living conditions. When they fail the public, and there is an abundance of evidence, trust is eroded. The best that the state can hope for is to manage distrust.

Once the ANC has decided whether or not we’re a capitalist or a communist society we can start the discussion whereby individuals and organisations have the will and the trust to cooperate without unnecessary intervention (or worry about rent seeking). In such a society, small township entrepreneurs and big corporations alike can trust their workers and management to make the business sustainable – and share the benefits of growth and prosperity. Right now, though, employers have very little trust in workers, firms don’t trust each other and nobody trusts the government.

It’s no wonder more and more people are packing up and leaving South Africa. But with capitalism in the midst of what is probably its longest crisis (with consequent breaks in institutions, states and society), the émigrés may face difficult headwinds wherever they go. DM


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All Comments 17

  • “once the ANC has decided” – hopefully they get voted out before then and someone else can decide…and if that is the EFF, then all bets are probably off…

  • Jeez what a square trying to fit in a circle argument.
    Sorry mate, get some clarity.
    Picking just one point:
    your swipe re UK NHS vs our hare brained NHI: you must know that 40m odd active contributions is not same as maybe 3-4m here for roughly same population number.
    So there will be more trust in the one paid for by the 40m taxpayers,
    but no, you take a klap with the sneering race card. Please.

  • Pity you start the article in bad faith and with a huge amount of prejudice. Reducing an entire group of people that leave this political and economic nightmare to racists that won’t cut it in the countries they are moving to, says more about your character than about theirs.

  • I can’t remember that I ever read an opinion piece in DM that contain so much drivel. In fact, this article is so bad it is not even worth it to make a comment. But then I’ve always been a bit of a fool, so decided against my better wishes to indeed respond.
    My question to you is simple: Why do you publish it in possibly the most reputable news medium in South Africa, the Daily Maverick. DM, relatively speaking, is a small online newspaper with perhaps not more than 20,000 regular readers? But what make DM stands out, like Mail and Guardian, and Business Day, is that its readers are generally speaking well educated and more important, well informed. This article would have had a better reception if it was written in the Sunday Times, or Independent Media.
    You jump from one subject to another, often contradicting yourself. You also make assumptions that are bordering on the ridiculous. Here is an example: Most people that immigrate from SA (mostly Whites) are young people looking for opportunities, simply put, jobs, and those jobs are more easily available in first world countries, unlike SA that is now more third world than ever before. It has nothing to do with racism per se. However, keep in mind that with BEE, it is more difficult for a bright white graduate to find a job in SA. They flee to first world countries like mentioned because they speak English. Those countries also welcome us with open arms
    I ran out of space, writing too much. But then, I am a bit of a fool

  • I wish to hi-jack this article to make a special plea to DM’s Management. Since DM decided to publish as newspaper (DM168), there are no new articles or news on DM online on Saturdays. In order to get that, you have to buy DM168 at a Pick & Pay store. I live in a small town in the Western Cape with a population of 15000, inclusive of the farming community. The closest P&P store is 55 KM away from my town. Besides, why should I buy the paper when those articles published in DM168 will be republished in DM online on Sunday, but at least 36 hours after it was written. Thus basically old news. To re-read the kind of rubbish that Mr. Lagardien has written is basically absurd, hence the only other option is to chase me away to News24 or the like, and I mostly do not endorse their opinion pieces. So I would appeal to you to also publish the articles in DM168 on DM online, on the same day, not a day later, keeping in mind I also make a financial contribution, like all other “insiders”.

  • It’s like we’re caught in an unhappy, arranged marriage with a serial philanderer. Trust? What’s that? Viva ANC! Viva!

  • The sime truth is that SA remains an apartheid state. This means that if you have a black skin you are considered a legitimate citizen but if you have a white skin, you are by default racist and priveleged, and considered a visitor or a settler. Furthermore white skinned people, must accept that jobs in the public sector are not open to them and if the want to own businesses, they have to comply with onerous race based legislation.

    This business about such legislation being their to satisfy restorative justice imperatives, is pure dishonesty and deception because the legislation simply causes the economy to shrink thus exacerbating poverty, unemployment and inequality.

    Faced with such lunacy which exists soley to serve the greedy, material interests of the politically connected, is it surprising that many people with white skins see very little prospects for a bright future in their own home land, which has been captured and hijacked by Animal Farm Pigs?

  • Excellent article. The next scandal will be the education department, where one of the highest percentages of GDP to be allocated to education in the world, has one of the worst outcomes.
    An ill educated rump of society allows for populist, Marxist solutions to be attractive.
    Only when the economy is completely destroyed by such policies will the masses wake up to find they have been duped. Evil people who could care less for the poor!!

  • Ismail you piqued my interest. Who are the 5-7 you believe we can trust in the ANC? As an aside, I am not sure you can say Norway stood by apartheid SA as they certainly did offer asylum to conscientious objectors.

    • The ones you could trust have unfortunately ’emigrated’ to the next level from this earthly plain, OR moved out of a once proud organisation … and left us to the mercy of vultures !

  • I’m not going anywhere, our kids probably are. Who do I blame most? The 20m decent ordinary ANC members that allowed their party to become an overflowing grease trap in a murky sewer line.

    Don’t tell me it’s a race thing. I know dozens of private companies that are fully transformed and provide excellent products and services. The ONLY organisations that are entirely useless and seem to exist solely to see how much they can steal or how badly they can screw things up is state, local and SOE. Common theme? Run by comrade cadres.

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