Governance Watch

Where ANC failed, coalition make a promising start

Herman Mashaba, Joburg mayor
Herman Mashaba.jpg

The ANC has failed to address apartheid’s worse legacy – the economic exclusion of the majority. Now, coalition government in Joburg has made a promising start.

Probably the most harmful legacy of the apartheid era in South Africa’s history, is that it took the practice of economic exclusion of the majority (black) population in the country from full ownership in the economy, and turned it into an ideology, called separate development. On top of this a state structure of so-called homelands, for each of the black ethnic groups, was created.

The implication of this was that the majority of the population, even if they were born or lived in city- or urban areas, could only achieve political rights, and entry into the formal economy and commercial structures in designated ethnic ’homelands.’

For most of them, because of the feudal like system of chiefdoms in so-called traditional or tribal areas, – in place to this day and a problem still in need of being addressed properly – it also meant they could never gain formal ownership – like in title deeds – on any land anywhere in the country.

The ‘grand apartheid’ dream was that eventually the majority of black would “flow” to the ‘homelands,’ which eventually become independent states.

One of the results of this dispensation was that black townships in the ‘white homeland’ never developed into anything more than mere labour supplying dormitory towns’ for the benefit of the white monopoly over the formal economy.

Final days of apartheid

By the end of the 1970’s it became more and more clear that the ‘grand apartheid’ dream would never become reality and an ideological battle for reform developed, especially within the body politics of the white Afrikaner community – often called the “verlig-verkramp” (enlightened-narrow-minded) struggle.

This would reach a peak in the early 1980’s when Dr Andries Treurnicht and his followers left the National Party and formed the Conservative Party, but the battle was not over, and only after the election of FW de Klerk in the late 1980s did reform and movement towards a negotiated settlement start in earnest.

By then most of the damage has been done in terms of, for purposes of this article's main argument, as far as economic structures are concerned.

A personal experience of the writer, illustrates the point. In the early 1980s, on the request of a big retail property developer, I approached Dr Treurnicht as the then responsible member of cabinet, for permission to do a big shopping mall development in Soweto.

True to his nickname at the time, ‘Dr No,’ he immediately flatly refused based on the argument that the people of Soweto were “temporary” residents that in time will move to the homelands. There was simply no room in his frame of reference for arguments about what such a migration would do to the economy in the ‘white homeland, never-mind any moral arguments.

The fact is, the ANC-government in 1994 inherited an economy which in terms of ownership, full participation, and opportunities, largely excluded the black majority.

 Rectifying the situation

To rectify such a situation was never going to be an easy, overnight job.

Again, from personal history the writer can testify that it takes at least a generation to restructure the economy to include a large section of the population.

To go into the subject in detail here will not do, but much of the Afrikaner community until late in the first half of the 20th century also found themselves excluded from the mainstream of the economy due to the structures created by colonialism.

My first childhood memories are of life in a tent, which was part of a constantly moving construction camp for the building of a national road infrastructure. My father was the son of a share-cropper in the then Western Province, who had to leave school after what was then standard six or grade eight, in today’s terms.

In 1952, the year before I had to go to school, he found a job with Iscor (today Excelsior Mittal), a state cooperation with a social upliftment duty, besides economic development.

And yes, he was, and by extension our family, beneficiaries of what I often refer to as “boere-affirmative action,” which reserved certain job categories for white people. The majority of my friends, growing-up came from similar backgrounds.

The programmes that were put in place for that generation of labourers allowed them to gain ownership of their subsidised rented homes and afforded their children to gain a solid basic education and affordable health care, and I benefited from a school feeding scheme at primary school.

 A generation later the fortunes of our family and the population group we belonged to was totally turned around although my farther still died a relatively poor man. All four children were well educated and empowered to function productively in the economy.

ANC bungled the job

Yes, what the National Party did was not only grossly unfair and economically short sighted and, despite the good intentions of some, at best morally questionable and in the implementation by some arms of government, downright evil.

The task of the ANC in government was never going to be easy, but the biggest mistake it made was to seek short cuts to changing the situation. They chose a redistributive approach as primary course instead of a developmental route.

The shortcuts brought with it, for some irresistible temptations to take shortcut to wealth and luxurious life styles on the back of corruption.

This picture, for one, became clear in what has happened in the City of Johannesburg last week. The Democratic Alliance-led coalition government had its first State of the City Address by its mayor, Herman Mashaba, last week in a new splendorous council chamber on which the previous ANC-administration spent an estimated R360m.

The spent came at a time when more than 0,8m  residents of the city is unemployed, including more than 50% of its youth; fraud and corruption cases totalling close to two billion rand became known; the city’s housing backlog was conservatively estimated at 300 000 units; and the city was losing 31% of its water to leaks.

Hope for the future

Under a coalition government since no party managed to win a majority, which include the two ideologically so widely removed from one another as the DA and Economic Freedom Fighters, there is ‘a return to basics’ approach.

It has seen:

  • Some 2 800 title deeds registered on previously government owned and leased homes, with 1 100 more in process;
  • More than 7000 Small, Medium and Micro- Sized Enterprises (SMME) were assisted by SME Hubs created in the city;
  • The Joburg Metropolitan Police Department has recruited 1 500 new officers;
  • The allocation of R546m for electrifying incomplete housing units, R41m to electrify five informal settlements, an additional R291m for the Johannesburg Social Housing Company to purchase inner city buildings to be refurbished and converted into low-cost rental stock for 1164 families. R291m for the Johannesburg Social Housing Company to purchase inner city buildings to be refurbished and converted into low-cost rental stock for 1164 families and R2m for the construction of homeless shelters in the city; and
  • The prioritisation of the repairing of potholes of failing road surfaces.

While the mayor has claimed that the first budget of the coalition government in the city is pro-poor, with 60% of its spent going towards such directed programmes, the fact that R46-billion will go towards infrastructure projects, looks promising. 

The test, however, will be in how these projects are managed during implementation. Will it be done at a technological level that creates employment opportunities for the many thousands with low skills levels, – another largely apartheid legacy? That is the first crucial step in creating a ‘bridge-generation’ to a truly inclusive economy.

Unless that is achieved, on a national level, it is highly unlikely that South Africa will avoid wide-spread violent social unrest, which could postpone a “better future for all” by at least another generation.

by Piet Coetzer

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