Let's Think

Apartheid legacy still alive – ANC record even worse

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When President Jacob Zuma blames the legacy of apartheid for the high levels of unemployment he is correct, but on the logic of his own argument, the 22-year-long record of the ANC in government is even worse – much worse.

As has become his, and the ANC’s, default argument when confronted with problems, (if not “forces for regime change”, about which we will say something more further on), Mr Zuma recently blamed the apartheid policies of the past for the dangerously high levels of employment in the country. His argument went that under apartheid the educational system did not prepare for employability in a modern economy.

Those levels of unemployment (73.3% compared to 26.7% overall) are especially high among the younger population of 14- to 24-year-olds.

The fact is that the oldest of this group was only two years old when the ANC came to power and for their complete education dependent on an ANC regime.

During Mr Zuma’s own tenure in office from 2009 up to March 2016 alone, the unemployment rate has soared from just over 20% to the staggering 26.7% - a statistic that he can hardly blame on apartheid.

Gorilla in the room

In an article published recently just after the announcement of the latest employment statistics by Statistics South Africa, Ryk van Niekerk wrote: “The 26.7% unemployment rate announced by Statistics South Africa on Monday represents a massive crisis, a much bigger one than the imminent ratings downgrade. The social risk associated with such an increase in our unemployment rate is immense.”

Also Read: Unemployment is the gorilla in the room.

He, however, also rightly argues that Africa, including South Africa, has in terms of development potential globally an advantage in being latecomers.

 “The world is full of inspirational examples they can learn from. In fact, many of the countries that have recently transitioned to being learning economies started off with a lot less resources (finance and research facilities) than the majority of African countries have today,” Van Niekerk writes

He cites the fact that Taiwan in the 1960s made the transition from a mainly mushroom exporting economy to a high technology component one.

It is interesting that with Taiwan –  at that time and for different reasons, also largely internationally isolated, as was South Africa – close developmental links were forged during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Worried about losing mainframe computer capacity due to international sanctions, promoted by the ANC, South Africa, Taiwan and Brazil also cooperated in developing networks to pool the capacity of PCs – technology that in the longer run benefited not  South Africa, but the world.

As a South African director of an international computer company at the time, I can remember that the first handheld pay points, introduced at petrol stations, was developed in South Africa.

Against this background it is worrying that instead of using innovation and especially ensuring an efficient education to overcome economic and other challenges – creating new employment opportunities – the ANC has fallen back on the blame game as a default political strategy.

Regime change

It is also quite ironic that the ANC often blames “forces for regime change” for their own domestic political woes – conveniently forgetting that those very same forces, that they now blame followed strategies of regime change three-four decades ago against the apartheid state. Strategies that contributed greatly in bringing the ANC to power.

The ANC should not forget the most basic principle of international relations: countries – especially big powers – always act in ways that they regard to be their own best interests.

In the case of South Africa, it is a stable and economically strong developing economy on the continent of Africa. It is important that the ANC goes back to basics and thoroughly revisits its own policies and their implementation – from basic education to  management of the economy.

Lessons in Africa

The ANC will do well to study what has been happening in Eritrea under the People’s Front for Democracy, which like the ANC, took over power in 1994 amid high expectations globally.

Also read: A quarter of a century after independence Eritreans still yearn for freedom

Since then Eritrea has become one of the most isolated and underdeveloped countries in the world, dashing its population’s hopes of freedom and development.

The details differ much, but the basics of what is happening are largely the same, with outside threats being used, among other things, to legitimise the government’s restrictions on freedom of speech, association, movement and the media. In the meantime young people are leaving Eritrea, at an estimated rate of 5 000 young people a month.

Unless South Africa’s present downturn is arrested soon a similar fate could be awaiting us.

by Piet Coetzer

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