Let's Think

South Africa: Unravelling or turning the corner?

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It has become an extremely challenging task to formulate a balanced opinion about the future of South Africa with the only ‘sure fact’ that it is a society in transition.

The dilemma to decide whether the country, its society and especially its governance structures are in the process of unravelling or indeed turning the corner in establishing a mature democracy, with a truly inclusive economic development trajectory, fulfilling the needs and aspirations of its diverse society, was starkly illustrated by two respected commentators last week.

Turning the corner perspective

While the South African people is being hit on almost a daily basis with news of revelations and evidence of corruption, looting of the public purse and state capture, Alec Hogg of Biznews in one of his regular notes to readers, wrote: “After long cold winters of discontent, South Africa is enjoying a stream of good news that’s heartening those open minded enough to absorb it. For instance, after years of abuse, the national broadcaster and the national airline have both been “uncaptured” with a similarly positive process happening at Eskom and other state-owned enterprises.”

“The country’s ruling political party, too, is rapidly shedding its ‘captured’ status. Anyone following the Public Enterprises Committee’s hearings on Eskom in Parliament cannot help but be impressed. All the right questions are being asked, with the inquisitors honing onto the key areas – like yesterday when it became obvious that either ex-Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi or DPE minister Lynne Brown have perjured themselves.”

And, indeed there are signs that even within the ranks of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus which not so long ago down-voted a motion of no-confidence in President Jacob Zuma, the tide is turning. The party’s chief whip in parliament, the person primarily responsible for caucus discipline and delivering the required votes for the party in parliament, described the election of Zuma as president as a “terrible error of judgement.’

In another note to readers, although he deals primarily with developments in Zimbabwe, Hogg writes: “Among the secrets of a successful life is overcoming the hard wiring of the human condition. History is replete with triumphs by the positive thinkers, those rare souls who achieve a balance when interpreting good and bad news.”

And, another respected commentator, columnist, Max du Preez, wrote: “The ousting of Robert Mugabe is an internal corrective move by Zanu-PF that is giving the people of Zimbabwe new hope. Something similar could very well happen to Zuma soon. We South Africans will also be dancing in the streets, even those who today still defend him.”

The unravelling perspective

However, another respected commentator, Johannes Wessels, director of the Enterprise Observatory of South Africa (EOSA), on the organisation’s blog last week wrote: “Could it just be that the ANC that utterly rejected the fragmentation of South Africa into numerous homelands, will through its mal-governance trigger the fragmentation …. It would be an ironic about-turn of what it set out to achieve… and another dismal failure of ideology driven manipulation.”

Wessels tells how, having just read Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers, he recalled a conversation in 1996 with Lawrie Schlemmer, then strategy advisor to the Urban Foundation.

Schlemmer, looking at the prospects of the country over the next 50 years, said much would depend on centres of success in the country … “would be enabled to operate as engines for growth and modernity, or whether they would to such an extent be tied down by the centralising statist tendency of the ANC and therefore used as milking cows for the rest without any perspective that milking cows require very good pastures and care…

With two of those five decades that was considered in that Wessels/Schlemmer conversation behind us, Wessels concludes: “The 2017 downgrades of SA by the rating agencies, the slippage of SA on six international indices since 2007, all testify to the fact that the ANC did not utilise the dynamism of the three winning provinces to improve the overall situation. Even worse, Pauw’s book demonstrate how the riches generated by predominantly the three winning provinces were not applied to improve the economic infrastructure of the middle or lost provinces, but were mismanaged (even by SARS) and pilfered for the benefit of a few. Now South Africa is at the brink…”

Reading the cards

Reading the news cards as it tumbles on the table day after day in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in about three weeks’ time, a very confusing picture is emerging. For one, it is not even sure if the conference will be able to deal with its main business, electing a new leader to succeed Mr Zuma.

If it does, no two commentators seem to agree with one another what the outcome is likely to be or what the ramifications of different potential outcomes will be. Prolonged uncertainty seems to be the only certainty – which is for sure not in the best interest of the country and its people.

To us it looks as if there is, however, signs that a possible compromise between the factions is possible and that some leading figures within the party might have, to use the words of ANC chairperson and Speaker and leadership candidate, Baleka Mbete, “have smelled the coffee”.

The makings of that compromise might be locked in the suggestions made by deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa regarding a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC} to deal with those who have looted state coffers.

The big question, however, is if Mr Zuma is smelling the coffee and will deliver the surprise of the year by announcing his stepping down as president of the country in December.

But don’t expect that to happen unless an amnesty deal for himself is built into the plans that are seemingly afoot.

And, that might just make the brew too bitter for the majority of the national electorate to swallow come election time, 2019. However, we think such a deal might just be to the benefit of bigger national interest.

To tell us what you think, click HERE

by Piet Coetzer

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