Saturday, September 5, 2015

Is violence becoming an end in itself? - the choice for South Afica's democracy

The problem in SA is not that the ANC or President Zuma is uniquely corrupt, but that one party is unchallenged in power and has been for too long. Corruption inevitably follows that everywhere.
Moreover, what everyone forgets is that it started long ago with the arms deal under former president Thabo Mbeki, not President Zuma. President Mbeki is remembered for not firing a single minister or official except those who disagreed with him. No one called it tyranny then. No one dared to.
The criticism of ANC government - that it is absolutely corrupt and ineffectual, that Zuma is a 'tyrant' - runs to extremes, just as constant publicity encourages the Economic Freedom Fighters to excess. The freedom of the press can be used to harm freedom as well as to defend it.

Iwe hope to put right evident wrongs like Nkandla, as the EFF insist they will, the means must be weighted in the scales as well as the end. There is a choice. There is the way of due process and the rule of law, the way unmistakably marked out by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of "trust, common decency and rational discourse". And there is the way of Julius Malema and the EFF.

We must ask ourselves what in the end that offers other than the threat of meeting violence, as they see it, with violence.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The scourge of corruption in South Africa

Heaven forbid people are stopped from blaming the government, the resort of authoritarian regimes. And heaven knows twenty years of ANC government has spawned nepotism, cronyism and incompetence enough to keep a whole nation of critics at work.

But as the proposals to solve the problems crowd in - a new ANC leader, a DA electoral breakthrough, achieving the promised land of the ANC's 'national democratic revolution' or the wonderland of the 'fighters for economic freedom', the EFF - we need to remember: no person or party can run a modern rights-based state without an autonomous bureaucracy that works both efficiently and effectively. To put it less academically, a corps of people who see themselves as public servants, trained for the job and committed to doing it decently.

This vital component is still missing in South Africa not only due to the governing ANC's policy of cadre deployment, though that plainly makes things worse.

The human resources to transform the state and society for the hopeful successor generation of 1994 did not exist. How could they, after half a century of legalised apartheid had neglected or ignored education for the majority of non-citizens and reserved positions of leadership and control to a minority?

All South Africans live with the consequences today, but with an ironic as well as painful extra twist.

As the ANC government comes under increasing democratic pressure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, so the word goes out through the party-state that such misdeeds are starting to be penalised.

Honest and competent officials, along with the venal, face a baffling new threat. In a system where loyalty and connections, not merit, have been the criteria, they find they had better now enforce the regulations to the letter.

Two things follow hand in hand: delivery slows further while rule-breaking continues to grow.

Corruption after all is a black market, closing the gap between the supply and demand of goods and services.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Can deputy president Ramaphosa be the answer to South Africa's looming crisis?

RW Johnson in his new book and a follow-up series of articles on Politicsweb has as his theme How long will South Africa survive? The Looming Crisis. This involves him covering many more aspects of the subject than can be answered short of writing another book.
However, something should be said regarding the specific point of the role a new leader might play after replacing the compromised President Zuma. On this question, Mr Johnson naturally raises the name of Cyril Ramaphosa. Along with commentators who identify leadership as both the problem and the solution to the country's woes, many South Africans would see Mr Ramaphosa as at least a candidate for next president on his qualities as a leader. He is strongly placed also by being deputy president already. 

But Mr Johnson does not fancy Mr Ramaphosa's chances of 'reversing the present downward drift' even if he wins the leadership struggle. He writes:

"What discussions [of the leadership struggle] lack is the comprehension that the visible decline in South Africa's governance and economic management is not finally to do with this or that leader; it is a social process" [emphasis in original]. 

This assertion seems oddly out of place coming from Mr Johnson. He is hardly a communist and, one imagines, no Marxist either. Perhaps he means only, as he puts it in his last article, that Cyril Ramaphosa, "lacking any real base within [the ANC] system .. would be even more at its mercy .. The system would prevail."

There seem to be two worthwhile points to make here. The first is academic. If Mr Johnson is not intending to suggest determinism by his reference to 'a social process', then politicians, including all contemporary politicians in South Africa, have agency - meaning they are not entirely at the mercy of circumstances. It will not help to argue or elaborate this point further. Those who believe people are puppets out of stupidity, or made so out of the promise of money, will not be persuaded otherwise. 

The second point cannot be set aside, one way or the other, so easily. Even if Mr Ramaphosa is at the mercy of the ANC 'system', all the rest of the ANC and all the rest of SA's complex society are not. Certainly not indefinitely, come what may.

The key point to grasp in SA's early stage democracy is 'the system' that Mr Johnson asserts nothing can beat is not the ANC per se: it is one-party government that equates the ANC with the state.

This built-in hegemony, the unavoidable outcome of events, has political and economic effects that can be challenged and changed. But it has shaped the country's moral climate and response. Until recently, it was unpatriotic to take sides against what the party of liberation said or did, not to mention 'racist' and imprudent to do so. President Zuma still appeals to South Africans to be 'patriotic'; he means support him and the ANC in all they do. Who seriously believes that can work as it once did?

Mr Johnson’s impossible-to-beat ‘system’ cannot of course finally change until the ANC loses its virtual monopoly of power. That is coming, fast or too slowly depending on your views, through social and economic changes no one controls and that inevitably produce all manner of opposition.

It is arguable what form this opposition is taking and how it will work out. Instead of Tony Leon not so many years ago, followed by Helen Zille, there is a new and articulate young black man at the top of the DA. There are the extraordinary claims for Mr Malema as next, or at least a future, SA president. That this idea is entertained at all is because of his supposed appeal to 'the young', the future being the young. There is the real time, real split in Cosatu and the prospect of Numsa and other affiliates forming a workers party. 

SA is a changing situation in a rapidly changing global world. Different 'class' interests are stirring the pot, but not in the old decisive Marxist sense: the ANC operates in an infinitely more complicated social and political context than Marx ever imagined.

The bigger truth is all of us, the ANC included, are currently living in a patronage phase with the resulting infighting, incompetence and stalemate Mr Johnson lists. But these are more symptoms than causes. 'The ANC' is not uniquely flawed intellectually and morally to a man - and woman. Nor is SA's 'decline', if that is what it is called, a 'social process' that is determined; it is as open as ever to change as SA's underlying politics changes and different leaders adjust to it.

Leadership, or lack of it, will always play its due role in events, and events in determining leadership.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why even the Constitutional Court hasn't put an end to the scandal of Nkandla

The difficulty with the media’s sustained campaign against President Zuma is it suggests that if we can somehow get rid of the man all will be well. Is the president, along with the earlier scandals the ANC massaged away for him, personally responsible for Nkandla? Yes, of course he is, but as the head of a declaredly democratic ANC government, not for the cost of the window fastenings or even the notorious swimming pool.

If Nkandla were only about the items the Public Protector reported on, President Zuma could easily enough raise the two or three million rand to pay for them out of his own pocket. But Nkandla has always been about far more than his improper benefits and their price.

It is about a total lack of state system, supervision and management. It is about a civil service that lacks competence and confidence, training and professional standards. It involves a culture in which the local Big Man shares largesse with his 'people' in a traditional exchange of favours. It is about the three modern 'estates' of business, unions and government sticking together through thick and thin.

Above all, it is about the one-party state, which enables individuals and government, assured always of servile party support, to ignore the law and all accepted norms of democracy without any come-back.

When President Zuma goes, as he will and maybe sooner than we think - remember how former president Thabo Mbeki suddenly went overnight when it suited a handful of people at the top - South Africa still faces a massive journey before it becomes a democratic society. The hope is Nkandla has at least been the first real step on the way.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Economic Freedom Fighters fight over their overalls

The Economic Freedom Fighters fiercest fight, the party insists, is going to be to keep their red overalls on in the national assembly.

There are media reports that, failing that, EFF members will go naked. Perhaps that is journalistic licence, a fickle media's dig at their recent darlings, now their over exposed 'new kids on the block' are starting to look as if they may be running out of road - or at least running out of headline-catching gimmicks, which detractors say is the same thing in the EFF's case.

Parliament should never have allowed the EFF to turn up in what is party uniform in the first place. The concession was profoundly mistaken, either patronising or cowardly of the house. It flouts an institution that is supposed to represent all the people of South Africa and to work, in spite of great differences, for the collective good, not to divide the country's citizens into 'class enemies'. 

The red overalls signalled danger clearly enough. Their extravagance and the even more extravagant claims made for their symbolism - that the EFF speak uniquely for 'the poor' - secures publicity for the EFF rather than any benefits for the poor or, for that matter, 'answers' about the Nkandla scandal. Nkandla is a public disgrace for the African National Congress, a democratic party and government, without the need for theatre.

EFF overalls and rowdiness are not bringing the ANC to heel. They have merely provided sensational material to a media starved of more worthwhile opposition to report. Most dangerous of all, EFF conduct is increasing the chances of an authoritarian response from a jittery majority party that has always been out of temper with opposition and is inclined to overreact to it.

SA has a great and testing objective to pursue. The country and its diverse people are attempting to become a democracy under a constitution widely acknowledged for its enlightened liberalism.

Even if the ANC are clumsily throwing their weight about in the early stages of the project, it should be countered by constitutional process. The only people to profit from anarchy are the instigators of anarchy.