HAPPY NEW YEAR! NOT.

CityPress - - Front Page - MONDLI MAKHANYA

T he Happy New Year mes­sages have been fly­ing in thick and fast – some se­ri­ous, some joc­u­lar and some inane.

Am­bi­tious res­o­lu­tions were made – from be­com­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire to quit­ting the vile habit of smoking. Zim­babwe’s Robert Mu­gabe and the can­tan­ker­ous chief from Ulundi have promised not to stay in of­fice beyond the 2040 Olympics. Po­lit­i­cal, business, sport­ing and cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tions out­lined their plans for the new year. In wish­ing us a “Happy and pros­per­ous 2015”, the pres­i­dent has told us to make this a year of unity and co­op­er­a­tion “as we con­tinue to trans­form our beau­ti­ful coun­try into the pros­per­ous one de­scribed in the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Free­dom Char­ter and the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan [NDP]”.

So what are the chances of this be­ing the happy year that we all wish for and that the es­teemed com­man­der in chief wants us to have? Not to be a spoil­sport, but the chances look very slim. This year will be one in which the Happy New Year mes­sage rings most hol­low. We en­ter the year mired in es­ca­lat­ing crises of gov­er­nance and fac­ing 12 months of gloom.

When Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ad­dressed the ANC’s 103rd an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions yes­ter­day, he painted a glow­ing pic­ture of the cur­rent state of the na­tion, while at­tribut­ing many of the short­com­ings to the va­garies of the past. When he opens Par­lia­ment in early Fe­bru­ary, he will tell us more of the same and re­as­sure us that we are on the right path. A far, far cry from re­al­ity. As you read this, men and women with long knives are lung­ing at each other in dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the state. The top brass of the SAPS are in open war­fare. A pro­longed civil war is rag­ing in the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA). The SA Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars) is in tur­moil. The na­tional air­line is in the in­ten­sive care unit. The na­tional power util­ity is strug­gling to pro­vide elec­tric­ity. In­fra­struc­ture is un­der strain. In the words of that fa­mous book, things are fall­ing apart.

Th­ese crises will deepen this year, as the SAPS and NPA con­tinue to be used as pawns by pow­er­ful forces in the gov­ern­ing party. Eskom, SAA and other cri­sis-rid­den state-owned en­ti­ties will con­tinue to be vic­tims of bad, po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated de­ploy­ments. Sars, once a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence, will be fur­ther com­pro­mised by po­lit­i­cal agen­das driven by party de­ploy­ees.

While we may still be very far from ap­proach­ing state fail­ure, the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of cri­sis should be of huge con­cern to us. There is a pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude in gov­ern­ing cir­cles that things are fine as long as po­lice cars are still pa­trolling, there are enough guns and hand­cuffs, and cops are not wear­ing torn uni­forms. That all is okay as long as pros­e­cu­tors man­aged to put some bad guys away weekly. There is a sense that there is no need to panic, as long as SAA flights take off on time and land safely at their des­ti­na­tions. In terms of this at­ti­tude, we can sur­vive if Eskom con­tin­ues play­ing draw­ing board ma­noeu­vres with the elec­tric­ity grid.

This min­i­mal­ist ap­proach to gov­er­nance ex­cuses lead­er­ship from its re­spon­si­bil­ity to lead. It says there is to­tal col­lapse, but we can go on as nor­mal and mis­gov­er­nance can con­tinue un­abated. So here is some news for our gover­nors: col­lapse is not al­ways dra­matic; it is of­ten grad­ual. But when com­plete, the thud is deaf­en­ing.

To cor­rupt a well-worn say­ing: Zim­babwe did not fall in one day. Its de­cline be­gan with a se­ries of bad de­ci­sions in the dy­ing days of the last mil­len­nium and was ac­cel­er­ated by de­struc­tive ac­tions at the be­gin­ning of this cen­tury. At ev­ery point, the gov­ern­ment de­luded it­self that it had things un­der con­trol. By the time the de­cline was ar­rested in 2008, the coun­try was vir­tu­ally a failed state. It has been bat­tling to claw its way back ever since. It will likely be ages be­fore it can reach the lev­els of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, in­fra­struc­ture sta­bil­ity and rel­a­tive po­lit­i­cal nor­malcy that it en­joyed be­fore the col­lapse.

Given the amount of air­time the pres­i­dent and his min­is­ters give to the NDP, it is time their re­sponses to state crises were driven by the vi­sion enun­ci­ated in this doc­u­ment. In the chap­ter on the ca­pa­ble state, ar­guably the most im­por­tant in the large doc­u­ment, the au­thors pro­vide a start­ing point for restor­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness and in­tegrity of our state.

It says there is a need to “fo­cus re­lent­lessly on build­ing a pro­fes­sional and ca­pa­ble state”.

“This re­quires well-run and ef­fec­tively co­or­di­nated state in­sti­tu­tions staffed by skilled pub­lic ser­vants who are com­mit­ted to the pub­lic and ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing high-qual­ity ser­vice for all South Africans...”

The NDP fur­ther says such a ca­pa­ble state would “en­able all sec­tions of so­ci­ety to have con­fi­dence in the state, which in turn will re­in­force the state’s ef­fec­tive­ness”.

Right now ev­ery­thing that is hap­pen­ing is un­der­min­ing the con­fi­dence in the state and ham­per­ing its abil­ity to be ef­fec­tive. But do not bank on 2015 be­ing the year that our gover­nors start lis­ten­ing to the mes­sage of the NDP. Nar­row po­lit­i­cal im­per­a­tives and in­ter­ests will con­tinue to trump the need to do the right thing.

And you, fel­low South African, will suf­fer. Brace your­self for a not-so-happy new year.

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