HAPPY NEW YEAR! NOT.
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.