The true cost of mov­ing House

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@ city­press. co. za

Déjà vu! Déjà vu! Déjà vu! Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! This is how many would have greeted the lat­est it­er­a­tion in the “Par­lia­ment must move” de­bate. In­tro­duced dur­ing the state of the na­tion ad­dress last week, it was in­ter­preted by some as an at­tempt to di­vert at­ten­tion from the tra­vails of the speech maker. Since then, the ar­gu­ment about whether South Africa should put the ad­min­is­tra­tive and leg­isla­tive cap­i­tals in one place – namely, Gaut­eng – has raged on ev­ery me­dia plat­form.

It has gen­er­ated a great deal of heat, though not quite as much as it did in the mid- to late 1990s, when the merger of cap­i­tals was first mooted. But for a few days, it did share the at­ten­tion of the pub­lic with other real is­sues that the na­tion is grap­pling with. Thank­fully, it re­ceded by the end of this week and will hope­fully only be re­vived when an­other politi­cian needs to dis­tract us.

On the face of it, mov­ing the na­tional leg­is­la­ture to Gaut­eng makes ab­so­lute sense. Gaut­eng may not be ge­o­graph­i­cally cen­tral, but it is as cen­tral as you can get in terms of ac­ces­si­bil­ity and im­por­tance. Gaut­eng is also home to key in­sti­tu­tions such as the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court and Or­lando Pi­rates.

So there should be no ar­gu­ment about this, es­pe­cially since the speech maker ex­plained that “the big­gest ex­pen­di­ture we would like Par­lia­ment to con­sider is the main­te­nance of two cap­i­tals. The cost is too high for the ex­ec­u­tive. This is an ur­gent mat­ter.”

He was sup­ported by his arch­neme­sis in the red over­alls, who re­minded us that the cur­rent ar­range­ment “is a re­sult of colo­nial com­pro­mises and set­tle­ment of the An­glo-Boer War”, whose ul­ti­mate out­come ex­cluded and marginalised in­dige­nous Africans.

Given th­ese fi­nan­cial and his­toric con­sid­er­a­tions, op­po­nents of the move should shut up and move aside, one might say. But be­fore we shove them aside, we should ex­plore some of the rea­son­ing.

When the merger of cap­i­tals was qui­etly shelved all those years ago, a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion was the pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of re­sources in the new demo­cratic state. An am­bi­tious pro­gramme of ad­dress­ing the back­log of the fallen dis­crim­i­na­tory state was un­der way. Houses, ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture were be­ing rolled out to mil­lions who had been left out in the cold by the apartheid sys­tem. The uni­fi­ca­tion of the for­merly Balka­nised state was be­ing bed­ded down. And, lest we for­get, we were also about to buy shiny new weapons for our mil­i­tary. In the con­text of th­ese needs, and many more, the re­lo­ca­tion of an arm of govern­ment seemed an un­nec­es­sary ex­pense.

This was the cor­rect de­ci­sion and it re­mains so. The de­bate is be­ing re­sus­ci­tated dur­ing our low­est eco­nomic ebb in two decades, sup­pos­edly as a cost-sav­ing mea­sure, which is rather strange be­cause a mod­ern par­lia­men­tary com­plex – with the at­ten­dant hous­ing needs of leg­is­la­tors and staff – would re­quire an in­vest­ment of bil­lions. We would need to go to the mar­kets with our near­junk sta­tus to bor­row this money.

How a coun­try with a fis­cus un­der pres­sure from a slug­gish econ­omy, a stag­nant tax base, de­mands for free ter­tiary education and a crip­pling drought can even be think­ing about this ex­trav­a­gance is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand.

In an age of ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, it should be easy to find a so­lu­tion to the two-cap­i­tal co­nun­drum be­fore rush­ing to a mas­sive ex­pen­di­ture de­ci­sion. We just need the proper ap­pli­ca­tion of minds.

But there is a much more per­ti­nent rea­son for Par­lia­ment to stay put – it is a na­tion-build­ing and na­tional co­he­sion con­sid­er­a­tion.

Be­fore the de­ci­sion in the 1990s was put on ice, one of the op­po­nents of re­lo­ca­tion was the ANC’s Western Cape con­tin­gent. They fought hard with the na­tional lead­er­ship, telling them that such a de­ci­sion would cost the party sup­port in the del­i­cately hung prov­ince. They ar­gued that op­po­nents would use the move to con­vince the peo­ple of the Western Cape that the ANC did not care about the prov­ince, where coloureds are by far in the ma­jor­ity and where dis­trust of African dom­i­na­tion runs deep.

Strip away the self-in­ter­est of th­ese politi­cians – who are politi­cians, af­ter all – and you will find lots of sense in their ar­gu­ment. There is al­ready a sense of dis­con­nect from the rest of the coun­try among many in the Western Cape. This is as much a re­sult of ge­og­ra­phy as it is of de­mo­graph­ics. It also hasn’t helped that elec­tion races in the prov­ince since 1994 have been racialised, with the “swart gevaar” bo­gey sub­tly creep­ing into the mes­sag­ing of some party cam­paign­ers on the ground.

The past decade has seen an ex­o­dus of cor­po­rate head­quar­ters up north, with fi­nan­cial ser­vices gi­ants and pe­tro­leum ma­jors ditch­ing their tra­di­tional Cape base for prox­im­ity to mar­kets north of the Lim­popo. This has re­duced the Western Cape’s im­por­tance on the na­tional grid. It has also robbed the prov­ince of its at­trac­tive­ness to tal­ent that would have en­hanced its di­ver­sity.

Hav­ing Par­lia­ment in Cape Town is more than just a relic of our colo­nial past. It is a heavy-duty chain link keep­ing the Western Cape cul­tur­ally, men­tally and po­lit­i­cally con­nected to the rest of South Africa.

Mov­ing Par­lia­ment from Cape Town would be a re­gres­sive step that would be tan­ta­mount to grant­ing the Western Cape quasi-in­de­pen­dence. The cost of the unity and co­he­sive­ness of the re­pub­lic can­not be counted in rands and cents.

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