The 4 000 who made hot air

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

In 2014, twen­tysome­thing-year-old Pek­ing Univer­sity PhD can­di­date Dai Wei and a hand­ful of his fel­low students de­cided to trans­late an ex­per­i­ment into a prac­ti­cal in­ter­ven­tion. That in­ter­ven­tion was to be­come a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness. Wei de­cided to cap­i­talise on a need that he and his for­mer col­leagues were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Students walked long dis­tances be­tween lec­ture rooms and res­i­dences. Even those who had enough money to own bi­cy­cles pre­ferred not to be­cause they kept get­ting stolen.

Wei de­vel­oped the idea of shared bike rides based on the Uber model. In­stead of bi­cy­cles be­ing locked at des­ig­nated dock­ing sta­tions, an app would al­low you to track free rides and un­lock them with your de­vice.

Thus was born Ofo, a bike-share com­pany that made the com­mute of Pek­ing Univer­sity so much eas­ier. So suc­cess­ful was Ofo that it soon spread to other cam­puses. Then to the rest of the city. Then to other cities. And, as it goes in com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ments, it soon spawned copy­cats who im­proved on their tech­nol­ogy.

Round about the same time, en­tre­pre­neur Hu Wei­wei was hook­ing up with Davis Wang, the for­mer boss of Uber Shang­hai, to de­sign a sim­i­lar model. Be­fore long, the in­no­va­tive bike-share model was all the rage in China. A mid­dle class that had fallen in love with cars and dis­carded bik­ing as ar­chaic sud­denly em­braced it as cool.

They rev­o­lu­tionised a bike-shar­ing model that was tak­ing off in the West, but was quite mori­bund. To­day, 13 of the top 15 bike-shar­ing com­pa­nies in the world are Chi­nese. Just like Uber con­quered the world with ve­hi­cle trans­port, the Chi­nese are do­ing with their bike-share model.

This is but one ex­am­ple of how in­no­va­tion and in­ven­tive­ness are charg­ing ahead in the rest of the world while we in South Africa de­lib­er­ate on whether mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal is the prime ad­ver­sary of the na­tional demo­cratic rev­o­lu­tion and whether it has a skin tone. Having re­cently vis­ited China – a coun­try that ANC al­liance lead­ers love to go to on fact-find­ing mis­sions – this lowly news­pa­per­man couldn’t but de­spair as he ob­served the most waste­ful use of six days by sup­posed lead­ers of so­ci­ety.

If you take away the bla­tantly au­thor­i­tar­ian na­ture of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment that our lead­ers so ad­mire, their clar­ity of vi­sion and the will­ing­ness to im­ple­ment and carry de­ci­sions are qual­i­ties to em­u­late. The Com­mu­nist Party of China (CCP) may be made up of the most ide­o­log­i­cally sound and the­o­ret­i­cally as­tute Marx­ists, but they do not spend precious time de­bat­ing like univer­sity soror­i­ties. While they take con­cep­tual is­sues se­ri­ously, they do not en­gage in vac­u­ous ban­ter about what dead the­o­reti­cians had to say. They gen­er­ate ideas about how to up­lift their peo­ple, move so­ci­ety for­ward and com­pete on the world stage.

The CCP and the Com­mu­nist Party of Vietnam – the other party that the ANC and its al­lies look up to – have gone beyond the­o­ris­ing about what stage of the rev­o­lu­tion their coun­try is in and the re­la­tion be­tween the state and cap­i­tal. They are fo­cused on cre­at­ing pros­per­ous so­ci­eties, some­thing they have done by free­ing the en­trepreneu­ral po­ten­tial of their peo­ple. They have em­barked on medium-term plans that they have dili­gently im­ple­mented, with the cen­tral in­volve­ment of the pri­vate sec­tor. To­day, their cap­i­tal­ists, who are em­braced by the party lead­er­ship as com­rades, sit com­fort­ably at the top ta­ble with the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Bran­son.

The ANC’s mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal de­bate had a Ground­hog Day feel­ing about. This ques­tion was an­swered in its 2007 Strat­egy and Tac­tics doc­u­ments.

“The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the na­tional demo­cratic state and pri­vate cap­i­tal in gen­eral is one of ‘unity and strug­gle’, co­op­er­a­tion and con­tes­ta­tion,” the ANC said 10 years ago.

It con­tin­ued: “On the one hand, the demo­cratic state has to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive for pri­vate in­vest­ments from which the in­vestors can make rea­son­able re­turns, and through which em­ploy­ment and tech­no­log­i­cal progress can be de­rived.

“On the other hand, through state-owned en­ter­prises, ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tion, tax­a­tion and other means, the state seeks to en­sure re­dis­tri­bu­tion of in­come, di­rect in­vest­ments into ar­eas will help na­tional de­vel­op­ment, to play a cen­tral role in pro­vid­ing pub­lic goods and, broadly, to en­sure so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Since that time, at the be­hest of the ANC, gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. The com­mis­sion con­ducted a di­ag­nos­tic ex­er­cise of South African so­ci­ety and its chal­lenges. It later drew up a Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP), a vi­sion of where South Africa should be in 2030 and out­lined steps on how to achieve this. The plan was adopted by Cab­i­net and Par­lia­ment and was em­braced by most sec­tions of so­ci­ety, with labour ex­press­ing reser­va­tions about some as­pects. The ANC adopted it at its na­tional con­fer­ence in Man­gaung in 2012. It was then locked in a se­cure vault, to be hauled out only when a flow­ery speech had to be made.

The NDP vi­sion re­ceived scant at­ten­tion from the drafters of the pre­pol­icy con­fer­ence doc­u­ments. It was not on the radar of most del­e­gates, who had come to draw up Christ­mas wish lists to be posted to Santa Claus and strate­gise on how to drive the econ­omy fur­ther into the ground.

The 2017 ANC pol­icy con­fer­ence will be re­mem­bered not for what it should have been about, but as a wasted op­por­tu­nity. It will be re­mem­bered as a week in which 4 000 cit­i­zens who should be re­spon­si­ble for giv­ing the coun­try di­rec­tion took a break from their pro­duc­tive lives, their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties to gen­er­ate a bil­lion cu­bic litres of hot air. They should have rather stayed at home and played morabaraba.

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