To my mind

Finweek English Edition - - Front Page - COLLEEN NAUDÉ colleenn@fin­

PER­CEP­TIONS AND rep­u­ta­tions have to be man­aged very cir­cum­spectly. One won­ders how much at­ten­tion the world should pay to some rat­ing agen­cies that re­cently down-rated South Africa af­ter their own im­ages have suf­fered con­sid­er­able dam­age through their ob­vi­ously poor judge­ment in grant­ing AAA rat­ings to highly sus­pect fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments, a di­rect cause of the cur­rent world­wide fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Moody’s hasn’t joined those on the band­wagon, cit­ing SA’s still re­as­sur­ing eco­nomic pol­icy as the rea­son why it’s not chang­ing its out­look on our for­eign cur­rency rat­ing.

Re­gard­less of the pic­ture that rat­ing agen­cies and other an­a­lysts paint of SA – founded or un­founded – we’re of­ten our own worst en­emy. A case in point is the hol­low po­lit­i­cal rhetoric that we’ll be sub­jected to dur­ing the run-up to next year’s elec­tion. Mem­bers of the me­dia who at­tended an ANC spin-doc­tor­ing ses­sion in Jo­han­nes­burg last week got a fore­taste of what to ex­pect.

Pre­dictably, ANC party leader Ja­cob Zuma kicked off by con­grat­u­lat­ing the party on its achieve­ments over the past 14 years. He didn’t bother to men­tion the fact that much of it, such as its eco­nomic progress, can be at­trib­uted to a cer­tain Thabo Mbeki, who was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously re­called as Pres­i­dent. Nat­u­rally, Zuma also said noth­ing about the shock­ing con­di­tions in Gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals but em­pha­sised progress made in pri­mary health­care.

The sub­se­quent preview of what the “new ad­min­is­tra­tion” wanted to achieve was sim­ply a fu­tile at­tempt to make all the right noises about is­sues such as job cre­ation, crime and ed­u­ca­tion. Much of it was mere blus­ter, sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing – such as the con­tro­ver­sial plan to cart off preg­nant teenagers to re­mote ar­eas. Clearly the man, who is cam­paign­ing and pre­par­ing him­self to be this coun­try’s next pres­i­dent, isn’t con­cerned about the wave of crit­i­cism that this Stal­in­ist idea of his has al­ready at­tracted. Just as he’s ap­par­ently im­mune to the ques­tions re­peat­edly raised about his moral­ity. What other ex­pla­na­tion can there be for his great em­pha­sis on the need for this coun­try’s moral re­vival strat­egy and fo­cus to be im­plic­itly car­ried out? That’s what this man with sus­pect busi­ness con­nec­tions wants to tackle at a re­li­gious congress on 27 Novem­ber. Zuma’s re­peated em­pha­sis of the im­por­tance of chil­dren re­spect­ing their el­ders is com­mend­able. But com­ing from a wan­ton skirt-chaser?

An­other of the “right” noises was the prom­ise that 60% of all chil­dren will re­ceive free school­ing. How­ever, no men­tion was made of any prac­ti­cal plans to dra­mat­i­cally im­prove the stan­dard of ed­u­ca­tion.

Re­gard­ing job cre­ation, his con­tri­bu­tion was lim­ited to the so­lu­tion that Gov­ern­ment must play a role “di­rectly through the pub­lic ser­vice”. The “so­lu­tion” for un­em­ploy­ment by hav­ing a larger pub­lic ser­vice is symp­to­matic of a lack of vi­sion and the ab­sence of seek­ing long-term so­lu­tions for crit­i­cally im­por­tant chal­lenges fac­ing SA.

The dam­ag­ing con­se­quences are ev­i­dent – in sev­eral fields. The now oftre­peated prob­lem of a lack of skills has pro­gressed to stan­dards that are con­stantly fall­ing or, even worse, that are de­lib­er­ately be­ing low­ered. Luck­ily, there are still some pres­sure groups – such as var­i­ous en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sional bodies – ob­ject­ing to pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would lead to dras­ti­cally lower stan­dards.

Tak­ing such short­cuts to pro­mote trans­for­ma­tion is the first step on a down­ward spi­ral. Ob­jec­tions must get the at­ten­tion they de­serve.

The en­trance of po­lit­i­cal an­i­mals into the cir­cus of the elec­tion arena will ob­vi­ously take place with lots of fan­fare over the next few months. One can only hope there will also be some sub­stance and that the ma­jor is­sues of crime, ed­u­ca­tion and health­care – cur­rently treated so in­dif­fer­ently – will re­ceive sober and thought­ful at­ten­tion, which would help change per­cep­tions of the coun­try for the bet­ter.

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