2013 has been a year of dis­con­tent

But, with new pos­si­bil­i­ties emerg­ing, un­der the sur­face things have be­gun to shift, writes Craig Dodds

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

SO THIS is it. Life af­ter Nel­son Man­dela. It has been a hor­ri­ble year, of eco­nomic pain and po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion, soured by scan­dal.

On the sur­face, things could hardly be worse.

Nkandla and the out­lines of a grand cover-up, Gup­ta­gate, the bat­tle over e-tolling, the Vavi af­fair, the drip-feed of rev­e­la­tions from the Marikana Com­mis­sion of In­quiry, Malawi (yes, Malawi) and now, the death of Man­dela. It has been a hor­ri­ble year. Yet be­neath the sur­face, things have be­gun to shift. New pos­si­bil­i­ties beckon and Man­dela’s death de­mands a new re­solve. A teenaged democ­racy on the cusp of ma­tu­rity finds it­self alone, with­out that be­nign pres­ence it re­lied on for com­fort.

The mourn­ing of Man­dela held up a mir­ror for us to gaze into and showed, flawed as we may be, we are ready for this.

For one thing, while we seem to have been lurch­ing from one cri­sis to another over the past few years, with the dis­qui­et­ing sus­pi­cion that who­ever was at the helm was ei­ther sleep­ing or lost, a plan has been tak­ing shape.

This year, the gov­ern­ment has shrugged off the scep­tics and demon­strated the will to put the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP) into ac­tion – even if the de­tails of how that will hap­pen still need to be ham­mered out.

Re­mark­ably, in a so­ci­ety ob­sessed with its dif­fer­ences, there is a grow­ing sense of shared be­lief in this plan, even if ev­ery­one has their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what it in­volves and many doubt the state’s ca­pac­ity to see it through.

Busi­ness lead­ers credit Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma with per­suad­ing them, at a wa­ter­shed meet­ing fol­low­ing the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos in Jan­uary, that his gov­ern­ment was se­ri­ous about the plan.

Now there is talk of un­prece­dented co-op­er­a­tion be­tween busi­ness and the gov­ern­ment in get­ting it off the ground.

Given that the labour move­ment is deeply sus­pi­cious of the NDP, see­ing it as a rein­car­na­tion of the hated Growth, Em­ploy­ment and Re­dis­tri­bu­tion project it be­lieved it had con­signed to the dust­bin when it helped to oust Thabo Mbeki, this has in­evitably led to ten­sion be­tween the ANC and its labour al­lies.

In July, that ten­sion took an ugly turn.

The tawdry, but hardly unique, sex­ual en­counter be­tween Cosatu gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi and a ju­nior col­league plugged into the cur­rent of di­vi­sion and set off a cas­cade of shocks to the al­liance that may yet cul­mi­nate in a split.

As busi­ness, the gov­ern­ment and much of civil so­ci­ety think­ing has con­verged around the NDP, a pow­er­ful el­e­ment in the labour move­ment, fo­cused on Vavi and the Na­tional Union of Me­tal­work­ers of SA, has strained against its tra­di­tional bonds with the ANC.

That the gov­ern­ing party may have cal­cu­lated that the threat of eco­nomic stag­na­tion is the greater of the two evils is sug­gested by its de­ci­sion to im­ple­ment the youth wage sub­sidy and to make the NDP the cen­tre­piece of its elec­tion cam­paign, de­spite op­po­si­tion from Cosatu.

Noth­ing is cer­tain yet, but the af­ter­math of the global eco­nomic cri­sis may have pushed the ANC into a cor­ner where it can no longer con­tain all the dis­parate ide­o­log­i­cal cur­rents that once co­a­lesced around the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle.

For bet­ter or worse, then, a changed ANC has emerged from the con­test over e- tolling, the youth wage sub­sidy and the NDP, and the voice of labour has been muted in the process.

A splin­ter­ing and the for­ma­tion of a new work­ers’ party is on the cards as a re­sult, with un­pre­dictable con­se­quences for the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

The con­sen­sus around the NDP has also squeezed op­po­si­tion par­ties, leav­ing very lit­tle room for mean­ing­ful pol­icy al­ter­na­tives.

They may protest about the rate of progress and quib­ble about the de­tails, but op­po­si­tion par­ties in Par­lia­ment have all en­dorsed the plan.

If not for the pol­i­tics of iden­tity there would be lit­tle to choose be­tween them and, even here, the dif­fer­ences are be­gin­ning to blur, with greater than ever co-op­er­a­tion be­tween them.

Out­side the leg­is­la­ture, how­ever, new po­lit­i­cal beasts prowl.

Julius Malema’s Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers, launched of­fi­cially in Oc­to­ber, will test the ex­tent of the NDP con­sen­sus with its rad­i­cal al­ter­na­tive pro­pos­als for in­stant na­tion­al­i­sa­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion, among oth­ers.

For those with­out jobs, houses or hope, and ANC sup­port­ers an­gry with the party’s lead­er­ship, this mes­sianic vi­sion may be ap­peal­ing.

Also new to the fray is Mam­phela Ram­phele’s AgangSA. Far more con­sid­ered in its think­ing, it has bat­tled to gain trac­tion.

Mean­while, ef­forts to jolt the listless pub­lic ser­vice into life have gath­ered pace. Lit­tle by lit­tle, steps such as the ban on gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials do­ing busi­ness with the state, a beefed up Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion and the set­ting of pro­fes­sional stan­dards should help to get dys­func­tional ar­eas of the state work­ing again.

It has been a hor­ri­ble year, made uglier by the sin­is­ter at­tempts to keep a lid on the Nkandla de­ba­cle and the pres­i­dent’s con­stant prox­im­ity to scan­dal.

As the boo­ing of Zuma at the FNB Sta­dium showed, pub­lic pa­tience is wear­ing thin.

But un­der the choppy waters of po­lit­i­cal con­test and in­trigue, stronger cur­rents are form­ing and, in the long run, the fix­a­tion on one man’s foibles could prove to have been no more than a tem­po­rary dis­trac­tion.

If the pass­ing of Man­dela sig­nals the mo­ment when the na­tion must step for­ward and choose its fu­ture, and if the shift­ing of forces has shown it new paths, this year of dis­con­tent may soon be no more than an un­pleas­ant mem­ory.

And Zuma may prove to have been in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing a vastly dif­fer­ent fu­ture to the days when he was the ob­ject of wide­spread scorn.


NEW HOPE: Though it has been a dread­ful year, from the death of Nel­son Man­dela to the scan­dal over Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s home in Nkandla, the Gup­ta­gate row, the Marikana in­quiry, the e-tolling bat­tle and the Zwelinz­ima Vavi af­fair, be­neath the sur­face things have be­gun to shift, says the writer. New po­lit­i­cal beasts have be­gun to prowl, in­clud­ing Julius Malema’s EFF and Mam­phela Ram­phele’s AgangSA, and the cas­cade of shocks trig­gered by the Vavi scan­dal may yet cul­mi­nate in a split in the tri­par­tite al­liance. Plus, the gov­ern­ment has shrugged off the scep­tics and demon­strated the will to put the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan into ac­tion.

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