Dan­ger of rais­ing expectations

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THERE has come from Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma an en­cour­ag­ing in­di­ca­tion that, con­trary to the sort of opin­ion pop­u­lar here at the Ma­hogany Ridge on a pay­day Fri­day night, he is not her­met­i­cally sealed from the out­side world, blithely un­aware of sen­ti­ment out there but is rather a fin­ger-on-thep­ulse, ear-to-the-ground kind of guy.

“I have heard ru­mours,” he told the rul­ing party’s KwaZulu-Na­tal con­fer­ence in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg last week­end, “that I have be­come a li­a­bil­ity. How can a mem­ber of the ANC be re­ferred to as a li­a­bil­ity? No mem­ber can be a li­a­bil­ity.”

To be hon­est, they weren’t ru­mours as such, but more like the gnash­ing of teeth and howls of frus­tra­tion.

But the good thing is that while he won’t ac­tu­ally lis­ten to what peo­ple are say­ing, or scream­ing, he can at least hear them; the hope­less op­ti­mists among us be­lieve it won’t be too long be­fore some of it sinks into his con­scious­ness – per­haps by os­mo­sis – and changes his think­ing for the bet­ter. No sign of that just yet, though. Zuma was re­port­edly quite an­gry when he made his com­ments which, I sup­pose, is bet­ter than merely gig­gling at his grow­ing le­gion of crit­ics. It was par­tic­u­larly vex­ing, it seemed, that the big­gest were past lead­ers and those drawn from the ranks of the stal­warts and veter­ans – like for­mer pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe, who re­cently claimed all was not healthy with the tri­par­tite al­liance, the state of the ANC and its lead­ers.

They were, Zuma sug­gested, peo­ple who – as if overnight – sud­denly did know bet­ter. “Why now,” he asked, “when they’re sit­ting out there, they have wis­dom? When they were in here, why did they not bring that wis­dom? ‘Al­liance is dead?’ … They must sit down and be quiet. In fact, (the) un­writ­ten rule is, when you’re out, don’t crit­i­cise those who come af­ter you… sim­ple A, B, C, D.” Or as we think of it: S, H, U, T, U, P. “Don’t pro­voke us too far,” he con­tin­ued. “Don’t. We have a job to do, to achieve pros­per­ity. Don’t. No one is big­ger than the ANC. They are cow­ards. Just an un­nec­es­sary ir­ri­ta­tion. And we may not tol­er­ate this for too long.”

On and on he went, like a big stick in­side an empty bucket, as he ex­plained the ba­sic food pyra­mid. “Me, me, me, then my­self, then I, then party, and then, way back at the end of the line, the con­sti­tu­tion.”

But if we could could just rewind to that bit about achiev­ing “pros­per­ity”. Even as Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa and Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Malusi Gigaba were rush­ing for­ward to de­fend Zuma, say­ing he had once again been mis­un­der­stood and was quoted out of con­text, there came more of those un­nec­es­sary ir­ri­ta­tions.

Re­cent re­search by po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy into the coun­try­wide ser­vice de­liv­ery protests be­tween 2001 and 2011 has shown, against expectations, voter sup­port for the ANC dwin­dled in com­mu­ni­ties that had large in­creases in the pro­vi­sion of ser­vices.

“In other words,” Daniel de Kadt and Evan Lieber­man wrote, “in­di­vid­u­als with ba­sic ser­vices ap­pear to be hap­pier with their liv­ing con­di­tions, but they are less likely to want to keep the ANC in power, at least com­pared with those still liv­ing with­out ser­vices.”

In­creases in ser­vice de­liv­ery, they ar­gued, ap­peared to heighten an aware­ness of cor­rup­tion. “One could imag­ine that those places in which there is the great­est im­prove­ment in ser­vices are also those places in which lo­cal politi­cians self-en­rich the most.”

Ser­vice de­liv­ery could also raise expectations. “Once vot­ers are pro­vided with ba­sic ser­vices,” De Kadt and Lieber­man said, “they may al­ter their expectations and de­mands of gov­ern­ment, seek­ing out al­ter­na­tive par­ties.”

Damned, then, if you do – but not as damned if you don’t. So best do noth­ing. Which may or may not ex­plain why Min­is­ter of Wa­ter Af­fairs Nomvula Mokonyane was not present at this week’s par­lia­men­tary cri­sis meet­ing on the drought and wa­ter cri­sis. Why solve prob­lems when that will just threaten your liveli­hood?

On the other hand, the rand’s freefall against the dol­lar will con­tinue un­less there are dra­matic changes in the man­age­ment of the econ­omy.

One an­a­lyst, Dwaine van Vu­uren, has sug­gested, on cur­rent pro­jec­tions, we could have an ex­change rate of R18.50 to the dol­lar by the end of Zuma’s sec­ond term in 2018.

As mat­ters stand, the gov­ern­ment has al­ready presided over the rand’s worst de­cline against the dol­lar since 1984 and the PW Botha era. It’s not an en­cour­ag­ing pic­ture, is it?

The bunker at Nkandla may yet prove nec­es­sary. And fill the fire pool with drink­ing wa­ter.

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