Cit­i­zens must put fear back into the leg­is­la­ture that has ru­ined a coun­try

We have to de­mand that the gov­ern­ment once again un­der­stands that au­thor­ity re­sides with the vot­ers

Business Day - - OPINION - ● Glenis­ter is a Jo­han­nes­burg busi­ness­man who took the state to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court to en­sure the Scor­pi­ons’ suc­ces­sor, the Hawks, is suf­fi­ciently in­de­pen­dent of the ex­ec­u­tive. Hugh Glenis­ter

SA’s prob­lem is not new, it is called ana­cy­clo­sis — the cy­cles of gov­ern­ment as pos­tu­lated by Aris­to­tle. Paul Meany, dis­cussing Poly­bius, the orig­i­na­tor of the ideas about the sepa­ra­tion of pow­ers in around 200BC, says: “The cen­tral prob­lem in ana­cy­clo­sis, as Poly­bius char­ac­terises it, is the lack of con­ti­nu­ity be­tween suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions. The jus­tice of the monarch de­cays to the pride of the tyrant. The virtue of the aris­to­crat de­cays to the in­dul­gence of the oli­garch. The equal­ity of the demo­crat de­cays to the greed of the mob. Un­sur­pris­ingly, this de­cline cul­mi­nates in anarchy. Rev­ert­ing once more to step one, the grim se­quence be­gan again. Was there any so­lu­tion to this mis­er­able and eter­nal cy­cle?”

Poly­bius raises the ques­tion of how Rome could pre­vent it­self en­ter­ing the same trap as Aris­to­tle’s Athens, fall­ing into medi­ocrity, con­fu­sion and des­ti­tu­tion after the death and oust­ing of the great men who founded it. He iden­ti­fies two pri­mary forces in hu­man na­ture, one driven by rea­son and the other by in­stinct: sym­pa­thy and fear. He does not be­lieve one can force fear out of the hearts of hu­mans, or that you can make all hu­mans vir­tu­ous. What he iden­ti­fies in the unique con­struc­tion of the Ro­man con­sti­tu­tion is that fear has been used con­struc­tively to pro­mote sym­pa­thy.

Meany again: “By mould­ing pol­i­tics around hu­man na­ture, Poly­bius’s ac­count of the Ro­man con­sti­tu­tion demon­strates how con­flict, since it can­not be avoided, should in­stead be utilised in the most pro­duc­tive man­ner pos­si­ble for the com­mon good.”

Re­in­forc­ing this is James Madi­son in the Fed­er­al­ist 47: “The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of all pow­ers, leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­ciary, in the same hands whether of one, a few or many, and whether hered­i­tary, self-ap­pointed or elec­tive, may justly be pro­nounced the very def­i­ni­tion of tyranny.”

How did SA then fall into this well-doc­u­mented trap? I fear we for­got the power of fear as a force for virtue. Poly­bius’s les­son is am­ply il­lus­trated in com­merce daily. We, the con­sumers, use fear to mo­ti­vate the mul­ti­tude of sup­pli­ers, who fear us leav­ing them for an al­ter­na­tive sup­plier. They also fear their com­peti­tors will im­prove their of­fer­ings and take their cus­tomers. The ana­cy­clo­sis par­a­digm also man­i­fests it­self as once proud com­pa­nies, started by founders who be­gan from zero, are re­placed by those who seek to im­pose their au­thor­ity on the mar­ket. Un­less they change, they will go the way of the wind.

Poly­bius iden­ti­fies that we are self-in­ter­ested and driven to ac­quire power. How­ever, he misses Aris­to­tle and Plato’s find­ings in the orig­i­nal anal­y­sis. In all the re­nais­sance stages of the ana­cy­clo­sis — be it monarch, aris­toc­racy or demo­crat — hon­our, re­spect and be­ing no­ble are the cen­tral traits. In the com­pe­tence stage, com­pe­tence and truth are more im­por­tant than power, be it in com­merce or pol­i­tics.

All the fur­ther stages are au­thor­i­tar­ian by na­ture and herein lies the trap. Poly­bius again: “When these peo­ple lust for power and can­not at­tain it through them­selves or their own good qual­i­ties, they ruin their estates, tempt­ing and cor­rupt­ing the peo­ple in every pos­si­ble way.”

We have been lulled into a false se­cu­rity in this New Dawn (stage 1). We do not see, or do not want to see, once the switch has oc­curred. We seek com­pe­tence, but we get au­thor­ity in­stead, with all its lack of com­pe­tence. Who in SA would claim com­pe­tence for any­one in the civil ser­vice? They might be there, but the spec­tre of in­com­pe­tence tow­ers so high that these com­pe­tent souls are all but lost and we end with Athens’ fate — medi­ocrity, con­fu­sion and des­ti­tu­tion.

Look­ing back, it’s easy to iden­tify our mis­steps. The courts de­ferred to the leg­is­la­ture in al­low­ing it to make its own mis­takes. In this process it al­lowed it to de­stroy a body the leg­is­la­ture feared

— the Scor­pi­ons. Two mighty blows to the pil­lars of the sepa­ra­tion of pow­ers. The Scor­pi­ons’ duty was to fight for power and put fear into the leg­is­la­ture, which would have given virtue at least half a chance.

The cit­i­zens of this fair land were also duped by il­lu­sion­ists play­ing with their sym­pa­thies. They, too, for­got to ex­er­cise their abil­ity to in­voke fear in the leg­is­la­ture, a mere 400 hu­mans who hold 56-mil­lion oth­ers to ran­som.

If we sim­ply di­vide the debts of gov­ern­ment-run or­gan­i­sa­tions by the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, each man, woman and child is on the line for at least R25,000. What have we to show for this debt? A pile of bro­ken power sta­tions, an air­line that is bank­rupt, a post of­fice that does not work, a rail­way sys­tem that is in tat­ters. Fifty per­cent of this money has sim­ply dis­ap­peared.

Debt is fan­tas­tic if it buys and se­cures our chil­dren’s and their chil­dren’s fu­ture. But we have noth­ing to show for this debt but junk. We need to put fear to work to en­sure virtue pre­vails. I don’t mean ar­rang­ing our­selves into herds and groups of de­struc­tive an­ar­chists, but de­mand­ing our gov­ern­ment once again un­der­stands that au­thor­ity re­sides with cit­i­zens. We must put the fear back to work by de­mand­ing com­pe­tence and spit­ting on cor­rup­tion, thus mak­ing it eas­ier for our fel­low cit­i­zen to do like­wise.

We broaden the smile of the na­tion by mak­ing our pub­lic ser­vants fear our in­cor­rupt­ibil­ity. What if we were sim­ply to turn the ta­bles and de­mand that all 400 in­com­pe­tent clowns, danc­ing in fancy clothes and false airs and graces while we sweat and toil, pay back their R3.5bn share of our money they have sim­ply flushed down the toi­let?

They mock our sen­si­bil­i­ties by lis­ten­ing to the man­age­ment of Eskom de­mand­ing “the share­holder” take re­spon­si­bil­ity, hid­ing be­hind “the state”. The share­hold­ers are the cit­i­zens of this fair land, you dupes; the state has no funds of its own. Trade unions threaten the gov­ern­ment not to pri­va­tise Eskom, but we the peo­ple will not be held to ran­som by those who build junk as­sets. The trade unions are rob­bing our chil­dren of their fu­ture, and we de­mand that only the most com­pe­tent sup­ply our en­ergy in fu­ture.

Elec­tronic Toll Col­lec­tion CEO Coe­nie Ver­maak threat­ens us with no more roads and a six-hour com­mute be­tween Jo­han­nes­burg and Pre­to­ria if peo­ple don’t start pay­ing toll fees. He should hire some for­mer Scor­pi­ons and go find the bil­lions that have been stolen from us. He for­gets: we have al­ready paid, but the money was given away, stolen, lost or peed against some wall.

The is­sue was and is still: what have we learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence? Where did we go wrong? What did some play­ers do in­ten­tion­ally or un­in­ten­tion­ally that ex­ac­er­bated the sit­u­a­tion? Where lies the root of our prob­lem? Can we change course and make a bet­ter fu­ture for our chil­dren? Politi­cians and their mad schemes come and go; we need to face the fu­ture know­ing we have them safe in­side a box, where they can do the least harm, oth­er­wise we will con­tinue to be vic­tims of our own com­pla­cency.

It is time to re­flect, take good mea­sure and cre­ate some­thing from the ashes, by un­der­stand­ing how virtue is cre­ated by an es­sen­tial bal­ance be­tween fear and sym­pa­thy for our fel­low hu­mans.

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