THIS WAS NOT MEANT TO BE
The ANC’s coup de grâce – if it continues to fail its supporters – could be South Africa’s saving grace
Post-apartheid South Africa, just like the post-Cold War world, wasn’t supposed to be this way.
At the end of apartheid South Africa looked out on a doting world in which the “rainbow nation” wielded unprecedented levels of promise, hope and influence.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, US policymakers were free not only to pursue their direct national interests, but also to pursue grand visions of moulding the world in the US’s image and idea of democracy.
Now, a once-promising, prosperous African democracy and world order stand at a crossroads. Let me explain.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ushered in a unipolar world system in which the US became the world’s only superpower.
For the most part a glowing vision of the future – based on a conception of free markets, democratic governance and the promotion of human rights across the world – came to pass.
The US has been fortunate to be able to externalise the colossal costs, both in economic and human terms, of its failed policies on to others and carry on largely with minimal political and economic consequence.
The collapse of the Soviet Union generated widespread resentment among Russians. Their bitterness is embodied by Russian president Vladimir Putin who viscerally laments the collapse of the former unified economic system.
A few months ago Putin used his annual national address to announce a series of new weapon technologies that he deemed “invincible”. These include nuclear-powered missiles that apparently would be difficult for conventional missile defence systems to counter.
Although Putin harbours bitterness towards the West, it is Trump’s unchecked ego or accidental tweet that could trigger the next world nuclear attack.
Russia’s increased investments in the defence industry seems to be motivated largely by economics. Russia is expected to realise considerable commercial spinoffs from technological innovation resulting from investing in its defence sector.
Lest we forget, the US Defence Force’s investments in information communication technology yielded the internet and GPS technologies. This was a precursor to a sustained boom in the tech economy.
Without these disruptive technologies there’d be no Google, Uber, Apple, YouTube, Facebook, Airbnb, drones, smartphones, enhanced geolocation, and autonomous transportation systems, among others.
Thus, Russia’s “unsettling” military advances and postures could merely be a sign of a crouching bear.
With the rise of China and the accompanying shift in the global balance of power the US may, by sheer necessity, find itself forced to accept a less ambitious and more effectively “realist” approach to global affairs.
Much has changed in the years since the apartheid beast lay dying.
For South Africans old enough to remember the period 1994 to 2008, the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa must have a familiar feel. Although it is still early days, Ramaphosa’s presidency can be described as a fusion of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s leadership ethos.
But perhaps the most striking parallel is with Mbeki who understood that probity, economic growth and fiscal prudence matter.
For the most part South Africa was on track until progress was rudely interrupted by former president Jacob Zuma.
The less said about the constitutional delinquent Zuma the better. Suffice it to state, though, that Zuma is a deeply divisive figure, a political street fighter who survived by playing individuals and factions against one another. Owing to complex corrupt relationships with figures inside his sphere of influence, “state capture” has become Zuma’s legacy.
As he untangles Zuma’s morass, Ramaphosa set an ambitious five-year goal to attract $100 billion through direct investments in the economy. Ramaphosa seems to be on track to realise his goals.
What is crucial is to ensure that investments, including government’s own commitment to provide free tertiary education to the needy, are aligned with demands of a changing global economic village. This also demands a labour force attuned to the opportunities heralded by the advancing fourth industrial revolution. The defence industry, buoyed by a repositioned and recapitalised Denel, could be our Holy Grail for the tech economy.
Leveraging existing intellectual property and business ventures within the group, Denel could also act as guarantor for high-tech innovations in partnership with private sector tech funds and entrepreneurs. This would help mitigate prohibitively high capital outlays often associated with research and early-stage product development cycles for greenfield projects.
Also, ambitious public infrastructure projects could involve reclamation of land now used as mine dumps in the periphery of mining areas. Affordable public housing or light industrial hubs could be developed. Such massive projects could help reduce unemployment while also redressing the iniquities of apartheid-era spatial planning.
Over the years ordinary South Africans have shouldered the burden, both in economic and human terms, caused by the ANC government’s paying lip service to the economic development mantra, including through the much-vaunted National Development Plan (NDP).
In some instances where the NDP was invoked, this provided golden opportunities for institutional subversion and corruption.
More irksome is government’s continued failure to effect consequence management where wrongdoing has been identified.
Consider for a moment the shambolic Masibambisane Agricultural Cooperative, which was intended to provide a leg-up for emerging black small–scale and commercial farmers.
Zuma chaired Masibambisane and his nephew (mis)managed it. The duo reportedly funnelled more than a billion rands into this project by various government departments, municipalities and stateowned enterprises.
Bold action must be taken against those fingered for wrongdoing, irrespective of their political status or proximity to power. Ramaphosa must just let the chips fall where they may.
A learned friend of mine asserts that most of those fingered for wrongdoing ought to, by necessity, either be out on bail or awaiting trial as inmates. This, he argues, would vacate the need for drawn-out and costly disciplinary hearings, including a plethora of judicial inquiries.
There are timeless and painful lessons that need to be avoided, learnt or relearnt if we genuinely are to succeed in reversing this perilous course of history.
Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the co-architect of the pact that ended the arms race with late US President Ronald Reagan, must surely regret living long enough to witness the world imperilled by narcissistic Donald Trump.
Experts warn that not since the Cuban missile standoff has the world been this close to the possibility of a nuclear attack. Sadly, it is left to the US electorate to rein in Trump and save the world.
Without a clear understanding of the fear and trepidation that lie behind calls for bold action, Ramaphosa could find himself bound to political self-doubt or, worse still, ANC arrogance and turmoil. Ramaphosa has a solemn duty to take bold action and help reverse the perilous trajectory on which his predecessor and the ANC set our democracy. Otherwise, the ANC’s coup de grâce – should it fail to placate the majority of its supporters ahead of next year’s polls – may be South Africa’s saving grace.
Khaas is executive chairperson of Corporate SA. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas
ESCAPING THE WEB President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to untangle Jacob Zuma’s morass