Sunday Times

The work of sav­ing democ­racy re­quires us to fo­cus on the peo­ple, not a po­lit­i­cal party

SA faces enor­mous chal­lenges, but we have shown our re­silience

- By MCE­BISI JONAS South Africa Politics · Overpopulation · Society · Politics · African Politics · Social Issues · Southeast Asia · Asia · Cyril Ramaphosa · African National Congress · Ahmed Kathrada

● South Africans need to keep per­spec­tive in these chal­leng­ing times when it is easy to be de­spon­dent. The world is un­der­go­ing ex­po­nen­tial change, with tech­nol­ogy re­plac­ing hu­man labour, the rise of right-wing pop­ulism and new forms of eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism.

Within our coun­try, head­lines talk of re­ces­sion, job­less­ness, crime and cor­rup­tion. Pop­ulist rhetoric has fu­elled un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of a quick fix to our jobs and in­equal­ity crisis. Mis­trust among stake­hold­ers re­mains high and there are pow­er­ful in­ter­ests that have ev­ery­thing to lose as pa­tron­age net­works are dis­man­tled. How­ever, history has shown we are an in­cred­i­bly re­silient and dy­namic na­tion that achieves re­mark­able things when we set our collective mind to it.

But we must also ac­knowl­edge that our na­tion has lost its way. SA is at a cross­roads. One path fol­lows cur­rent trends — rent-seek­ing, cor­rup­tion, de­clin­ing state le­git­i­macy, re­duced in­vest­ment, eco­nomic stag­na­tion, in­equal­ity and so­cial ten­sions. On this path, low growth and in­creas­ing un­em­ploy­ment would fuel frus­tra­tion and dis­con­tent, with re­duced sup­port for the gov­ern­ment and the rul­ing party.

In the ab­sence of fresh, big ideas, the rul­ing party could eas­ily turn to short-term pop­ulism. This could fur­ther re­in­force the vi­cious cy­cle of de­clin­ing le­git­i­macy, re­duced in­vest­ment, ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment and in­creased so­cial ten­sions. This is the path we must avoid at all costs.

The sec­ond path builds on lessons from South­east Asia. It would lead to­wards higher lev­els of fixed cap­i­tal in­vest­ment; in­creased in­vest­ment in re­search & de­vel­op­ment and tech­nol­ogy; a re­newed fo­cus on hu­man ca­pa­bil­ity; and col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the state, pri­vate sec­tor and civil so­ci­ety. Tak­ing this high road is, how­ever, premised on re­newed po­lit­i­cal will and imag­i­na­tion; a stronger, more ca­pa­ble state and greater col­lab­o­ra­tion across so­ci­ety.

In map­ping the path ahead, we must cap­i­talise on the op­ti­mism ac­com­pa­ny­ing Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s as­cent. A good foun­da­tion has been laid with the pres­i­dent’s an­nounce­ment of the new eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age. It is crit­i­cally im­por­tant that a broad coali­tion unites be­hind it.

There are four core ar­eas around which we need to co­here in the short term.

First, the dis­man­tling of pa­tron­age net­works that un­der­mined state le­git­i­macy and per­for­mance must con­tinue. The state cap­ture com­mis­sion is a good first step and will help us bet­ter un­der­stand how these net­works be­came so in­sti­tu­tion­alised and pow­er­ful. We must also de­velop mea­sures to pre­vent new net­works from spring­ing up and fu­ture-proof our in­sti­tu­tions against a re­peat of the past decade.

Sec­ond, we need a clearer, more de­ter­mined agenda to re­build the state. We have re­gressed on three strate­gic fronts:

● The pres­i­dency must be a “sys­tem ste­ward” to mar­shal the gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety be­hind agreed pri­or­i­ties (the core of which must be in­vest­ment and jobs). The start of this is the eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age;

● Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are our front-line force in ser­vice de­liv­ery, but many are in a state of col­lapse, bank­rupt, and have poorly main­tained and di­lap­i­dat­ing in­fra­struc­ture; and

● We need to clean up state-owned en­ter­prises af­flicted by cor­rup­tion, gov­er­nance and go­ing­con­cern is­sues.

The third area of fo­cus is ed­u­ca­tion and hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment. Our cur­rent sys­tem re­pro­duces in­equal­ity through stream­ing learn­ers from poor ru­ral and town­ship schools to­wards un­em­ploy­ment, while stream­ing the chil­dren of elites to­wards highly paid pro­fes­sional and tech­ni­cal vo­ca­tions.

The coun­try re­quires thou­sands of well-trained maths and sci­ence teach­ers to en­ter the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, which means pro­vid­ing com­pet­i­tive salaries and high-qual­ity train­ing. We must root out teacher ab­sen­teeism and en­force higher stan­dards of teacher per­for­mance.

The fourth area around which we must co­here is in­clu­sive growth. This re­quires both in­vest­men­tled growth and ac­tive re­dis­tri­bu­tion mea­sures.

Pack­ages of “sec­tor-growth so­lu­tions” need to be of­fered to key sec­tors, wherein the cost and other com­pet­i­tive­ness con­straints are iden­ti­fied (for ex­am­ple wages, elec­tric­ity, leg­is­la­tion and tar­iffs) and agree­ments struc­tured to re­solve these prob­lems. Em­ploy­ment cre­ation must be at the cen­tre of all eco­nomic pol­icy.

To drive the de­vel­op­ment agenda and ne­go­ti­ate the nec­es­sary trade-offs will take ma­ture lead­er­ship and strong in­sti­tu­tions. This re­quires us to think afresh about agency, and the com­ple­men­tary roles of the state, the mar­ket and civil so­ci­ety. We need a bet­ter co-or­di­nated, more ca­pac­i­tated and stronger-fo­cused civil so­ci­ety ef­fort to ad­vance a big­ger agenda.

His­tor­i­cally, pro­gres­sive civil so­ci­ety has been embed­ded in the strug­gle against apartheid. The cur­rent crisis in civil so­ci­ety stems pre­cisely from that, as the ANC grad­u­ally lost the moral, eth­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal high ground. Civil so­ci­ety mass ac­tion and ac­tivism against cor­rup­tion tended to be about fix­ing the ANC. There is noth­ing wrong with that, but there should be a big­ger agenda about sav­ing democ­racy.

Given the po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, some­times stand­ing for the in­ter­ests of cit­i­zens, democ­racy and the coun­try might mean stand­ing against the in­ter­ests of po­lit­i­cal par­ties. It might sound para­dox­i­cal to ex­press such views on the plat­form of a foun­da­tion named af­ter an ANC stal­wart, but Ahmed Kathrada un­der­stood that at the point where the in­ter­ests of the party and so­ci­ety con­flict, you go with the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple.

We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to sta­bilise our democ­racy and chart a new eco­nomic path. This needs a new agenda and ori­en­ta­tion in civil so­ci­ety, premised on the fact that in every rev­o­lu­tion, the peo­ple are pri­mary — ev­ery­thing else is sec­ondary.

Jonas is a pres­i­den­tial in­vest­ment en­voy and for­mer deputy fi­nance min­is­ter. This is an edited ver­sion of a speech de­liv­ered at the Ahmed Kathrada Foun­da­tion 10th an­niver­sary ban­quet

 ?? Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages / Deaan Vivier ?? For­mer deputy fi­nance min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas.
Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages / Deaan Vivier For­mer deputy fi­nance min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas.

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