Sunday Times

It’s time politi­cians faced real job in­ter­views like the rest of us — and we are their bosses

- BAR­NEY MTHOMBOTHI Belarus · Iceland · Austria · Australia · New Zealand · Singapore · Belgium · Jacob Zuma · Eskom · Transnet · Steve Jobs · Albert Einstein · Polokwane City F.C. · African National Congress · Cyril Ramaphosa · Marshall McLuhan

It’s be­come some­thing of a daily lament by the pub­lic that our politi­cians are hope­less and that par­lia­ment it­self has be­come a dis­grace, a cir­cus that’s not even funny or en­ter­tain­ing to watch. We be­wail the fact with­out com­ing up with a so­lu­tion. We don’t know where to start. What ex­actly is the cause of this malaise? Is this what democ­racy is about, peo­ple in­co­her­ently shout­ing at one an­other? Or do we have un­rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions about or un­der­stand­ing of democ­racy, which af­ter all is new to us? We may have seen how democ­racy works in other parts of the world, but ev­ery coun­try is unique, with its own foibles and idio­syn­cra­sies. One of­ten hears peo­ple say: “Look at Aus­tralia. Look at New Zealand. Or Sin­ga­pore.” The fact is we’re not any of those coun­tries.

Some of our peo­ple have left, and are still leav­ing, and they may find that things aren’t that rosier on the other side. There’s no crime, but then bore­dom gets the bet­ter of you with time. It may be the weather, the scenery or even the sound of the waves that makes you miss home.

But how do we make SA work bet­ter for ev­ery­body? Maybe to say “bet­ter” is a bit off the mark, be­cause right now the coun­try doesn’t seem to be work­ing for any­body. Hopes were raised when Zuma’s lot bit the dust at Nas­rec in De­cem­ber. This week petrol hit R17/l, a record high. Thuma Mina is clearly not work­ing. In fact it feels as though since tak­ing over, Cyril Ramaphosa has been hell­bent on driv­ing us full steam to­wards a cliff. His han­dling of the land is­sue has cer­tainly left one ques­tion­ing his acu­men. Things have got worse. We’re on the edge of the precipice. Just about hang­ing on by our fin­ger­nails. A lit­tle nudge and it’s cur­tains.

I can hear some say: “Don’t blame every­thing on the politi­cians.” Don’t be­lieve the spin or the apolo­gia. Pol­i­tics is every­thing. If you dis­pute that, here’s a few sta­tis­tics: on May 9 2009 when Ja­cob Zuma, an il­lit­er­ate com­rade, be­came pres­i­dent, the cur­rency was trad­ing at R8.40/$. It’s now just about hug­ging R15. The price of petrol on the Reef was R7.52 (it was R4/l in 2004!). Eskom, Sars and even Transnet were world-class or­gan­i­sa­tions. To­day they’re gasp­ing for breath. Just about any­where you look, things have de­te­ri­o­rated, more jobs have been lost, stan­dards of liv­ing have plum­meted, our schools mer­rily con­tinue to pro­duce more young peo­ple un­pre­pared for the work­place; more peo­ple have fallen into poverty and crime has claimed even more vic­tims.

This week the peo­ple who caused all these prob­lems con­vened an­other talk shop, the Jobs Sum­mit, to solve the prob­lems they have caused. Al­bert Ein­stein, the philoso­pher, de­scribed in­san­ity as do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults. We’ve be­come ex­pert at that.

We are new in this democ­racy thing and we don’t have much from our past to go by or to com­pare. The Nats weren’t ex­actly a model ex­am­ple. But we’ve been at it for 25 years now, and we need to look back at what worked and didn’t. One of the crit­i­cal things is the qual­ity of the peo­ple we sent to par­lia­ment and into gov­ern­ment. Mar­shall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the mes­sage”. We can­not send sec­ond-rate peo­ple to par­lia­ment hop­ing for first-rate out­comes.

Our politi­cians are liv­ing large. They don’t have to work for any­thing. Their seats get given to them. They don’t have to cam­paign or face the wrath or grat­i­tude of the voter. But there they are, sit­ting in par­lia­ment, well paid and hav­ing a good time. Which is why we watch par­lia­ment when we’re bored. It’s a laugh­ing stock. A cir­cus.

If any­body wants to be a teacher, a doc­tor, an engi­neer or bee­keeper, first one qual­i­fies and then goes for a job in­ter­view be­fore one can be hired. Noth­ing of the sort hap­pens with our politi­cians. Every­thing is de­cided be­hind closed doors, away from pub­lic scru­tiny.

Right now we have state cap­ture com­ing through our pores. And we’re shocked at what’s been done to us on our be­half. But state cap­ture didn’t hap­pen in Sax­on­wold. It took place in Polok­wane. The mo­ment Zuma, a crime sus­pect, be­came leader of the ANC, he started dic­tat­ing na­tional pol­icy. He took charge of the NPA and killed the Scor­pi­ons, the two agen­cies which were bent on nail­ing him. The hunted be­came the hunter. The re­sult, of course, is that he didn’t go to prison, but landed the top job in the land and the dam­age was done.

The pres­i­dent wields ex­ces­sive power and that ob­vi­ously needs to change. But shouldn’t such a pow­er­ful per­son face some sort of job in­ter­view? Shouldn’t the may­ors, the coun­cil­lors, the MPs face us, the vot­ers — their em­ploy­ers — so that we can de­cide whether they are up to the job?

These peo­ple lit­er­ally hold the fate of this coun­try in their clumsy hands and yet there’s no mech­a­nism for vot­ers to hold them to ac­count. The cur­rent elec­toral sys­tem doesn’t pro­vide for it. They are selected by their party bosses, which is why, ex­cept for a few ex­cep­tional cases, MPs es­pe­cially are over­paid lap­dogs.

We need an elec­toral sys­tem in which any­body who holds of­fi­cial of­fice — from the lowli­est vil­lage coun­cil­lor to the pres­i­dent — does so by virtue of a di­rect elec­tion by vot­ers. Such a sys­tem would also en­cour­age po­lit­i­cal par­ties to field their best peo­ple, not their lag­gards, as is of­ten the case now. Those elected would speak with au­thor­ity for their con­stituents and be­come pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the true sense of the word.

There’s no way that the ANC would, for in­stance, have even dared to put for­ward a flawed can­di­date like Zuma if such a sys­tem was in place.

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