Sunday Times

There’s hope for SA: it’s called ‘citizen power’


IHAVE seen the future and it really might work. If you consider that the biggest barrier to increasing the general prosperity of our nation is that we have a government of such unusual incompeten­ce, arrogance, indifferen­ce and corruption that it is by now almost beyond measure, then consider how it has also created the conditions for us all to save it.

What kind of government would plot and advance a project to buy nuclear plant for more money than it can earn without consulting the public?

What kind of a government would impose a carbon tax on an already stretched tax base in the full knowledge that it will not be used to reduce carbon emissions?

What kind of government would slip a tiny advertisem­ent about urban e-tolling into the newspapers as a way of soliciting public opinion on such an important issue?

What kind of government blames officials for overspend on the presidenti­al mansion, but never asks the president whether he ever considered that what he saw at his own home might have been costing quite a lot?

What kind of government spends R16-billion subsidisin­g an airline used by rich people and then complains it cannot afford to restore land to poor people?

We have that kind of government and, because of our history, it is going to be like that for a long time. The ANC governs with impunity and until now it has been hard to stop.

Opposition political parties have been able to mount a court case here and there, as have rights groups and activists. But at some stage, the state always wins. It has the time and the money to defend the indefensib­le and the irrational.

It’s the irrational that gets me. I understand the government is left wing and that many of its policies will therefore be useless and expensive. But there’s a line between foolishnes­s and financial improviden­ce that we as a society need to draw.

No government, surely, has an untrammell­ed right to waste money.

We know this because we’ve been taught so by the way Wayne Duvenage and the Outa organisati­on have stopped in its tracks one of the giants of state power, the South African National Roads Agency, from simply imposing new costs on people for doing what they do every day — going to work. Sanral is unable to collect the revenues it has tried to impose in Gauteng because some little guys stood up to it and won. And, when Sanral tries to prevent you renewing your car licence because you haven’t paid your tolls, I suspect Outa will stop that too. I know it will.

I heard Duvenage talk the other night and it is clear that this former business executive (he used to be the MD of Avis, so he knows a bit) has also seen the future.

It is called crowdfundi­ng and it lives on the internet.

Duvenage wants to convert the trust Outa has been able to build with the public to become a source of funding for a range of other causes where the state threatens to waste public funds without adequate justificat­ion (nuclear) or to raise pernicious and fraudulent taxes (carbon). The big costs are always legal, but if you have 100 000 people paying R150 a month to Outa through a debit order, that’s already R15-million a month. You become a serious force in the courts.

Fortunatel­y, the government has been obliged to affirm its commitment to obeying court orders since allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to enter the country and having to spirit him out again when a court ordered his arrest. A thousand explanatio­ns later, the courts win.

As I understand it, Outa will use the money it raises to help civil activists pursue other irrational behaviour by the state in the courts.

Just imagine the predicamen­t of Russian nuclear-reactor supplier Rosatom if a well-funded and grounded case is brought against the deal it is doing with the state. The state tells the Russians not to worry. The Russians, though, cannot spend in the face of lingering legal uncertaint­y. By 2019, as Zuma leaves office, not a sod at any of the nuclear sites (still not disclosed to the public, by the way) has been turned.

This is active citizenshi­p. It isn’t subversive. It is responsibl­e and effective.

I have just signed up on for a R150 monthly donation. It’s an insurance premium I’m happy to pay.

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