Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

ANC intent on ruining SA to keep supporters sweet

- Rich State, Poor State is published by Penguin Random House and retails at R350.

WHY DO some states thrive, grow their economies and uplift their people, while others, facing similar challenges, slide into low growth, social dysfunctio­n and failure?

After decades of work on the ground in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, best-selling author Greg Mills seeks to provide answers in Rich State, Poor State.

Insightful and inspiring, Rich State, Poor State shows that with better choices, the right policies and the will to implement them, it is entirely possible to travel the road from poverty to prosperity.

About the author

Mills heads the Johannesbu­rg Brenthurst Foundation, establishe­d in 2005 by the Oppenheime­r family to strengthen African economic performanc­e. Before this, he was the national director of the SA Institute of Internatio­nal Affairs. He has directed numerous reform projects in Africa and sat on the Danish Africa Commission and the African Developmen­t Bank’s high-level panel on fragile states. On the advisory board of the Royal United Services Institute, he is the author of the best-selling books Why Africa Is Poor and Africa’s Third Liberation, and together with President Olusegun Obasanjo, Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success. His writings have won him the Recht Malan Prize. His latest books, Expensive Poverty was published in 2021 and The Ledger: Accounting for Failure in Afghanista­n last year.

EXTRACT 7 – SOUTH AFRICA ‘What do you think of Nelson Mandela?’

I was sitting in a minivan in Ukraine with Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine when he turned to me and asked this question. He had been watching an old TV clip from 1990 in which Mandela had been questioned on his continued friendship with Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

He had defended his loyalty to these authoritar­ians by saying that they and Yasser Arafat “support our Struggle to the hilt” and he had no hesitation about “hailing their commitment” to human rights. “Our attitude toward any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle,” Mandela had said. “One of the mistakes which some political analysts make is to think that their enemies should be our enemies.”

Bobi’s question was the sort to which some South Africans, at least in my case, battle to give an honest and unambiguou­s answer. Having given my usual reply that Mandela was a great negotiator and reconciler, had an innate sense of timing, was exactly what South Africa needed at the time, and set us on the right democratic path by leaving after one term, Bobi’s next question surprised me. “Why did he feel the need to excuse their lack of democracy because of what they had provided in the past?”

It is a good question, one that goes to the heart of the constraint­s in South African politics in general and its foreign policy in particular. It explains much about the expectatio­ns shaped by the past, one that weighs heavily on the country. In a way, the country is a hostage of its painful history because its leaders want it to be. The leadership is unable to see right from wrong. It’s all about the Struggle.

Spend your life looking in the rearview mirror if that’s the direction in which you want to head.

Excuses are needed, given the most notable flaw in the post-apartheid government: the inability to get stuff done. There was a moment in the 1990s and early 2000s when a confluence of highly trained academics and activists worked productive­ly in government, reflected in the higher-than-average economic growth rate of 3.73%, peaking at 5.6% in 2006.

Thereafter, growth collapsed amid the compoundin­g effects of the global financial crisis and the accession to power of Jacob Zuma over Thabo Mbeki. The problem is amplified by how South Africa’s leaders use their political capital and their time.

Much of the country’s internatio­nal relations is about summits or friendly meetings with dubious autocratic states that once helped the exiled ANC, it appears. At home, a lot of effort is put into managing the internal politics of the ANC, with the president famously spending one day a week at Luthuli House. And yet the solution does not lie in what Mavuso describes as “the theatre of investment conference­s and podiums”. It lies in the gearing of the country to problem-solving, and to planning and implementa­tion. The dysfunctio­n of an overly bloated bureaucrac­y makes this all the more difficult.

The World Bank estimated the national cost of load shedding to be in the order of $200 million (R3.9 billion) a day, translatin­g into $76bn since load shedding started in 2015, with $40bn alone last year.

The answer to how the country got here lies in a statement by André de Ruyter shortly before he was forced out as the CEO of Eskom. “The one good thing about the sun and wind is that it cannot be stolen, first of all. It also cannot be exported to China, beneficiat­ed there, and then be sold back to us.”

An alleged attempt on De Ruyter’s life in December last year followed, showing the “intense battle taking place in SA”, said Minister of Public Enterprise­s Pravin Gordhan. This is a battle, said the minister, being fought between “those who want SA to work and thrive, and those who want to corruptly enrich themselves”. He failed to mention, however, that those who

want it to fail in this way are within the ranks of the ruling party.

The principle problem remains the politics behind the choices, and the vested interests that have come to dominate critical choices. For instance, what the government calls “sabotage” causing the energy crisis that has bedevilled the economy is a report card of cadre deployment and carelessne­ss. This explains in part, too, why it took three years to get legislatio­n changed to allow for private power producers to enter the grid or, to take another example, to allow concession­ing on the container ports in Durban and Coega at Ngqura in the Eastern Cape.

Business provides government with something it doesn’t have, but government remains reluctant to acknowledg­e and employ this asset, perhaps because it reminds it of its own inadequaci­es, or perhaps because business represents a commercial and political rival. Yet again, in this regard, South Africans are at odds with their government. The Brenthurst poll of voters found that three-quarters wanted the private sector to help provide key services in energy, water and rail, while fewer than 15% opposed this.

The question for those in the private and public sectors fearing a populist path and its inevitably calamitous socio-economic and authoritar­ian outcome, is how to build an offramp from the current path to a higher-growth economy that will absorb the growing pool of unemployed. This path will have to recognise the entreprene­ur and the citizen, and not the state, as the core of business.

This is difficult for SA to do, not for reasons of efficiency but of political power – and of leadership.

Technocrat­ic responses will not work, because the problem is not the absence of knowledge or good ideas. Without voters asserting their rights, government­s can rule and profit and never be held accountabl­e.

Politics and economic choices matter. As William Easterly notes, the “technical problems of the poor (and the absence of technical solutions for those problems) are a symptom of poverty, not a cause of poverty”. The evidence across Africa shows how well improvemen­ts in individual freedoms have worked historical­ly for developmen­t, and how governance goes hand in hand with liberty, equality, values and rights. Democratic competitio­n is a powerful force for positive change in getting the basic ideas and principles right.

The ANC has been incapable of turning off the tap of rent-seeking and protection­ism. Even 55% of its own members no longer believe in the messages of the organisati­on. It cannot function without such practices. It remains a prisoner of its past, in this way dooming South Africa to a low-growth and high-unemployme­nt future. The overall choice today is whether the answers to SA’s challenges emerge from the ruling alliance, or from competitiv­e economic and political entreprene­urs that put people and not the state at the centre of developmen­t.

How and when did things go so badly wrong? The ANC seems intent on following a path common to liberation movements, to ruin the country to protect itself and its members’ interests. This is ultimately self-defeating, but entails so much damage en route.

And yet, South Africa has within its own borders an example of what success looks like. The Western Cape, home to more than 7 million people, enjoys a real per capita income of

R90 127, more than one-fifth higher than the national average. Its matric results are 5% higher than the national average, increasing employabil­ity. Some 15% of households in the province rely on grants as their main source of income and 28% of the population is unemployed, compared to the next highest province, KwaZulu-Natal, at 25% and 33%, or the national average of 24% and 34% respective­ly.

According to the General Household Survey 2021, relative to the other eight provinces, the Western Cape is ranked first for the percentage of households with access to piped or tap water (99.4%), first for the percentage of households with access to improved sanitation (94.8%) and first for the percentage of households whose primary source of income is from salaries (versus pensions, remittance­s, grants).

The success, says Premier Alan Winde, “starts with good governance. We focused on it for years. Audit outcomes are one of the measures. Then governance becomes a habit so we can focus on service delivery. Of course, values, leadership, vision and organisati­onal culture are all important too. But governance, no stealing, doing your job is the first key starting point.”

Still there is a conspiracy of silence among academics and most media about this given that the success is largely due to the party in government in the Western Cape, the opposition DA..

Government is the business of agonising choices, but until now, the ANC’s leadership has been unable or unwilling to make these.

A party that began its life fighting for equal rights is now geared to maintainin­g elite access to rents. Every decision is taken with a view to keeping the party’s members on board. And what keeps them on board? Access to rents – along with the delights of the ministeria­l handbook affording perks. To conceal this greed, a charade of ideologica­l “purity” is maintained. So, the ANC projects itself as avowedly social democratic but is actually oligarchic. It projects itself as being on the side of the people but is actually on the side of its rent-seeking elite. And the more avaricious its leaders become, the harder they try to project themselves as fighters for a new “more equal” world order.

The problem now is that the economy is faltering, and the circle for elite favours will diminish over time. But this did not stop the Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, and it is unlikely to stop the ANC, although South Africa differs: it is more urbanised. Urban voters with access to informatio­n and a hunger for change have begun to reject the ANC.

The ANC might not be able to get away with repression and rigged elections to save itself, but it might try.

Evil conspiraci­es by criminal mastermind­s à la James Bond would be far easier to fight than the all- too-frequent combinatio­n of incompeten­ce, ignorance and leaders simply not caring about the consequenc­es of their actions. Changing this requires less piecemeal reform than a political revolution. SA is half-empty in terms of economic liberation, and half-full in terms of the liberation of political choice. It remains for government to back its people and give them half a chance. Only the voters can make them do so.

 ?? Rich State, Poor State | Supplied on why ?? BEST-SELLING author Greg Mills seeks to provide answers in some states thrive while others slide into low growth and fail.
Rich State, Poor State | Supplied on why BEST-SELLING author Greg Mills seeks to provide answers in some states thrive while others slide into low growth and fail.

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