The firing of Nene as Minister of Finance and the resulting devaluation of the rand, government bonds and banks in South Africa in the past week have provided an interesting insight into the state of politics in South Africa.
On the one hand it clearly demonstrates that capital is still driving the ship in South Africa, the same capital that gave the ANC an ultimatum before taking power in 1994 to toe the neo-liberal international fiscal line as outlined by western capitalists and underlined by the World Bank and the IMF.
The ANC inheriting a bankrupt state from the apartheid regime felt there was no option but to keep the capital flows coming in. The freedom charter and any socialist or nationalist agenda was gradually edged out the door to be replaced with economic growth led policies such as ASGISA, the Accelerated & Shared Growth Initiative now wearing a new hat and known as GEAR, Growth, Employment and Redistribution plan. Here the promise was that as the economy grew wealth would be distributed down to the poor, whereas in fact the rich have taken more and the genie co-efficient that measures the income inequality between rich and poor has grown to the highest in the world.
The unexpected redeployment of Nene in the last week provided a perfect example of how capital works, how the first world and capital markets move to protect investments and how dependent we as a country are on economic policies that don’t serve us, don’t provide any form of security to our people and how we are held to ransom by international capital. Don’t get me wrong I personally am no fan of President Zuma and his lack of leadership, but his apparent blunder has clearly demonstrated not only his personal agenda of harvesting state resources, but a broader lack of vision within society that crosses the political divide. We have no vision other than the neo liberal agenda dictated by western capital, indeed this is a global malaise where we know the system we find ourselves in is not working but have no idea of what an alternative could look like, nor are we actively embracing any kind of discussion that nurtures new ideas.
So Zuma’s misstep has shown that the financial markets are determining our future, a future determined by a headless monster that seeks only to enrich the few at the expense of the many, that plunders our natural resources, often polluting and destroying sensitive ecologies and ecosystems and traditional ways of life for short term profit, that we call progress. This is where we place our faith and this is what determines our national strategies and direction.
The ANC’s 80 years of political struggle was wiped out in a moment when their young economists led by Thabo Mbeki met with western capital on the eve of our so called democracy and were given an ultimatum. It was to be our moment, a deciding point in the way forward, yet the exiles of the ANC schooled in western economic doctrine were frightened away from their true aspirations. A development policy took shape that was in conflict with the ideals’ eloquently and clearly stated by the people in Kliptown in 1955. Our hopes were put on hold to toe the international monetary line designed by western capital to extract wealth from the third world and build a middle class that would align with and protect their value systems of looking after themselves. Today their promises of growth and wealth filtering down to the poor are shamefully inadequate faced with marginal economic growth, rising unemployment and a people kept at bay from revolution by a system of nominal social grants that the country cannot afford.
What’s clear is that we as a nation despite President Zuma’s assurance that the ANC knows exactly where it is going; actually have no idea. The stark reality is that we have a failing state with unqualified personal managing key institutions, we have a fat bloated government with so many ministers and blue light brigades that instead of increasing efficiency and effectiveness we have become stagnated with so many departments that real dialogue and communication is nearly impossible.
South Africa needs a much smaller effective government with a real focus on understanding the challenge and delivering solutions on the ground. If we need to support a larger civil service then the focus should be on a provincial and local government level for implementation and service delivery. Yet what are we delivering? What are we hoping to achieve? The empty promise of “A better life for all” or “Together we move South Africa forward” is lost in flagrant corruption and poor delivery of even poorer thought out development aims. The noble objectives of the Freedom Charter long since lost and forgotten in neo-liberal rhetoric, a fundamental lack of vision and more importantly courage to take bold strides to implement steps that will create the conditions for long term sustainability, stability and regeneration of our society, ecology and economy.
The aim of any government is to represent and improve the lives for its people during its years of reign and for future generations. Yet what does this mean and how is it determined? In South Africa the ANC and government operate by the conflicting aims of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), a developmental state and the National Development Plan (NDP). The goals of these plans are to secure the liberation of our people, with economic liberation being the current frontier. Yet the policies adopted by the ANC have not led to personal empowerment, local sustainability, or regional stability. Instead delivery has been based on external forces bringing solutions to the people, this approach has created a sense of entitlement amongst South Africans, the idea that we have struggled and now the state will look after us. Although the approach has been well meaning it has created the conditions for total disempowerment of the population to take care of their own basis needs and for corruption on an unprecedented scale to seep into every corner of South African society, from colluding businesses, to government tenders, to state mismanagement of R30 billion a year, it goes on. We have lost our way and inculcated a culture of everyone for himself or herself, except at election time when some smiling sincere face promises the world and delivers opulence to themselves.
In the business world we see ANC leaders often in the National Executive committee of the ruling party sitting on boards where there aim is to maximize shareholder value and then sitting in ANC executive meetings to find ways to deliver services and direction to the people. These are disparate and contradictory roles, a telecommunications company could be delivering first world communications and data networks to the people at a much lower cost, thereby enabling development in the country, but the focus is not to do that, the focus is to make as much money for a small group of shareholders, the same can be said for banks that could provide access to capital, and services at much lower rates but they too are driven by the maxim to make as much for the owners of capital, this is all counter revolutionary and does not serve the whole. In the energy sector we are controlled by a State Owned Enterprise (SOI) Eskom with energy policy determined by government, here the focus is different due to the nature of the large multibillion rand deals to fund energy programs. The idea of modernizing the electricity grid to support millions of small scale producers, thereby literally empowering many and creating income opportunities and jobs in the energy sectors were hijacked by a political elite masquerading behind securing energy for the country, whilst in reality manipulating funds into their own pockets by following coal and nuclear energy deals that are expensive, unnecessary and economic suicide for the country. In the energy sector private enterprise has proved that they can create the same amount of energy that the nuclear power stations will create in half the time at no cost to the state, but we are still following this projecion. The question is who benefits and the ANC needs to answer this question, they also need a self reflective look at their own investments and decide if their own financial security is more important than that of the country. The words attributed to the late Chris Hani come to mind, “what I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists . . who drive Mercedes Benz’s and use the resources of this country . . to live in palaces and to gather riches.”
The resources of South Africa are being squandered in a systematic manner that is growing the black middle class, a political elite that is misrepresenting the masses and dreams of the National Democratic Revolution. The sad part may indeed be that the players are pawns in a greater global puzzle unaware of their role in implementing a neo-liberal agenda. Yet this is what they are doing for returning to the ideals of the freedom charter are too scary to contemplate. It would require a well articulated plan and vision that utilizes the resources of the country to put the people to work to create systems of permanence that are resilient to external shocks such as markets fluctuations and environmental challenges such as drought and flood. It requires the return to the very basics of what we as a nation actually require to survive. We need access to clean fresh water for human and animal consumption and for agriculture, we need access to good land and soil to grow food and agricultural commodities of fiber, fuel and medicine to drive the economy, our people need access to education, skills and work that meets their need to value themselves and their place in society. If everything we know was to fall apart this would be the very basic of what we would need to sustain life, yet we do not have this or are even close to having this, our food supply is reliant on fossil fuels to deliver food to the cities, if oil was dry up so would our ability to put food on our shelves in a period as short as two weeks. Its hardly reassuring to know that the system we rely on is innately fragile and could collapse at any given time, with no plan in place from the State to intervene, in fact their blue light brigades would be stranded with hordes of hungry people expressing their dissatisfaction.
A return to the basics is required, a clear idea of what sustainability as a nation means, then educating and creating skills around these needs, the developmental state can start to play its role in nurturing strong, resilient, interdependent communities that have the ability to meet their own needs from local sources for food, health, livelihoods, transport, construction materials, energy systems, waste recycling, communications, security etc. We are blessed with inordinate talented people in South Africa who are peaceful by nature and good willed, they need to be seen as individuals who would like to see there dreams manifest, it is up to the State and Civil Society to conceptualize an equitable society that looks very different to what we have been brainwashed by the neo-liberal agenda to believe. A society that is deeply compassionate and caring, a society that takes care of its youth and their hopes and dreams, that creates the conditions for them to flourish and blossom and in turn look after the older generations who have labored and struggled to get us to where we are today. South Africa and the world is ripe with possibilities, it requires fresh thinking, a sharing, caring mindset and bold vision to return to the words spoken at Kliptown to deliver a way for ward for all our people that is equitable and regenerative.