DAILY MAVERICK - OPINIONSTA / 12 SEPTEMBER 2019 - 09.04 / MMUSI MAIMANE
So many of our problems in this country, from our stalled economy to our fractured society, are a result of the way the ANC views its role as government. Over the past two decades, it has become clear that they consider being in government, along with all the benefits that can be extracted from it, to be the legitimate spoils of war. And to maximise these benefits, they have devised a system that ties business, government and the state together in a lucrative scheme that treats those on the inside well and makes them very resistant to change.
It works like this: Big Business goes and buys itself a Big Politician through what is euphemistically called “contributions”. In return, the Big Politician directs contracts to the Big Business through the Big State. Co-opted into this closed loop is Big Labour, who are kept happy, silent and complicit through guaranteed above-inflation wage increases. And locked out of this system are all those without work; but, as long as Big Welfare pays out, they won’t rise up.
It is a system that has been around since the dawn of our democracy and kept intact by each successive administration.
Our sole obsession should be to create jobs and bring more excluded South Africans – almost all of whom are black – into the economy. But this system of the ANC does the exact opposite. It encourages and legitimises corruption and it rewards the same small group of connected businesses over and over, which just widens the gap between the insiders and the outsiders.
As with the ANC’s flawed version of redress, B-BBEE, it has led to greater levels of poverty and inequality by excluding more people from the economy. If we want real redress in our society, we need to focus on inclusive growth and the broadening of opportunities for all South Africans.
This system of the ANC is bound to fail because it will inevitably strangle the economy until neither the wage increases nor the welfare component can be maintained. And when this finally happens it will unleash a level of civil unrest in society that we have not seen since the height of apartheid.
By now everyone knows exactly how the game works. If you want your share of the spoils, you either have to be a connected cadre and extract it through B-BBEE or you have to buy yourself a politician and extract it through contracts and tenders. It is a system rigged in favour of big business, at the expense of small businesses and ordinary South Africans. It is hardly surprising then that some voices in the business community have come out in support of such suicidal schemes as prescribed assets and National Health Insurance. Everyone is simply jostling for position.
It was naïve to think, as so many did and still do, that any of this would change by simply swapping out the brazen corruption of Jacob Zuma for the more presentable Cyril Ramaphosa without touching the underlying rot. The problem with our so-called new dawn is that the ANC’s crooked business scheme has now been given an acceptable face. This has bought hungry cadres more time at the feeding trough and propelled our country even further towards disaster.
When I asked the President in Parliament to explain the Bosasa donation, my concern wasn’t the ANC’s practice of vote-buying, although that is troubling in itself. My concern was that the payment displayed all the signs of this system of buying a politician in order to cash in through future business. And remember, we’re not only talking about the President’s R500,000. The moment he won his party’s leadership contest at Nasrec, the monthly payments for his son’s so-called consulting work started rolling in from Bosasa – the same company that had already landed state contracts to the tune of R12-billion with the help of bribes totalling R70-million.
If that’s the age-old modus operandi of the ANC, why would these payments to the President and his son be any different? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. 3
A slightly more palatable, slightly less crude façade to this system is simply not good enough. It needs to be destroyed entirely. Because right now we are heading for disaster. Our economy has stalled, our tax revenue is shrinking and the threat of civil unrest grows by the day as frustrated and desperate South Africans have nowhere left to turn.
We need to urgently reform our politics so that we can reform our economy and then reform our society. There is no short cut to this. It has to be done right.
It all starts with a realignment of our politics. Those who cling to the idea of racial nationalism – whether it’s the EFF on the left or the FF+ on the right – have more in common with each other than with those seeking to build a strong centre around shared values. Let them go and pursue their divisive goals and let the rest of us focus on building a shared vision and a shared future for South Africa. If this requires a split down the middle of the ANC, then so be it.
Once we have this political realignment in place, we can make the big changes needed to reform our economy. We can then, once and for all, abandon the outdated idea of a big, all-powerful, all-controlling state. We can free up our economy and introduce much-needed competition in our public sector.
Government doesn’t need to run three struggling airlines. It doesn’t need to produce 90% of our electricity through a failed power utility. We can’t continue to bail out these entities while we cannot afford to deploy sufficient police to communities under attack.
Under this Big State approach of the ANC our welfare budget has ballooned thanks to rampant unemployment, our public sector has swelled enormously, and our SOEs have collapsed to the point where we have to borrow vast amounts of expensive money to keep them propped up. None of these three massive costs are static – they are all constantly increasing while our revenue is slowly diminishing. You don’t have to be an economist to see where it ends.
There has been talk of an International Monetary Fund loan, but the ANC have made it clear they would sooner raid the pension savings of ordinary South Africans than approach the IMF for a bailout. That says all you need to know about who they serve and where their loyalties lie.
The problem, of course, with this theft of pension funds is that you can only do that for so long before it too runs out. Eventually there will be no more space to raise taxes, no more pensions to raid and no more spending to cut. We need to turn the ship around before we reach that point.
This will require a realisation among South Africans that, as much as the ANC-as-liberation-movement was good for our country, the ANC-as-government has been bad for us. Like every other liberation movement on the continent, their job was done a long time ago. We need to thank them, and move on from them. 6
Let us write our own future by reshaping our politics now.
There will always be those who see government as a path to wealth. There will always be those who use government to divide and turn people against each other. There will be those who believe government and the state should control our lives and limit our choices. Let them all band together and sell that vision to voters. And let the rest of us plot a way forward based on the shared values of freedom, fairness and opportunity for all our people.
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER