Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Holistic Politics

Let’s face it, Jacob Zuma has us right where he wants us – endlessly gnawing on the bones of “State Capture”, while simultaneously fixating us on what his next irrational move might be. How many more leaked emails, articles, books, round-table discussions, international speeches, etc is it going to take before we wake up and realise that he has no intention of going anywhere in the short-term? While we are all bumping our gums with indignation, our country is being decimated by self-serving politicians who are fighting over the carcass of what was once a great liberation movement. We must stop talking, and start taking proactive countermeasures to block this ongoing and systematic destruction of our democracy.

While a main perpetrator, the ANC is not solely responsible for the carnage. Our main opposition parties are to a greater or lesser extent also complicit. Whether it be through the application of double-standards in no-confidence votes, or lack of transparency in party funding that smacks of deliberate concealment by the DA; or the racially divisive and backwards-looking rhetoric being used by the EFF; these parties are also contributing to the growing disillusionment of the electorate, thereby further fanning the flames of distrust for all things political.

The EFF are a particularly clear and present danger to the survival of our fledgling democracy. The fact that they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Great October (Russian) Revolution, that ushered in 74 years of rule by the largest and most violently oppressive regime, points to where their heads are. Legitimate debate in Russia was snuffed out, millions of dissenters were either assassinated or died in the notorious Gulags, and the poor were further marginalised through denialism of the existence of poverty. The additional fact that EFF leadership has made a point of obtaining degrees and doctorates in politics should also be a warning that they are callously playing with the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. In other words, they are fully aware that they are pushing a failed ideology, but continue to do so because they know populism will always find favour with “the masses”.

Equally disturbing in the populist vein - have you noticed how Zupta faction Rapid Economic Transformation rhetoric, and EFF White Monopoly Capital/Nationalisation rhetoric are moving ever closer together? In politically correct language, we are caught in the vicelike grip of “identity politics”, but in real language it is nothing more than blatant race-baiting. Resorting to this form of gutter politics is proof that they are devoid of original ideas, and have no sustainable solutions for the problems facing South Africa.

On the other side of the political divide, the DA is attempting to impersonate the ANC– continually referring to ANC struggle heroes while virtually ignoring their very own heroine, Helen Suzman.  Mmusi Maimane’s naivety is also quite breathtaking. The country is in the hands of a President who has no respect for the Constitution, yet Mmusi is searching disclosure of interest records to see if JZ has perhaps broken the Parliamentary Executive Code of Ethics - viewing the records himself, not delegating to a subordinate or requisitioning the appropriate information, but posing for a photograph with sleeves rolled up. Oh dear!

While it is unsurprising that we are preoccupied with political events unfolding at a national level, an equally pressing issue is the parlous state of provincial and local government. A lack of leadership at all levels has fostered a dangerous form of political anarchy that threatens the foundational fabric of our society.  When looked at holistically, from top to bottom our political system does not promote genuine democracy, but rather feeds into the cadre deployment and patronage networks that are the preferred modus operandi of political party leaders.

A new brand of leadership is needed. One that does not make undeliverable promises, but rather fosters unity through practical and, where necessary, pragmatic policies. Take free tertiary education as an example. Across-the-board free education is presently unaffordable without robbing Peter to pay Paul, so students will only profit at the expense of other equally important government initiatives. Yet it makes practical sense to provide free tertiary education in spheres such as science, engineering, and medicine for example, where we have dire skills shortages. Full subsidisation of TVET colleges is also a given as we are desperately short of artisanal skills. Students of some of the more esoteric subjects will need to pay their own way or, if we really want to offer free tertiary education to everyone, then the number of these students needs to be reduced to affordable levels. Pragmatically, it makes no sense to provide free education in an oversupplied discipline to swathes of people, when their chance of obtaining employment at the end of their degree course ranges between extremely limited, and non-existent. The saddest part of the education debate is that we generally ignore the fundamental cause of our skills shortage, which is an extremely inadequate level of basic education. From crumbling infrastructure that can claim a life of untold potential through drowning in a sea of human excrement, to a lack of proper textbooks, to undertrained and sometimes abusive teachers – the litany of disasters in our system of basic education goes on and on.

The current political order is failing spectacularly to map a sustainable way forward.  If we are to realise our full potential as a nation and genuinely achieve a better life for all, we must find a new leader with the moral strength and physical courage to take on the daunting task of recalibrating our political landscape - someone with the capacity to unite ALL South Africans behind a campaign to rid ourselves of the Zupta parasites and their cronies, and begin the massive task of rebuilding not only the economy, but interracial trust and understanding.  That person is out there somewhere.   We just need to give them sufficient encouragement to feel confident in stepping up and taking the reins of leadership.

The fires of racial division are being stoked by irresponsible politicians in their single-minded quest to seize the levers of power. We need to douse those fires quickly and effectively. To do this we must recognise and accept that a united voice is more powerful than the discordant clamour of disparate outrage that prevails today. The first step is one of introspection. To borrow from John F. Kennedy, we need to ask ourselves “not what our country can do for us, but what can we do for our country”.

Right now, I am politically homeless with a desperate need for somewhere to hang my hat. A place where I can roll up my sleeves, and help to make South Africa work as well as I know it can. That place hasn’t been built yet, but I live in hope that it will be, and soon.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Malusi Gigaba's Mid-term Fudge-it Speech

In my opinion, Malusi Gigaba’s maiden Mid-term Budget Policy speech was primarily geared towards protecting his personal political future.   He laid out in no uncertain terms the depressingly ugly state of our economy, then deferred or postponed taking any long-term remedial action until February 2018.  Why?

Put yourself in his very expensive shoes for a moment, and consider how else could he have approached the subject when he can’t be sure who his boss will be in February 2018?  His best option for self-preservation was to do exactly as he did – factually point out what is wrong and then do nothing other than try to balance the aspirations of the main contenders for ANC presidency, without also upsetting the incumbent.

Think carefully about what Gigaba was attempting to juggle – Zuma might, God forbid, still be President, and he desperately needs nuclear, so Gigaba gives credibility to the nuclear deal with a caveat that it must be affordable, so it was a yes/no commitment.

Dlamini-Zuma promotes non-specific “radical economic transformation” which was given significant traction in the speech, as was Ramaphosa’s “inclusive development” philosophy. Gigaba managed to blend both into being the best way forward – essentially saying we need to radically transform, but we can’t do it alone and need the private sector to drive it - so another yes/no, or no/yes commitment depending upon which way your own perception mop flops.

When, in this same government/business section of his speech Gigaba alluded to “unity” being vital to the way forward, was he referring to public/private co-operation, or was he just opening the door to a future under Zweli Mkhize should he prevail as the ANC’s “unity” candidate in December. Listen carefully to what Gigaba says on the unity issue and how he says it - I have my interpretation, but you might think differently.

Gigaba used a lot of words that alluded to much but promised nothing in a speech that was carefully crafted to protect his own position, obliquely confirming that the internal war raging within the ANC is far from being a fait accompli for any faction. But what does it tell us about Gigaba himself? Is he just another avaricious politician taking the gap, or has he realised the error of his previous ways? As a political cynic I am biased, but even so there is no doubt that Gigaba is an intelligent and articulate politician who could make a positive contribution to the country if he chooses the right path to follow. In this respect were his closing references to predecessors Pravin Gordhan and Trevor Manuel a genuine acclamation of their contributions, or a reminder that they are now history?

As is usual when personal or party politics comes before the people, there is nothing encouraging to be found in the speech. In fact, it has created a level of short-term financial uncertainty that will no doubt result in ratings agency downgrades that will be disastrous for all of us, and devastating for the poorest of us. Meanwhile we are left guessing as to what more damage might be done in the February 2018 budget.

Another disheartening event occurred before Gigaba had a chance to open his mouth. The EFF walked out - again!  When will the EFF and their supporters learn that parliament is not a kindergarten sandpit? They have a responsibility to participate, not just walk away when the going might get tough. They must not only question the personal integrity of Ministers, but also learn to question the integrity of Ministerial policies – they can’t do that if they are not there to listen. The EFF obviously has no imagination, no vision, and no workable alternative proposals, so their standard fall-back position is to grandstand their exit from legitimate proceedings.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

2017-2019 Expect Politics of Illusion, Delusion, and Opportunity

Am I alone in having no enthusiasm for following the ANC leadership race and trying to guess the outcome of their December elective conference?  That is if they manage to hold one at all. In my opinion it is delusional to believe that even a best-case outcome will deliver a cleansed and rejuvenated ANC - and the worst-case outcome doesn’t bear contemplating. I read about the emergence of compromise candidates “for the sake of ANC unity”, but see only compromised candidates. None of them is untainted by the Zuma kleptocracy, which continues unchecked even though the majority of candidates are blathering on about putting an end to state capture. They should have been actively doing that for the last ten years, not promising to do it at some unspecified future date. The fact is that the ANC, even under new leadership, can no longer maintain the illusion of working for “a better life for all”, so it is past time for them to be voted out of office.

But who or what replaces the ANC?
The Democratic Alliance was in pole position to pick up support until their recent spate of political setbacks, not least being the recent suspension of Patricia de Lille and her security chief JP Smith from all party activities; not to mention the earlier Helen Zille debacle. The DA also seems to have noticeably lost its way after taking on so many disparate local government coalitions. It’s almost as if the conflicting ideologies they have to work with are eroding their own identity, and they are no longer confident in presenting themselves as the future for South Africa. This is also evidenced in their apparently schizophrenic approach to events such as votes of no confidence – if the vote is against the ANC it must be held in secret to allow ANC members to vote their conscience without fear of retribution, but if it is against the DA, then it must be an open vote so the party can discipline members who vote against the party line. Huh?

It is also unfortunate the DA is still widely regarded as a predominantly “White” party, which adds to the impression they are suffering from political schizophrenia. On one hand they have to retain their white constituency through a conservative approach to such challenging subjects as land reform and economic transformation, yet on the other hand their only way to attract disenchanted ANC supporters is by taking a more populist stance on the same subjects.

Given these challenges, party supporters and their leadership are delusional if they believe the DA can win the next National Election outright, and their perceptibly superior and dismissive attitude towards coalition partners in local government is also counterproductive to their aspirations for 2019.

For their part in “the game of politics” as their leadership so arrogantly refer to it, the EFF has developed a brand of smoke and mirrors that any political illusionist would be proud of. Their latest illusion has been created around the six Mogale City councillors who were expelled from the EFF because they voted with the ANC to approve council’s 2017/18 budget. On the surface an apparently brave and highly principled decision, for which EFF leadership have received plaudits for punishing those who gave the keys to public funds back to the ANC.  Closer examination, however, reveals the illusion behind the outcome. Deconstructing some aspects of this illusion:

1.        First of all no bravery was needed as there was absolutely no risk the EFF would lose any council seats by removing these cadres. They were all appointed from the proportional party list, and will simply be replaced by others from that same list. The question is, would EFF leadership have taken the same action had these been Ward councillors, where by-elections would be needed to replace them, or is their false bravado just an illusion designed to elicit cheap political capital? I’ll leave you to make your own decision on that.

2.      According to an EFF official statement on the affair, “....six EFF Councillors contravened the EFF decision not to attend the Mogale City Budget vote Council meeting...” Obviously councillors on the ground, who should be empowered to act in the best interests of their constituents, were not involved in this decision. So, like every other political party in South Africa, EFF leadership makes blanket politically motivated decisions without regard for local circumstances, and then demand blind obedience from their cadres.

3.      The statement goes on, “This is the same ANC that the people of Mogale City removed from the government following the 2016 local government elections outcomes.” Technically speaking, the ANC still hold the majority of seats for a single party, so the people of Mogale City did not actually remove them from government – with 38 seats versus the combined DA 27, EFF 9, FF+ 2, and IFP 1,  it was actually opposition political “horse-trading” that did that job. Ideologically incompatible, these parties are only united by the common cause of ousting the ANC and improving their own perceived status. But what happens if they no longer have that common cause?

4.      The statement continues, “It is the same ANC that has been looting the public purse since 1994 to the exclusion and marginalisation of our people. The mandate not to vote with ANC was consistent with fighting corruption as reflected in our non-negotiable cardinal pillar number seven”. What the EFF doesn’t tell you is, while under ANC control, Mogale City received unqualified audits for 5 consecutive years (2011/12 – 2015/16) with the last 3 of these years being “Clean” audits. Oh dear, a seemingly efficient and uncorrupted ANC municipality doing what the DA crows as being an outstanding job – let’s quickly and quietly sweep that one under the carpet. Looking at this audit record, and having negotiated some additional concessions with the ANC mayor, why should the six EFF councillors, along with the single IFP councillor, not have voted to approve the budget?  Party leaders made a purely political decision with full awareness that failure to approve a municipal budget has dire consequences, most of which will be borne by the poorest of the poor. With this action EFF leadership confirmed once again that our party-centric electoral system allows them to always put party politics before service delivery with impunity.

Masters of political illusion, the EFF has somehow convinced a not insignificant number of people that their Marxist/Leninist/Fanonian ideology provides solutions to South Africa’s problems, even though the ideology has failed dismally in countries that deployed far greater financial and intellectual resources to make it work. Their “get our land back” illusion has also misled a number of gullible individuals into believing that they will finally get some land. What they can’t seem to grasp is EFF ideology dictates, in all applications of the word, that no-one owns any land. Everyone will be individually dispossessed without compensation and all land will be “owned” by the state.  “The State” whatever or whoever that might be, will then determine who gets what and where, creating a patronage system and more insidious form of state capture that will outstrip Zuma’s corrupt network by a mile. However, as we voters are not as stupid as politicians believe or even hope we are, most South Africans will ultimately reject this ploy, recognising that the EFF are playing a dispassionate and cynical game, but with real people’s lives - our lives, yours and mine.

EFF leadership’s endgame, however, is not to win the 2019 election outright, which would be a delusional objective, but rather to ensure that they are the “kingmakers”. In a role that is almost better than winning, “kingmakers” have a lot of power that carries no ultimate responsibility for delivery of promises made by the majority party. As any illusion created by the DA and EFF that they can work together in long-term coalitions or partnerships is already crumbling, it begs the question: what happens in 2019 if the ANC lose their majority (a possibility), the DA does not achieve an outright majority (a certainty), and the EFF end up as kingmakers (a probability)? The answer is simple. Our country will be at the mercy of an allegedly delinquent tax-dodger who can choose between returning “home” to the patronage politics of the ANC, or spend the next five years in a mutually destructive ongoing ideological war within a DA-led coalition. There are no prizes for guessing how that will turn out.

With such uninspiring choices I suspect that without a paradigm shift in the political landscape, many more people will join the ranks of those who just don’t bother to vote. 2019 will likely see the lowest ever voter turnout percentage and, through this apathy, politicians will be granted further license to continue focusing on themselves, rather than the people of South Africa.

Recent reports indicate that ex-ANC MP Makhozi Khosa is exploring the idea of forming a new political party, and we certainly need a vibrant alternative to the self-absorbed dross served up by the ANC, DA, EFF et al, “something fresh....” as she so aptly put it. But can a new party really ring the type of changes needed? If a party is formed with the mindset of a typical South African politician, then the answer is no. It will become just another COPE, or UDM to be eventually lost in the shadow of bigger parties. However, if the political establishment is attacked by a people-centric party that can appeal to those who have stopped voting altogether, and also appeal to those who do vote, but use their votes negatively – e.g. “I’m not voting for (DA/EFF/IFP/UDM/COPE/FF+/ACDP etc), I am voting against the ANC”, there is a unique opportunity to make a significant impact on traditional voting patterns.

In my view people-centric means having a commitment to unifying the country under the single classification “I am proudly South African”. It also includes a commitment to changing the electoral system to dismantle the predominantly party-centric proportional representation, cadre deployment and patronage system. It includes having a genuine process of public participation, not the lip-service kind paid by today’s breed of politicians. It means telling people the truth about what can and cannot be delivered, having a professional plan with real goals and achievable milestones. It is amazing how patient and tolerant people can be when they are told the truth.  There must also be a commitment to changing the constitution to curb the powers of the Executive, in particular the President. We should never again have to suffer the ignominy and frustration of not being able to remove incompetent or criminally accused members of the Executive, particularly if they occupy the position of President.

Finally, is Makhosi Khosa the right person to deliver the paradigm shift in South Africa’s political landscape we desperately need? She may not be everyone’s favourite, having a tendency for theatrical grandstanding, but her long experience as an activist, not to mention her current availability to take on a new challenge, certainly makes her best positioned to grasp the nettle.  From a personal perspective, any credible candidate willing to take on the task will have me on board faster than you can say 2019.