Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Half Empty or Half Full?

Why is it that when most of us are enjoying a positive and happy moment, there are always others miserable enough to try to burst our bubble? It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, whether it be a marriage “….of course, you know it will never last!”;  a well-deserved promotion at work “….he/she obviously must have slept with the boss!”; or the election of a new President after a decade of misrule by a kleptocratic psychopath, there are always those who will find fault.  

Do I think that Cyril Ramaphosa can deliver nirvana for South Africa? Of course not. Will politicians in general ultimately disappoint me? Almost certainly. Will that stop me from putting my shoulder to the wheel trying to help make good things happen? Absolutely not.   I categorically refuse to be dragged down by the mean-spirited “They are stuffing up Our country”, glass-half-empty armchair cynics who make no effort for SA, then smugly announce “I told you so!”.  We have another chance to build our nation into what we want it to be, and I will do everything I can to help turn the dream into reality. I know it can never be perfect, but the least I can do is contribute towards the effort needed to dig ourselves out of the mire Zuma has left us in.

Starting with the premise that South Africa is my country and, even though I didn’t vote for them, the ANC are currently running my Government, let me try to address what is, at least for South Africa’s White population, one of the more contentious issues stemming from SONA 2018.

Expropriation of Land Without Compensation:  I must admit to also having a degree of trepidation on this subject, but my nervousness relates to the execution, rather than the principle of the proposal –  bearing in mind that if the present land redistribution program had been run effectively, we would probably not be facing this conundrum. That aside, there is no doubt that if we want to avoid the economically destructive tenets of Marxist/Leninist/Fanonian ideologies, where the State owns all the land and individuals own none, many more people need to be brought into the circle of land ownership. The more people there are vested in land, the more able we will be to resist the totally destructive stupidity of these failed populist ideologies. Redistribution of land ownership is therefore a practical and pragmatic necessity, not a nice-to-have.

As food security for SA is paramount, what is wrong with the concept of taking fertile land away from an owner who has left it lying fallow, and giving it to someone willing to work it productively - a caveat being that only land can be expropriated?  Any improvements must be recompensed at market value. However, I challenge Government to reconsider whether the Constitution really needs to be changed. As it stands, there is no prerequisite for a “willing buyer/willing seller” compact, so if it is “in the public interest”, a much smaller payment could be determined as being appropriate compensation, while leaving other important property rights intact.  I believe there is still time to negotiate with the Government on a revised implementation of land redistribution and, as the saying goes, “a smaller percentage of something is a whole lot better than 100% of nothing”.

In other areas of concern, Jacob Zuma’s reckless announcement of free tertiary education has forced the government into putting the cart before the horse. Even more funding must now also be found to improve primary and secondary education, both being currently in dire straits and a major contributor to the growing ranks of our people living in abject poverty. This leads to the National Health Insurance proposal.

In my opinion, the NHI scheme looks only to treat the symptoms of our healthcare crisis and not the fundamental cause. The problems with our public healthcare system stem not only from gross mismanagement of available resources, but also from a burgeoning demand for services caused by the abject poverty many of our people live in - dietary deficiencies, alcoholism, drug abuse, inadequate potable water and substandard sanitation, schoolgirl pregnancies, AIDS, tuberculosis, gang-related trauma - the distressing list goes on, and on.  Regardless of country, or skin colour, the destitute are exponentially more prone to illness, and their life expectancy is significantly lower than their more affluent compatriots. 

While South Africa’s public-sector healthcare infrastructure most certainly needs to be upgraded, introducing an expensive mechanism such as the NHI scheme to treat only the consequences of poverty, is unsustainable. More money must be allocated to programmes tasked with eradicating poverty and uplifting living conditions of the poor.  This leads to the social “coalface” of Provincial and Local Governance.
One of the most promising statements Ramaphosa made in SONA 2018 was: “It is critical that the structure and size of the State is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources.” Many commentators have taken a narrow view that he is referring only to the size of the Cabinet, which mushroomed from 18 Ministerial portfolios in Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Cabinet, to Jacob Zuma’s 35 Ministerial and 37 Deputy Minister positions by 2017. But “…the structure and size of the State…”  in my interpretation includes Provincial and Local Government, which opens up some very interesting possibilities.

I don’t have too much to say about Provincial governance except that in most provinces it is totally corrupt and completely ineffectual. Some provinces, Gauteng being a prime example with the Life Esidemeni debacle, are demonstrably not “… optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources…”  A clear-out at National Government level will address top-tier corruption, and when that is done, which shouldn’t take too long, second tier Provincial corruption can be tackled also quite quickly and effectively, through a process of restructuring.

However, the real coalface of service delivery and social development resides at Local Government level, and this is where I have long believed the axe needs to be wielded with a vengeance. We have 400 Members of Parliament tasked with debating the affairs of our nation of 57 million people, yet apparently 231 Councillors are required to mess up the water supply for a population of under 4 million people in Cape Town.  A council that is almost 58% of the size of the National Assembly to debate the affairs of under 7% of the country’s population, and gets it completely wrong to boot – does that make sense to anyone other than a politician? This disgraceful surfeit of politicians occurs throughout all municipalities, from the largest Metro to the smallest Local Municipality. For far too long, we have been footing the bill for many pointless political party cadres who are there just to nod along with the chief whip. While there is much talk of introducing constituency accountability into the National elections process which I fully support, our Local Government electoral system also needs to be changed, not only to reduce the number of unnecessary politicians feeding from the public purse, but to also bring accountability back to the electorate. Halving the number of councillors will not affect the governance capacity of municipalities, but will have the major benefit of releasing approximately R2bn more for social development projects.
For the first time in many years there is a mood of good will and optimism in South Africa that I share, but good will and optimism alone are not enough. We must follow up with actions that streamline all levels of governance and accelerate developmental programmes.

There is a huge amount of work to do, and right now there are a lot of people looking to tackle South Africa’s problems from the top down.  So, my offer to President Ramaphosa is, if you also want someone to tackle governance issues from the bottom up, then Send Me.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Cyril Ramaphosa - Fixing the Legislative Defect

Those of you who have read at least a couple of my previous articles will know that I hold all political party leaders in equal contempt for the way they abuse their power, so if I tell you I sincerely believe that Cyril Ramaphosa has the courage and integrity to begin the process of undoing at least some of the havoc wreaked by Zuma and his cronies, then you will know this comes from my head and not my heart.  I am also feeling very upbeat about our medium-term future under a Ramaphosa-led government, but caution that the positivity I enjoy right now is based on a feeling of trust and confidence in the integrity of the individual, not a trust in the political system.

To those who continue to criticise Ramaphosa for sitting quietly through the years of Zupta plundering, think carefully about where we would be today if he had spoken out against Zuma from a position of weakness and got himself “reshuffled” as a result. In my opinion, had Cyril been side lined, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma would have been a shoe-in for President of the ANC, and next in line for the South African Presidency, thus ensuring the preservation of a Zuma kleptocratic dynasty.  Personally, I am grateful that Ramaphosa had the fortitude and self-control to hang in there throughout what must have been extremely trying times.

The recent upsurge in demands for accountability by Parliamentary Committees also does not signal that the system is suddenly “fixed”, because it isn’t. If we haven’t learned from our bitter experiences with Zuma that everything depends upon the calibre and integrity of leadership, then we have learned nothing. My greatest concern relates to who might follow Ramaphosa, so believe we need to take time now to address the legislative defects in our Constitution that allow such abuses of power, not the least of which is the party-centric Proportional Representation electoral system. 

The Blame Game 2018 

The main contenders in our current series of “Blame Game – South Africa” are the State Capture (Eskom) Team of Lynne Brown, Matshela Koko and Anoj Singh; the State Capture (SASSA) Team of Bathabile Dlamini and Lumka Oliphant; the Gauteng Life Esidimeni Team of Qedani Mahlangu and David Makhura; the Free State Estina Farm Team of Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane; and last but not least, the Cape Town Drought Team of Patricia de Lille, Helen Zille, Mmusi Maimane and Nomvula Mokonyane.

In a parody of George Washington’s apocryphal cherry tree confession, they claim “I cannot tell a lie - it was at least two other people” and there is so much finger-pointing going on right now that most have already started poking themselvesin the eye.  Public perception is that these disgraceful episodes are solely attributable to the failure of a political party, either the ANC or DA, to act appropriately and timeously. While this is superficially true, when looking beneath the surface it becomes clear that these incidents are symptomatic of an insidious and more general failure of governance. Taken together, they present a dire picture of political oversight in South Africa, with governance failures occurring at all levels:
  • The Eskom and SASSA disasters are a result of failures in governance at a National Level;
  • The Life Esidimeni and Estina Farm debacles result from failures in governance at a Provincial Level;
  • The Cape Town water crisis results from failures in Governance at Municipal, Provincial, and National Levels;

Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that these are only a few of the myriad governance failures, ones that just happen to be in the spotlight today - many more will come to light when the whole State Capture can of worms is properly attended to.

A quick look at the Auditor General’s report on the state of local government also makes for sobering reading, wherein it is stated that the financial health of 92% of municipalities is “either concerning or required intervention”. So many failures at every level of governance makes it painfully clear that these are not individual aberrations, but rather the unintended consequences of systemic weaknesses in our Constitution.

With all its good intentions, the governance sections of our Constitution assume a Madiba-type political ethic. It therefore does not cater to the gutter politics of under-educated psychopaths that walk the corridors of power at all levels of government. If you don’t believe it, or don’t want to believe it, then try answering the following questions:

1.  Why is Jacob Zuma still the incumbent President of the country when proven to have, at the very least, broken his oath of office? It is easy to blame the ANC for not removing him, but the only thing that allows them to ignore Zuma’s blatant disregard for the Constitution is the Constitution itself.

2.  How has Jacob Zuma been able to so easily undermine, and in some cases even cripple essential organs of state, driving the country into economic and social meltdown; and why are so many obviously incompetent or “captured” Ministers and Directors of other essential organs of state, such as National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shaun “The Sheep” Abrahams, still in their jobs? Again, it is easy to blame the ANC for not stepping in, but it is the Constitution itself that provides the Presidency with such overarching, almost dictatorial powers when it comes to to hiring and firing these people.

3.  Why, in the Western Cape, do the Premier, Helen Zille, and the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, both of whom have been suspended from participating in Democratic Alliance party activities, continue to hold their public governance positions? How can they be considered good enough for the people when they are not considered good enough for the party, particularly under present water crisis conditions?  The answer is that expelling them would have left the DA with egg on its face, and the serious challenges of trying to replace them in factional caucuses.  By suspending instead of expelling them from the party, the DA has sidestepped a Constitutional requirement to replace them had they been expelled. In this parallel political universe Zille and De Lille are both theoretically inside, but effectively outside the DA simultaneously. Go figure how that is supposed to work in the public interest.

A common thread throughout all the above disasters is that politicians are so focused on protecting themselves and their political parties that they are failing to protect our interests, yours and mine. The Constitutional Court has tried to remind them that their oath of office elevates the Constitution and their constituent’s interests above those of their political party, but the legislative defect embodied in our proportional representation electoral system ensures that a politician’s loyalty is to their party leader, and not their constituents.

The Cape Town water crisis encapsulates everything that is wrong with the present proportional representation political dispensation. The city of Cape Town has 231 councillors representing a population of around 3,75 million people (New York City has 51 City Councillors for population of around 8.5m people!) comprised of 116 Ward Councillors and 115 party-list proportional councillors from different political persuasions - the DA just happens to be the majority governing party. But what have the opposition, particularly ANC councillors been doing during the last 11 years of DA governance? ANC councillors have also known for decades that a water crisis was looming in Cape Town, and they also (hopefully?) know that the provision of bulk water supplies is the responsibility of a government department controlled by the ANC. So why have they not directly and timeously interceded with their own party mandarins to ensure water security for their local Capetonian constituents?  Could it be because they have prioritised party politics over service delivery? Can they really do that? Yes, they can, because the proportional representation, party-list electoral system defined in the Constitution entrenches party supremacy over constituency accountability.  The Councils’ “…worst drought in 100 years” mantra is an overstatement by around 60 years, but even so it is a convenient excuse for their failure to plan for a massive growth in the city’s population. It is also clearly ironic that the same population they failed to plan for, is now being demonised for using too much water.

It is generally accepted that the ANC has continually, and not always subtly, attempted to undermine governance in the Western Cape in general, and Cape Town in particular, but to put party one-upmanship so blatantly before the wellbeing of citizens requires a callousness that beggars belief. While such a political attitude may surprise many of you, it surprises me not at all. In a face-to-face meeting with Helen Zille several years ago, when complaining to her that party politics were interfering with service delivery in my home town of Wilderness in the Western Cape, her then answer still sums up the attitude of all South African politicians today, which is “When fighting for your political life, party politics will always come before service delivery”.  In her defence, she was just the messenger – all senior politicians in every party, whether DA, ANC, or EFF, have the same self-serving attitude.

As progressive as our Constitution undoubtedly is, there is a short-circuit in its governance sections that is highlighted by the obvious pre-eminence of politicians over people. So, what can we do about it?  The standard and most obvious retort is to “punish the offending political party at the ballot box – vote them out!” but that doesn’t fix the short-circuit, all it does is reset the circuit breaker.

To prove the point, what is going to happen to the Western Cape in the 2019 Provincial elections? Will Capetonians be so pissed off with DA Municipal governance that they will exacerbate their problems by sacrificing DA Provincial governance? The Cape Town Municipal council is entrenched until 2021, so do Capetonians really want to concurrently have a potentially uncooperative Provincial government?  Even if they do, who can they vote for? The ANC didn’t work for them, and the DA hasn’t worked for them either, so what’s next – the Gucci clad revolutionary thugs of the EFF? back to the ANC for another ride on the roundabout of party-centric politics? or grudgingly stick to the devil you know?

Since 1994 all we have been doing is resetting the electoral circuit breaker every five years, losing  more and more constituency power along the way. It is high time we fixed the electoral system short-circuit in the Constitution and returned more power to the people. The ANC wants to revisit land appropriation in the Constitution, so why not revisit Executive Powers, and Electoral Systems issues at the same time? Just asking.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Where Have All the Voters Gone?

Between August 2016 and November 2017 an additional 9% of the registered electorate stopped voting. You may find this unbelievable, but this is exactly what happened in Metsimaholo Municipality’s November 2017 by-elections. Remember that these encompassed the entire municipality, not just one or two Wards, effectively representing a complete rerun of the August 2016 Local Government election. Apples with apples comparisons are therefore appropriate and very revealing.

I believe Metsimaholo can be viewed as a microcosm of the national electorate’s disposition, because as explained below, if any municipality should have expected a higher turnout than before, it is Metsimaholo.

Without going into too much detail - in 2016 there was no outright winner in the Free State municipality of Mestimaholo, but the DA managed to cobble together a 23 vs 19 coalition “majority” enabling it to take control, albeit for less than 12 months. Internal squabbling saw the coalition unsurprisingly fall apart and having failed to pass the 2017/18 municipal budget, the council was necessarily dissolved. Free State Provincial Government appointed an administrator to oversee operations until by-elections could be held to re-constitute a political order for the municipality.  In these circumstance, shouldn’t we expect more people to turn out to ensure a majority for the party of their choice, thereby helping to alter the previous disastrous outcome?

The reality of these by-elections is that registered voter turnout dropped from 56% in 2016 to 47% in 2017 making the non-voting population the largest constituency at 53% of registered voters. Significantly, as you will see later, the number of voters casting ballots in each of the two elections dropped by a massive 18.5%.

Apples with Apples Analyses
Much has been made of the ANC’s “collapse”, where results superficially suggested an almost 35% drop in support - but what needs to be factored into this equation is that the SACP stood in these by-elections under their own banner for the first time, and not as an ANC alliance supporter. If, for apples with apples comparison, we add the 2017 SACP votes and ANC votes together, the seats won remains the same and in the same configuration. The DA came out worse off with 1 PR seat less (let that sink in for a while), and the EFF remained static:

  • 2016 ANC/SACP alliance: 16 Ward and 3 PR = 19 seats
  • 2017 ANC: 16 Ward and 0 PR + SACP : 3 PR = 19 seats
  • 2016 DA: 5 Ward and 7 PR = 12 seats/2017: 5 Ward and 6 PR = 11 seats
  • 2016/17 EFF: 8 PR seats

A classic example of the adage the more things change, the more they stay the same except for the DA?

Most significantly, both the DA and EFF also received far fewer votes in 2017 than in 2016, so any talk of “improvement” in their performance is disingenuous. They both fared worse than before except perhaps in comparison to each other, which is really no recommendation.

Talking Coalitions
Far from solving the 2016 problem, these by-election results have again produced a most unfavourable outcome, so it is back to the pain of coalition politics for Metsimaholo residents. They have my profound sympathy, particularly as it will require some very strange and fundamentally incompatible bedfellows to take control.

Trying to predict who is going to do what, with whom, and for how much in the Mesimaholo coalition stakes remains a Chinese puzzle until we know the outcome of the ANC’s December National Convention leadership elections.  In my opinion, if Ramaphosa wins the leadership race, the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu will remain intact, but if Dlamini-Zuma wins I believe that at least the SACP and Cosatu will split completely from the ANC, if not also Ramaphosa and his supporters.

As fluid as the situation is, bear with me for a moment while I speculate on the fate of Metsimaholo’s coalition circus. If the ANC/SACP alliance holds together they will have 19 of the 42 available seats, and if the DA/EFF co-operative alliance holds together they will also have 19 of the 42 available seats. Under these conditions, Metsimaholo citizens will again be at the mercy of 4 minority parties that hold 1 proportional seat each, one being awarded to a party that attracted only 405 voters, or less than 0.48% of all registered voters (just saying) - so if you thought we had rid ourselves of minority governance, think again. In this scenario, rational thinking says go straight back into administration and forget the unworkable coalition nonsense.

If the ANC alliance fails because of a Dlamini-Zuma victory in December, an alternative scenario for Metsimaholo is that the DA, EFF and SACP form a coalition that will provide them with a majority of 22 of the 42 available seats. As I already believe that DA/EFF coalitions are a marriage made in hell, adding the SACP to this poisonous cocktail really would mean the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

2019 Indicators
In my opinion, the real message from Metsimaholo is that too many people are choosing not to vote because they have lost faith in the existing party-centric political dispensation, and have come to believe that none of the existing parties are able to deliver their promised “better life for all”. The failure of politicians to entice voters back to the ballot box should send a clear message to their parties that they are on the wrong track, and are missing the point that no matter who is in control, there are too many of them eating our lunch, and not enough them putting food on our table.

One of the party leaders must explain why a voter who can’t afford an airline ticket should be concerned with the plight of SAA? Or why an indigent household which receives free electricity and water should be concerned about the evident corruption at Eskom and the Department of Water Affairs?  Party leaders grandstanding on the so-called “big” issues are missing the biggest issue of all, which is that fewer and fewer people at grassroots level care about, or believe in, anything they say. They are talking to the wrong people about the wrong things.

Scarily, if this downward slide in voter turnout continues into 2019, we are in danger of having a National Government not elected by the will of the majority, but elected by a mobilised minority.  We cannot allow this to happen, so ways must be found to reawaken public enthusiasm for the ballot box. 

I have written before that I think it will take a new political party to break the mould of traditional South African politics. A party that will commit to returning power to the electorate and deliver practical and pragmatic policies defined at a local level, not the present “one size fits all” centralised policies of the established parties.

Makhozi Khoza, leading the new ADeC party, is best positioned to exploit the paradigm shift needed to change our political landscape, but to do this she must shed the mantle of a traditional South African politician, which means she must stop criticising what others have done or cannot do and focus on what can be done, and how to do it.  She mustn’t tell us about how she will fix National problems at a National level, or how corrupt the ANC is, or how extreme the EFF is, she must tell us how she will use National power to change people’s lives at a local level. It would also not hurt her to look at how Emmanuel Macron convinced France to trust his 14 months old party.

If a new party cannot live up to the challenge, then we can only hope that Cyril Ramaphosa wins the December ANC leadership election, dropkicks JZ into touch at the first opportunity, and proceeds to unravel the tangled web of the Captured State that we live in.

A final footnote to this sad tale is that PR seat calculations reveal the ANC were only entitled to 14 seats. This calls into question the veracity of Demarcation Board decisions, and dictates that they revisit the demarcation of Metsimaholo with a degree of urgency to avoid any accusations of gerrymandering.