Thursday, July 30, 2009

Politics of the Past

South African townships are once again in turmoil. There are widespread protests against the lack of “service delivery” by the government, usually resulting in violence. This violence typically starts with chanting, menacing mService delivery protest, Thokosaobs setting fire to tyres and blocking traffic, then harassing passing motorists and stoning vehicles. Following this it escalates into running battles with the police who react highly aggressively. Public buildings, such as community halls, schools and administration centres are burnt. Mayors’ and councillors’ houses are attacked and destroyed. Then the most vulnerable (and most productive) members of the community, the foreigners, are violently attacked in fits of xenophobic hatred.

These people are taking this action against the very politicians they overwhelmingly voted into power less than three months ago. It is obvious that the Wonderland promises of fantastic largesse – in the form of housing, service, healthcare, education and a chicken in every pot – have a lot to do with this. In a cynical populist exercise, the politicians created expectations they had no means of satisfying.

And yet, there is no positive action from the government. It remains passive, putting out statements that plead for ending the violence and calling for patience. Any action taken against the violent mobs is quietly dropped.

Can you really blame these people for feeling frustrated? For 15 years now the government has promised its voters a Halcyon life where their major needs, including health, education, housing and even leisure facilities, will be delivered to them. Instead these dependant masses have to deal with government departments near collapse, rampant crime and corruption, and State-owned enterprises in free-fall. And very few of the generous promises ever result in something tangible.

The inertia in dealing with the grievances of the citizens is contrasted to the zeal with which the government has promoted its “transformation” programme. By this it means the obstacles to unfettered ANC rule. The Zuma administration has shown single-minded determination to let nothing stand in its way, including the Constitution, that golden child born out of the peaceful negotiations and transfer of power from apartheid to liberation.

I recently discussed this with a prominent political consultant and he summarised the problem as “the politics of the past”. What he meant was that the ANC is obsessed with “righting the wrongs of the past” and spends most of its energy to that end. It is not about building for the future but destroying the past. It is a mindset of perpetual victimhood, which it uses to build a strong “us vs. them” group identity.
It is also the politics of envy, resentment and disaffection. It is one that imagines there are great stores of untold wealth available to those who secretly hold the key. Those with the key, probably the Whites, are selfishly holding on to it and must be forced to hand it over.

The Mandela administration was not much different to the current one in this regard. The major difference was Nelson Mandela himself who set the tone of national reconciliation which implied valuing the past whilst looking forward to a brighter, shared future. Politically though, economic redistribution rather than new investment was the predominant theme. Under him, appalling destruction of government capacity occurred with the application of misguided “transformation” policies and tolerance of corruption at the highest level.

Thabo Mbeki – who followed Mandela – had no illusions about reconciliation and building for the future. Yes, he had a reluctant stab at dreaming of a brighter future (”I am an African“), but he determinedly broke down whatever reconciliation Mandela had achieved and racialised South Africa back to apartheid levels (”Two nations“). He engineered a wholesale transfer of unearned wealth to a clique of Black “businessmen”, making them obscenely wealthy, while overseeing the further destruction of government departments and turning a blind eye to corruption.

When you don’t produce anything, you live on stored capital until that eventually runs out. This was the experience of the Soviet Union which ran out of its considerable capital in 1980’s. The ANC has never understood this. It has never identified of what the country’s capital consists. It somehow believes that “controlling the levers of power” – which includes business “power” – and the mineral wealth of country would bring it unending prosperity. If it had deliberately set out to outlaw foreign investment, it couldn’t have done a better jib of dissuading it.

The real capital which the ANC overlooked is skills. Because these skills came in the form of white people, the government would rather destroy capability than use it. For instance, tens of thousands of white teachers were retrenched, leaving the education system in crisis.

The politics of envy and greed ignores the generations of patient investment and hard work it took to build up the country’s wealth, its capital. It ignores the commitment, risk taking, vision, leadership and expertise that built that wealth since it happened in the past. The politics of the past requires that this bottomless pit of wealth be redistributed to the favoured few without any of those qualities being present. Affirmative Action has nothing to do with building or production – it’s about racial quota.

The Zuma administration has shown no sign that it wishes to reverse this. In fact it seems to want to destroy even the limited gains of previous ANC regimes. What little vision existed for the future has almost completely disappeared. The talk of nationalisation, transformation and redress is on the increase. How soon before the angry township dwellers demand revenge?

It doesn’t have to be like this. Instead of instant wealth for the few, education for all to build up the skills for the future should be the priority. Instead of promising hand-outs, government should be building the economic environment to provide opportunity. Investment in the future must replace plundering the products of the past.

Source: Reason Check

2 Opinion(s):

Tim Johnston said...

Very insightful, and well written too. Nice post.

Exzanian said...

Good one. Until the ANC becomes accountable to the people and not the party collective, Azania will remain forever doomed.