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Frank Chikane: The dangers ahead and the frustrations of governing

SA needs an in-house assistance injection like US Marshall Plan.

WASHINGTON: On Monday, the Reverend Frank Chikane called for a social compact between government, business, labour and civil society.  To achieve the unfinished goals of the liberation struggle, Chikane said the economy must grow at a 6% annual rate, or twice the current pace.

Speaking at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Chikane said government’s economic challenge over the next four years is to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality.  He lamented the lack of investment in the economy and made clear that without the help of business the growth rate won’t substantially increase. “We can’t do it with tax revenue alone,” he said. There must be job-creating investments.  He appealed to the business community to think not just of profits but of the national good.

Chikane said that with the advent of democracy in 1994 South Africa needed a huge injection of assistance like the U.S. Marshall Plan that helped get a devastated Europe back on its feet after World War II.  “We never got it,” he said, “so we’re going to have to do it ourselves.” He chastised former President FW de Klerk for withdrawing from government in 1996 because “he wanted blacks to resolve the problems” the country was facing.

Chikane said the biggest risk to the ANC-led government is the lack of meaningful change in the lives of young black South Africans.  

“Julius Malema,” he said, “was a hero to them.”  Unless conditions change for the better, he continued, “they will revolt … (and) it’s so much easier to make a revolution now than it was for us.”  Now all you have to do is send SMS messages to get big crowds.

We are, he continued, “coming up to the 20-year mark,” and the twentieth year determines whether a liberation movement makes the transition to being a viable political party.  ANC leaders are aware that they must “serve the people” or lose support.

Free of government responsibilities for the past five years, Chikane empathised with the problems ministers are facing. At Marikana, he said, “the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) lost control and chaos was the result,” leaving government to deal with the problem. With farm workers in the Western Cape, the large pay rises decreed by government, he suggested, create a new set of problems.  If there is a lesson, he said, “it is to act early” and not allow tense conflicts to become “a combustible chamber.”

Education, he said, is a vital concern and national goals can’t be fulfilled without improved education.  “The educational system must be fixed,” he said, but he made it clear that the problem is accountability and organization, not money.

Chikane reflected positively on December’s Mangaung conference and hailed the National Democratic Revolution as a second phase of the struggle to rid SA of the legacy of apartheid.  Chikane said the challenge for the ANC is to translate the party platform into government policy. In a sense, he continued, “policies don’t matter. It’s whether you can implement them that counts.” He conceded that there is a need for broader consultation with provincial governments and municipal authorities. He believes that gap slows policy implementation.

Asked from the audience whether the Chinese example of encouraging low-wage foreign investment in manufacturing is a model for faster growth, Chikane suggested it is not, because “low wages are too much like apartheid” for unskilled blacks. Referring to Cosatu, which opposes a youth subsidy wage, Chikane lauded organised labor for its role in the liberation struggle.

On Zimbabwe Chikane said SA’s role in upcoming electoral contests is avoid taking sides and to simply work with Zimbabweans “to create conditions for free and fair elections.” There are, he said, only two conditions required to prevent electoral fraud. They are that ballot boxes not be moved from voting stations until ballots are counted with party representatives present. And party representatives must not be allowed to leave the voting stations without first signing declarations that the votes were legitimately counted.

In a presentation and Q&A session over an hour long, there was no discussion of corruption. 

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