Before I retreat from Jozi to my home village Fafung, which is 50km outside Brits in the North West, I want to reflect on 2020 in terms of politics in this column and follow it up with another on the economy.
The political sclerosis has the economy sailing through stormy waters. Actually, this can be said of the entirety of the rainbow nation.
Throughout the year I have demonstrated the depth and shallows of miseries visited upon our beloved country by its political leadership. I have also critiqued the clash between political aims or dreams with the real-life experiences of ordinary people and the economic logic.
It is worth pointing out too, that both (politics and the economy) have their own faults, misconstructions limitations and logic. However, our political leadership seems determined to ensure the two don’t work hand in hand.
Promises in the mist
What started out as a New Dawn – (a slogan of the current administration) when President Cyril Ramaphosa raised his hand saying “Thuma Mina” (‘send me’) to his party, the ANC, to rekindle political hope – turned out to be a mist that quickly disappeared as the sun rose.
I call it political hope, because many saw his election as a return to a collective identity shaped by attitudes that are about rebuilding the promise of a better South Africa. There were expectations, as it were, of a leadership that could rouse South Africans to collective action for a shared commitment to pulling the economy and its people out of the abyss the politics of the previous 10 years had plunged the country in.
However, we soon found out that a leopard rarely changes its spots.
When all is said and done, protecting the interests of the ruling party will always define the actions of our nation’s leaders.
First, there have been many moments when Ramaphosa could have taken decisive action against corruption and moved to break the extensive patronage network in government and state-owned entities (SOEs).
Second, the current government’s economic policies are unable to solve entrenched structural problems, possibly because the economic policies of the ruling party itself tend to be multifarious in what they seek to achieve, how they are made, and their outcomes. In a way, that has made economic reform impossible.
The president’s struggle
In a year where politics have been overshadowed by the pandemic, it is almost easy to overlook how the current logic of politics in South Africa and indeed of Ramaphosa the ANC president has been about achievement and exercise of power.
This is understandable, if he is to strengthen his position in the ANC and make significant strides against corruption while at the same time reforming the organisation – as seen in the party’s August national executive committee outcome declaring all ANC members and government officials should step aside when accused of alleged corruption pending investigations.
It makes sense then, that for Ramaphosa to exercise power in government against fellow party members and to tackle corruption, he first must consolidate power within the ANC.
This is the most telling example of mutual interference between political aims founded on power and the economy.
Unfortunately for South Africa, the price we pay for this manoeuvring is that the economy is beholden to political power – and because the latter is a fought-for instrument between clashing factions, it becomes the sole focus.
And it becomes the sole focus to the neglect of developing plans that will drive economic activity that could lead to growth and prosperity.
Getting the fundamentals wrong
Moreover, the many misses of the country’s leadership who are preoccupied with power politics means failures in serving the people and failures in government – be it on basic service delivery, governance or management.
One would think our leaders would have learned from other developing countries that economic growth that is distributive and prosperity is the underpinning of political harmony and a society that can heal as it moves forward.
The price for this political chaos (right now the focus is on state capture and the ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule saga; I doubt it is on the discussion documents related to economic reform) is paid by society in three ways:
- First, the loss of social justice and law and order as seen in the high levels of crime, violence against women and children, and the unrestrained corruption involving Covid-19 relief funds.
- Second, policies meant for macroeconomic stability have become victims of political wrangling because the attention is on power struggles. In an economy that was already sluggish, we see domestic sectors that have been devastated by the pandemic and a level of global competitiveness that has been all but wiped out.
- Third, power politics threaten democracy because they become a vehicle for individuals who believe they are entitled to rule and use radicalism and fascist rhetoric disguised as nationalism and renewal to attain power.
In a year where the spotlight has been on the pandemic’s effects and less on the country’s political landscape, I reflect on the continuous restrictions politics place on the economy and as such hold society’s progress back.
I hope each of us takes time to recharge during the holiday season and continue in the new year to use our differences for collective action to defend our democracy against the politics that seek to plunge us into darkness.
Our united voices are about more than just nation-building; it is time we use them as a powerful source of political action against the politics that have turned into power wrangling at society’s expense.