I suppose I should ask myself why I am still astonished when politicians act surprised about occurrences that are commonplace for ordinary citizens. After all, the campaigns we see in an election year show politics to be a play for voters’ attention, with politicians and their parties putting on the most outrageous performances.
I confess I am not well versed in political games – but a president expressing shock at the reappearance and continuation of load shedding rings warning bells.
Especially when the best he could do was be angry, worried and disturbed, then ‘announce’ the obvious issues about the relevant state-owned company.
How is the dysfunctional status of the power utility news to the man in charge of the country when most citizens know this already?
I have to add ironist to the many titles our president holds or is addressed by. As part of the ANC election campaign, he boarded a train in Tshwane and soon found himself stuck for hours, along with many daily commuters.
Most South Africans who use public transport every day know it to be unreliable, mostly late and overcrowded. These actions show how disconnected the political elites are from the lived reality of ordinary citizens. They have also left me with a weary sigh.
Maybe I’m politically naïve about the choreography of leaders who perform their acts. However, recent actions and statements by those leading government have left me thinking that we are watching an unfolding Greek mythology film that will end in tragedy. Despite the positive sentiment about the Ramaphosa-led government, economic data makes it difficult to find anything positive that can I turn into a crisp, clear narrative of some good news about the economy.
This has prompted me to contemplate if leaders fully comprehend the long-term consequences of a sluggish economy on the country’s future recovery, growth and development. Ours is a country and an economy that was once perceived as robust, which was seen during the 2009 global financial crisis but has become a distant memory. The economy is now unable to withstand even the slightest changes happening in world markets. The recent contagion from the Turkish lira crisis proves this argument.
The forward march of politics that aims to satisfy and indulge the ideological illusions of the party in charge is the stumbling block against the chances of improving the economy.
Piece by intricate piece, we are seeing how a party’s collective decisions have led to the economy being where it is today.
An economy that is capable of achieving so much yet is currently failing. This comes at a time when some African countries are among the fastest emerging and growing markets in the world. South Africa, meanwhile, has lagged behind. Within the Brics bloc of countries, it is the weakest link.
I have tried several times since the beginning of the year to convince myself that this ‘new dawn’ will irrevocably remove the wool of ignorance from the eyes of those in the governing alliance on how an underperforming economy affects everyone. It is, however, the poor who bear the brunt of political decisions on the economy more than any other group.
The country and its economy are heading for two endings: float and possibly withstand the current decline, or sink deeper into the hole.
Does South Africa have in Ramaphosa a leader who can take risks?
I found myself curiously pondering whether his presidency is capable of deliberate action that puts the country first, before his party – including bootstrapping and leading a government that is capable of enabling growth and turning the economy around.
One can argue that Ramaphosa finds himself in a situation similar to that faced by Gordon Brown when he succeeded Tony Blair as British prime minister. Like the former, Ramaphosa is not new to government. Like Brown, he is well known to voters because he was at the very heart of former president Zuma’s government and in the party’s election campaigns.
His greatest difficulty, therefore, lies not only in convincing voters that his party can carry South Africa forward, but in showing how different he is from his forerunner.
This mainly relates to policy initiatives that offer cures to three noteworthy afflictions:
- A declining economy that exacerbates the well-known structural issues (unemployment, poverty and inequality).
- The ballooned public services, which in turn adds to the upsurge in government spending – the latter being an unsustainable trend that will require a bold president to stop.
- Individuals within the ruling party who are implicated in corrupt practices. Identifying and calling out these comrades may be Ramaphosa’s toughest task. As the head of state, he can’t be undecided on this matter or defer pronouncements. Not if he seeks to demonstrate that he is different and that his government is capable of corrective measures and able to restore its public image.
Throughout the world, economic reality is proving stronger than the political rhetoric that hopes to override it. More than before, outlandish pronouncements by politicians who seek to impress potential electorates can send economies into deeper crises.
There is no doubt, a timid president simply won’t do – not when the country’s most glaring weakness is the toxicity of politics on its economic and social wellbeing.
That weakness means SA is unable to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality – three problems that are now becoming a real sign of national decline.