No political party has been able to craft a public policy that would alleviate the problems faced by many South Africans in a meaningful way, a political analyst has argued.
Ebrahim Fakir, director of programmes at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute, says political parties appear to propose vastly different political solutions to the country’s problems, but are actually very similar in terms of their policy offering.
Fakir was speaking about the political outlook for 2019 at an event hosted by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), USB Executive Development Limited and the Institute for Futures Research in Johannesburg on Thursday.
He made the point that parties might sometimes differ on minor issues or arcane ideological doctrine, but they offer very similar baskets of solutions to societal problems. The EFF might offer a distinct set of approaches but the solutions it proposes are unrealistic and may push the country into a fiscal abyss.
Why are their offerings generally so similar?
Fakir believes it is due to politicians’ inability to read the nature of the changes in the social structure of the country, where four distinct classes have emerged – the super globally-connected elite who live in major metropolitan areas and are not solely identified by one race, a well-organised working class, the fragmented working class, and people highly dependent on grants and remittances from family members who largely stay in informal settlements on the peripheries of metropolitan townships.
“I think no political party has been able to craft a policy and political agenda – either in terms of what their own offerings are in terms of the [election] campaign, or in terms of what public policy can actually do – in order to alleviate the problems of these people.”
Political parties have also displayed an inability to read the demographic shifts in society, where younger people now form a much larger part of the population. Public policy does not account for their needs and requirements.
Against this background, parties come across as having a ‘hotchpotch’ of offerings and there is a fear that voter turnout in the upcoming election may be lower than usual, which may lead to a credibility crisis, he says.
Fakir says that while there is hope, it does not lie with those who are in public authority, but rather with civil society and business.
He says that although politicians are unresponsive and unaccountable and may face a crisis of credibility, business has displayed much of the same kind of behaviour over the last 25 years.
Time for an unpopular solution
“Is there something that can be done? It can be done, but it [the solution] is relatively unpopular. The first [step] is that one has to accept the fact that it cannot be business as usual.”
Businesses can’t be chasing unprecedented levels of revenue and profit growth over the next decade.
“It can’t happen. It won’t happen. It won’t happen not just because of the environment. It won’t happen because levels of societal trust in organisations of business [are] also declining.”
Fakir says companies need to moderate shareholder expectations around dividends, and moderate executive pay, benefits, share options and bonuses.
“This is especially true for state-owned enterprises, but it is increasingly becoming true for CEOs in the private sector.”
In the short-term, there has to be a cross-subsidisation of entry level jobs. Unskilled and entry level jobs will have to be a necessary feature of the economy to address the question of inequality and unemployment, he argues.