Analysis & Profiles 14.6.2017 08:41 am

Outdated political ideology is the sick man of this country

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma

Essential reading for the ANC as it prepares for its policy conference later this month.

Raise a hand if you don’t mind being retrenched or paying extra tax. Raise both hands if you believe the recent news of recession will not affect your life, or if you’re not worried about the state of national political discourse and where it’s leading the economy.

No hands? I thought not. Given the opportunity, most of us would tell our leaders what to fix and how to do it.

The political realities of South Africa Inc playing out before our eyes are painful to watch. Yet we dare not look away or ignore that 23 years of ruling power has reduced the once-loved and promising ANC to impotence.

That’s because the former powerful vehicle of change has become riddled with corruption, patronage, factionalism, infighting and greed. The organisation is dying at the hands of liberators who have been so consumed by self-enrichment that they no longer care about SA’s economic realities.

Making things worse, many within the ruling elite have clung to their archaic ideological identity and are unable to respond to the fast changing globalised world. Their economic policies are adding to Joe Soap’s struggles and are fuelling palpable social unrest.

It seems to everyone else that the elite have become increasingly irritated with the poor’s cry for food, shelter and jobs. This is the tragic and heartbreaking paradox of ANC politics: a few newly rich men and women, at the expense of failing public health and education and a new generation of black Africans that are less skilled than their parents.

Worse, the ANC’s “ideology of development” hurts the working class whose well-being it is meant to promote.

It was never going to be easy, but the ANC is utterly failing to tackle the structural challenges they inherited from the apartheid government. As government they’ve failed to keep their promise of bettering the lives of the poor, creating shared prosperity and adding to the wealth of the country. Instead they are presiding over a near-stagnant economy with chronic unemployment, a rising public wage bill, a social grant too far stretched, a small tax base and growing population – all balanced on the weakest economy since democracy.

Perhaps more troubling is how a governing clique that is feeling its own decline, needs to reassure itself through meaningless ideology dressed as new solutions. They refute any suggestion that most of their policies pander to socialist ideologies that have few, if any, successful working examples.

I have a vested interest as a voting citizen of this country. Like it or not, the upcoming ANC policy conference will have an impact on you and me. It will determine the new/old/rehashed policy direction they will take not just as a political party but in their governing capacity too.

I take it as my civic duty, or my public service act, to suggest that ahead of the conference delegates read and consider William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economist’s Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics.

Oddly and surprisingly, I can’t think of any other book as relevant to the debate on how to reset this rainbow nation’s economic trajectory. By that I mean how to address structural inequality, poverty and unemployment.

I believe Easterly’s book could provide many a political party, policymaker and politician with a probing survey of the ideas behind so many failed development policies tried in Latin America over at least five decades. For the record, Easterly makes his case against what he calls “the ideology of development” with quick-witted writing that doesn’t over intellectualise. It is pleasantly easy to read.

I am always astounded at how many senior leaders within the Tripartite Alliance use Latin American nations as an example to South Africa. For 50 years or more, development within these countries has been held hostage by all sorts of frustrating ideas and plans aimed at attaining development. It seems our politicians have a hard time understanding this, and the ruling elite are more impervious to it than most.

Archaic liberators, their ideologies and politics are the sick men of this country and they refuse to get better. The key lesson from Easterly’s book is that the ideological model of the Soviet Union, that we in Africa and Latin America so admire, has not delivered the results imagined.

“Criticise us where we go wrong or fail, but offer solutions too so that we can improve,” ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe has said many a time in his media briefings.

Well here’s a start Mr Secretary General, but don’t take my word for it. Read the book yourself.

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