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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: Bruggemans & Associates by Cees Bruggemans.]

And then, after a long gestation, the world suddenly changed somewhat, as with a real birth and new life intruding anew. The ANC government party entered into an active yeasting process from within; the DA/EFF combo along with smaller splinter support got hold of three major metros and many smaller municipalities scattered through the land and have become focused on delivery transformation; the economy is under own steam to find its way as best it can. And all this against a very dynamic global backdrop, hopefully accommodating and devoid of major shocks roiling us, too.

This looks to be our reality in 2016/17 and possibly through 2018/19, but with the realisation of a definitive ANC leadership conference sometime these next 18 months, topped off with a national election and new president in 2019, before revisiting the municipalities again in 2021 local elections. These will be the key local course setters for the 2020s decade and beyond.

The challenge is to see each of these as to their true worth, and impact, and where it may lead us in time.

Dominant power hegemonies aren’t particularly good at listening. They are naturally inclined to believe what they want to believe, and make up their future actions accordingly, guided by their interpretation of reality, informed by their sense of history, by their idea of right and wrong, by their definition of mission and end destination.

For more than two decades now, the ANC has fulfilled this niche, though with changing cadres and tastes following in their wake. Initially led by Tambo in exile, icon Mandela set the pace for the rainbow nation at its 1994 inception, known for its reconciliation and wish to take the nation in all its complexity forward. This example was further deepened by technocrat Mbeki during his period of office.

During the 15 years of their rule 1994-2009, though much was changed in SA society in addressing past iniquities through active hands-on redistribution interventions, there was as yet no success in ending the searing insider/outsider dichotomy (less than half the population participating truly meaningfully in society, but more than half remaining shut off/out), and failing to achieve breakout growth performances and lifting of real average household income levels to OECD equivalent levels.

They failed our supply-side (quality public service delivery, maintenance and expansion of infrastructure, sizeable expansion of high-quality city housing environments, and most critically transformation of our human capital capacity through a much more dedicated, expanded education effort, followed by a health care one).

Similarly, they failed the demand-side of the economy, in not focusing at all on bolstering private business confidence, through this arm getting a much bigger growth lever going, through enhanced risk-taking, bigger private investment efforts, more willing hiring of employable labour, accompanied by far less labour market disruption than what was politically condoned in the name of ideological pursuits.

Though it was not strictly a failed period (we didn’t break out, something that the white Nationalist Party of a previous generation also singularly failed to do because of its chosen political and socioeconomic paradigms, but we didn’t collapse the economy either in our latest effort at nationalist societal re-engineering).

From 2009 onward, an apparently different set of cadres took center stage, led by traditionalist Zuma, whose patronage style and network control of the leading heights of government institutions entrenched power, fundamentally eroded ethics through example, and allowed corruption to thrive to so far unparalleled heights. Also, the policy paradigm became yet more dirigiste, anti-western, anti-capital, preoccupied with race quota achievements rather than remaining intend on maintaining an open competition society guided by meritocracy, emboldened by a common future confidence, and setting a breakout development pace.

Besides since 2008 having had to absorb a massive global growth discontinuity (following a devastating Anglo-Saxon financial crisis due to excessive creative risk-taking) and consequent loss of nerve forcing massive global dislocations, not least a change in Chinese development policy with massive fallout worldwide for all those countries that had developed dependencies of their own), SA was confronted by the restated Zuma intervention and transformation doctrine which at best succeeded in alienating most of private business enterprise while systematically destroying large swathes of public service and infrastructure.

Such destructive power has so far remained in a league entirely its own. One major consequence has been growing defensiveness (going abroad), resistance, protest, departure. This could be observed at first hand in 2010 with a major breakaway of former ANC followers to Cope, followed in 2014 by an equally massive absconding to the EFF, followed in 2016 by an even more massive stayaway of millions of supporters at the polls.

Zuma and friends have systematically succeeded in doing something very amazing, upsetting and alienating large numbers of traditional ANC followers, some of whom have moved to opposition parties, some who have been left disgusted on sidelines, and some who have started to angrily come alive from within, like a maturing yeasting process absorbing what has gone wrong, what is responsible, and that things need to change (so far poorly defined).

Even so, the Zuma power network remains deeply entrenched, still attempting to set the pace as to leadership choices, and policy paradigms, yet to stumble far more convincingly than has already occurred. It would seem the fight for the soul of the party is in full flow, to decide on a return to meritocratic modernity or a deepening of traditional patronage and modern societal decay.

The outcome in coming years will define the longer term forward, whether our modernity will survive and deepen (like progressive parts of Asia), or whether there will be much more regression (like certain backward parts of Latin America).

If this is the overall context, we will meanwhile encounter at local level heroic efforts underway by the DA/EFF combo and smaller friends in trying to extend and deepen our modernity by cleaning up failing metros and through such effort reinforce their political gains of the decade, further levering and convincing reform elements in the surviving ANC rump to reposition and jettison what clearly doesn’t work for what does longer term. The intellectual blueprints required for this effort already exist in great detail (the NDP). What is most required is a new ethos, and an inclusive healing approach to society rather than the exclusive one of recent years. And new imagination and direction as to what works and clearly what doesn’t.

Both at national and local level, therefore, SA is in for a very testing time, accompanied by much argument and seeking of “truth”, and hopefully leading to new insights, dispositions and leadership that at some point will start to take the nation meaningfully forward, rather than stagnating with risk of breakdown.

Meanwhile the economy will be mostly left to its own resources during this crucial interim, individual households and businesses having to define for themselves what is to be achieved, and how.

South Africa at a Glance
58 780 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in June 2019 (CPI) & +5.8 y/y in June 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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