GNU founding statement: Politics and economics won’t align – Shawn Hagedorn - Biznews

The GNU founding statement reflects inconsistencies among the parties and with economic realities.

The GNU founding statement highlights inconsistencies among involved parties and economic realities. Despite challenges, optimism for overhauling governance is warranted, contingent on upgrading national dialogue. Critically, the public must assess legitimacy amidst sudden political structures. Addressing economic stewardship, electoral strategies, and societal impacts, the document navigates complex national issues and pathways for future governance.

Shawn Hagedorn

The GNU founding statement reflects inconsistencies among the parties and with economic realities.

Despite the depth of the challenges relative to the flimsy document that sketches the arrangement, the newfound path for overhauling our nation’s governance merits optimism. Nonetheless, our politics and economics won’t align if we don’t first upgrade our national dialogue.

The public must assess the legitimacy of the suddenly arranged political structures. This unique moment must be exploited to pivot from finding faults to identifying solutions.

Notwithstanding its dismal economic stewardship, damage to the ANC’s electoral dominance was mitigated by the party mixing pervasive patronage with much manipulation of public opinion. While Bell Pottinger is no more, a similar spirit informs the communication wizardry employed by the ANC, and its two most significant breakaway parties, for stoking racial tensions to divert attention from corruption and performance shortfalls.

The ANC was spared caustic criticism when Mandela was alive. This didn’t meaningfully change until Zuma fired Des van Rooyen amid the fallout from the Gupta emails being leaked. Notwithstanding its tattered reputation, the ANC can still dodge serious rebuke when it sympathizes with Russia, Iran, and Hamas. Meanwhile, the West, most particularly the US with its enormous trade deficits, exports many millions of jobs each year, whereas South Africa has the world’s highest unemployment.

It’s not hyperbolic to view our youth unemployment crisis as an existential threat to South Africa’s democracy. Yet while the ANC goes out of its way to draw the ire of Western governments, neither our domestic debates nor international commentators weigh how this unnecessarily obstructs the only feasible path for remedying our unemployment crisis.

Our year-round national sport isn’t football, rugby, or cricket, it is judging. This has benefited the ANC and its two leading offshoot parties, as accusations of corruption have been readily countered with various references to the legacies of apartheid. Politically potent emotions can be triggered by merely mentioning inequality.

The third paragraph of the GNU document reads, “At this historic juncture, we must act to ensure stability and peace, tackling the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, entrench our Constitutional democracy and the rule of law, and to build a South Africa for all its people.”

The goals of reducing poverty and unemployment are inextricably linked, and progress toward achieving them can be measured using shared metrics. That is, our political and economic objectives can be aligned and pursued in ways that allow us to hold our elected officials accountable.

No doubt the ANC insisted on including “tackling … inequality” as an objective as this devastates prospects for achieving accountability while supporting the ANC’s ongoing efforts to attribute our economic hardships to apartheid. Having equality as a top objective encourages every policy debate to be reduced to a contestation of accusations framed by identity politics.

Judging is easy. Those who criticize can do so on terms they choose using values and criteria that validate their biases.

Solving is hard. It requires defining objectives prudently and in ways where progress can be measured. Tradeoffs with competing priorities must be addressed decisively.

That the ANC succeeded in including “inequality” among the agreement’s stated objectives is a hollow victory. Should the agreement be breached, the path to recourse for the aggrieved party will not be through legal battles but rather through parliamentary manoeuvres and, ultimately, via the court of public opinion. ANC elites largely ignored pre-election polling that identified jobs and poverty as top concerns, not inequality. Some will comfort themselves that they still occupy the Union Buildings and that the 2029 elections are a long way off. Helen Zille, who wrote a book titled “Stay Woke, Go Broke,” acceded to the ANC’s need to include inequality as a top priority. This was not a mistake. If the DA is able to hold the line and not allow the EFF or the MK into the GNU, while the DA builds on its job-creating nous, the DA will advance its prospects for becoming the lead party in a national coalition government in 2029.

It might or might not be a coincidence that a quite dated video of a DA MP using controversial language has suddenly achieved prominence. Either way, our town-hall dynamism must not be deterred.

The sudden arrival of a GNU structure traces to voters rejecting identity politics being exploited at their expense. Voters want a government that prioritizes jobs and poverty alleviation. The ANC should adjust accordingly, but the party’s cohesion relies on feeding its enormous patronage network. This is frequently referred to as “maintaining ANC unity”.

Path forward
It suits the DA to be the party of jobs. The path forward must provide wide dispensations from anti-competitive BEE and labour legislation for new value-adding export initiatives. The ANC can be persuaded to support this for many compelling reasons, such as, that it is the only path that could rapidly create millions of jobs. Also, there are no persuasive reasons or motivated interest groups to oppose it. Rather, many jobs can be created without threatening the ANC’s patronage interests.

Our economic debates have been too quick to concede to the ANC’s rejection of this era’s extraordinary upliftment driver, global integration. Otherwise, South Africa would not have the world’s most severe unemployment crisis. Yet the election rhetoric evidenced an ongoing lack of interest in correcting this unaffordable oversight.

It is unrealistic to expect that despite its much-expanded workload the DA should also be expected to update our national discourse on how global shifts have redefined development challenges while expanding possibilities. Rather, public contributors, whether high profile leaders, columnists, or anonymous commentators, must freshly reassess our avenues for meaningful global integration.

Shawn Hagedorn has been regularly writing articles in leading SA publications, focusing primarily on economic development

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.