Time for the statesmen to show themselves - Daily Dispatch

President Cyril Ramaphosa has given reform his best shot within the constraints he operates under. We in the commentariat and the general public sometimes fall into the trap of thinking governing is easy just because the things that have to be done seem obvious to us.

Mpiyakhe Dhlamini

President Cyril Ramaphosa has given reform his best shot within the constraints he operates under. We in the commentariat and the general public sometimes fall into the trap of thinking governing is easy just because the things that have to be done seem obvious to us.

But that is why it’s important to understand that the roots of South Africa’s problems are structural. Replacing the national executive without changing the structure will not help.

This lends urgency to the argument for removing the current governing party. There is no combination of bodies in the national cabinet under the ANC that can fix our problems. They can only make them worse despite their intentions.

President Ramaphosa has of course made strategic and tactical errors. Any president makes mistakes, simply because assessing information – which is often incomplete – in real time is not easy. The difference with a president under a DA-led coalition would be the costs of those mistakes because a DA-led coalition would not be reliant on parties that follow ideologies of centralised control of ‘the commanding heights of the economy’.

That is precisely why the DA has already rejected the EFF as a potential coalition partner. The EFF were always ruled out as coalition partners in national government due to the incompatibility of ideologies, but the experience in Johannesburg from 2016 convinced the DA to rule out the EFF as a coalition partner in every other sphere of government.

Stealing from the state

The ideology of the ANC leaves the party reliant on stealing from the state to keep itself alive because a state that controls everything is a state that has set itself up as an enemy of private sources of wealth. It’s a brave man who would fund those who seek to rob him.

Traditionally, in Western countries the trade union movement would fill this funding gap. But in South Africa the trade union movement has outmanoeuvred itself by lobbying for policies that have kept unemployment high and rising. There has been no opportunity since the end of apartheid to remedy this by having a party that believes in a free market for labour to run things for a while and therefore reduce the unemployment rate so the trade union movement can grow. This is of course ironic.

So the ANC now has to rely on tenderpreneurs and the few productive individuals who believe the party can reform itself into something better, like Patrice Motsepe, to fund itself. Their attempts at business lunches are not yielding the results they did under Jacob Zuma because Zuma had something to offer the tenderpreneurs, while Ramaphosa seems determined to starve them. This leads to contradictions like a billionaire president allegedly being involved in some suspicious activities at his Phala Phala farm.

If there’s anything to these allegations, whatever was done was most likely done for the benefit of the ANC rather than the president himself.

All of this leads to the conclusion that no ANC government or ANC-led coalition can save this country. No matter how much they try, they can only make our problems worse despite their best efforts.

The truth is the parties that can ‘save’ this country are the parties committed to doing as much as possible to get out of the way of the private sector doing the saving. These are parties like the DA, IFP, ActionSA, FF+, and the ACDP. These five parties won’t be able to govern nationally on their own, but they could have laid the foundation for governing in Tshwane if they were not betrayed through a secret ballot. Let us hope they are able to clean up their ranks quickly.

Two options

It’s worth remembering that there are only two options for a coalition in reality, either an ANC-led coalition/ANC government or a DA-led coalition. Anything else is just noise. South Africans and most importantly the political parties and their members, need to realise this.

The five parties that should make up the foundation of a DA-led coalition should grow up and come to a settlement among themselves with a way to resolving disputes without demonising one another. This is true in particular for ActionSA and the DA.

To the public, it matters little who is right or wrong between both sets of party leaders. If they cannot come to an agreement we will all suffer the spectre of an ANC government – but many times worse because it will be Julius Malema calling the shots if the ANC needs his votes to stay in power.

Times like these can produce a calibre of politician who becomes a statesman, someone able to see beyond their petty factional interests to the greater good, politicians like Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz who in 1974 signed the Mahlabathini Declaration of Faith, a statement of principles which could have ended apartheid peacefully right there and then, if both of these statesmen had been in power. Some of the principles they agreed to in 1974 would later form a part of the settlement reached 20 years later.

These times can also empower demagogues, those who seek to gain more power for themselves from the decline of the country. As voters, the best we can do is empower the probable members of a DA-led coalition (the five parties mentioned earlier), the rest will be up to the politicians. Based on what we have seen in Tshwane and Johannesburg, it does not look like plain sailing – coalitions aren’t easy to manage. Let us hope these political leaders recognise the importance of this moment in history and seize it to get the country on a better path.

Mpiyakhe Dhlamini is a programming tutor and writer. This article was commissioned by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that encourages public debate and promotes economic and political freedom. Go to https://irr.org.za/