Better to know what is needed than wishing troubles away - Businesslive

26 June 2022 - The same risk that attended the decline of the once seemingly invulnerable National Party from the end of the 1980s once more looms ever larger as the inevitability of the ANC’s downfall gains credence.

Michael Morris

The same risk that attended the decline of the once seemingly invulnerable National Party from the end of the 1980s once more looms ever larger as the inevitability of the ANC’s downfall gains credence.

In short, it is the risk of our believing that it is enough to be certain of what we are against (so anxious are we to see it demolished) that we lose sight of the importance of being sure what we are “for” — what to replace it with.

In the 1980s growing numbers of rational, principled people were united in their opposition to apartheid and their desire to see it go. The Nats, rather than heeding this growing tide in society, embarked on tinkering reforms that demonstrated only their lack of imagination and failure of courage.

For all FW de Klerk’s decisive steps, before the 1990s were through the party that for decades bestrode the national scene with commanding certainty simply withered away. When in its place came a political organisation that showed from the word go that it was every bit as enthusiastic about exploiting race (even carrying over holus-bolus the classifications set down by the Population Registration Act of 1950) in the service of its vision of a “transformed” society, too many good people went along with it, even as evidence mounted that it was not enough merely to be against apartheid to confront and reverse its effects.

Now, 28 years later, there is the thought that had there been greater certainty about what SA was for, rather than merely what it was against in 1994 — and since — we would not have tolerated the cadre deployment that has emasculated the administrations of towns and cities and key institutions, the enrichment of elites through “empowerment” that has abandoned the vast numbers of poor and unemployed to their fate, the state capture that has cost the country hundreds of billions of rand, and the pathetically shallow “transformation” that, after all these years, still leaves such vivid contrasts between suburbs and townships, and the shockingly stark difference, measurable by skin colour, in the quality of life of South Africans today.

It seems, perversely, that in being certain only of what we were against, or at least not being nearly assertive enough, early enough, about the kind of society we wanted, we guaranteed that the very thing we opposed would persist. And that is the risk we face once more as the party so many seemed to think had everything going for it in 1994, blew it, and now can’t seem to help itself as it stumbles towards its demise. That would be a relief, but it would not automatically be a solution, and not on its own.

Potential solutions are not rocket science; a 2020 report by Institute of Race Relations CEO John Endres, “Growth & Recovery: A Strategy to #GetSAWorking”, offers “simple proposals” that “can be implemented at no or very little cost” and enable SA to “emerge as a prosperous middle-income economy by the 2030s”, even if their “high political cost ... may make them unpalatable to politicians”.

Nearly two years down the line, greater urgency attaches to the report’s warning that “(it) is time for a fundamental break with the ideology that has placed South Africans in [a] dangerous socioeconomic situation”. We should not overlook the truth that the success of this argument rests on ordinary South Africans being certain of what they wish to gain, not merely get rid of.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-06-26-michael-morris-better-to-know-what-is-needed-than-wishing-troubles-away/

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