Reasons for Hope – what the president didn’t mention - IOL

Jan 15, 2019
15 January 2019 - The good news about South Africa’s democratic gains is credible. What is telling, however, is that president Ramaphosa neglected to mention the key thrust of that report.

Michael Morris

Not for the first time – and, in an election year, almost certainly not the last - President Cyril Ramaphosa has drawn extensively on some of the most positive data to be published about democratic South Africa’s successes since 1994.

It is in some measure ironic that the source of this information is the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), given ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte’s warning to the faithful a little over a week ago that an IRR poll showing the ruling party was tracking towards 60% amounted to "tactics of the enemy".

There’s no doubt, however, that the president is on safe ground in citing at length from the IRR’s 2018 Reasons for Hope report, as he did in his address at the ANC Election Manifesto Launch gala dinner in Durban last Friday.

The good news about South Africa’s democratic gains is credible. What is telling, however, is that president Ramaphosa neglected to mention the key thrust of that report.

For what the IRR’s research underlines is that "the radical inflection of government policy after 2007 did great harm to the South African economy and stalled much of the progress that was being made to that point".

The report goes on to caution: "But it is now more certain than ever that, if the requisite degree of economic performance cannot again be secured, reckless and dangerous commentators and politicians in our midst may deflect public criticism of their own failures down lines of populist and nationalist incitement. That must be stopped if our hope for a better future is to be realised."

This fundamental point – along with the IRR’s conclusion that State-driven delivery is not a sustainable path out of poverty – Ramaphosa declined to mention. 

And there can be no doubt that his emphatic endorsement of expropriation without compensation (EWC) and the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI) reinforces precisely the "radical inflection" of policy which IRR research shows will undermine economic growth, erode South Africa’s post-1994 gains and stimulate populist and nationalist incitement.

Ramaphosa approvingly cited IRR data on the growth of the middle class, but what he didn’t mention was the emphasis the IRR placed on the importance of this embattled class in South Africa.

The Reasons for Hope report says: "We have given the government and the ruling party much credit for (gains made since 1994). But more credit must go to the entrepreneurs, investors, employers, and employees, whose hard work and risk- taking generated the tax revenue that funded the free and subsidised houses and services, and social welfare. 

"Too often, these entrepreneurs and the middle classes are hounded as an uncaring and selfish elite that have done nothing to bring about a better future. They have done a great deal and deserve much credit."

To his credit, in turn, Ramaphosa did acknowledge a fundamental IRR contention when he noted that Kelebogile Leepile, author of the Reasons for Hope report "is absolutely correct in saying that the key driver behind (the country’s achievements since 1994) has been how South Africans have been able to find a way to work together to bring about the change".

And the change has been considerable, as the following examples – some cited by Ramaphosa – show:

- The number of formal houses increased by 131% after 1996, the number of families with electricity by 192%, and the number with access to clean water by

- The number of motor cars (a key measure of middle class-growth) increased from 3.8 million in 1999 to 7.1 million in 2017, or by 85%;

- The number of students at university has increased almost threefold since 1985, and by well over 100% since 1995; 

- In 1995, just under half the national university class was black, but by 2015 that proportion had increased to 70%; 

- In 2001, nearly 40% of South Africans were estimated to live in the lower third of the living standards spectrum; that percentage had fallen to just 10% in 2015.

But here’s the rub: the Reasons for Hope report warns that "at current and expected future rates of economic growth, however, it will not be possible to maintain the levels or tempo of service delivery achieved after 1994".

The message that moderate, hard-working South Africans continue to hope political leaders will take to heart is contained in the concluding passage of the IRR report.

It states plainly: "If policy makers can adopt sensible ideas that draw investment, create new wealth and jobs, and grow the economy, then there is no reason to believe that the trajectory our country was on into 2007 cannot be resumed."

* Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes economic and political freedom.

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