Time for big pushback against dysfunction - Dispatchlive

3 July 2019 - Our polling shows that a solid eight out of ten South Africans respect their fellow citizens and see their fates as intertwined. They reject race-baiting be it from the ‘right’ or the ‘left’. Most too reject populist faux-solutions to our economic woes. Their priorities are employment, safety and education. It is, in other words, our political class – along with many influencers and intellectuals – that is out of step with society.

Terence Corrigan

The Institute of Race Relations celebrates 90 years in existence this year. This is a major achievement for any organization, and especially so for one such as ours, committed to studying this fascinating country, to understanding its multiple challenges and to suggesting workable solutions to them – solutions that contribute to individual and societal freedom, enhancing the dignity and life-prospects of each of us individually and of all of us collectively.

Yet our longevity is also perhaps a comment on South Africa’s difficult and uneven developmental path. The renowned historian, Cornelis de Kiewiet, is frequently quoted as saying that South Africa has advanced by political disasters and economic windfalls. Ours is a country that has often steered willfully into jeopardy, and which has changed direction because the true extent and nature of the danger becomes too great to ignore.

The IRR has attempted to call out these perils for its entire history – starting, from its origins, in pointing the foolishness and immorality of maintaining a segregated society, and arguing for a non-racial future. Our approach has been to challenge damaging policies and the assumptions that justify them through meticulous gathering of information, compilation of evidence and inserting our arguments into the public conversation.

We have attempted throughout our history to explain to those in power – and to society at large – why we as a country are in trouble, how we can extricate ourselves, so that what might have seemed like a heresy at one point would become merely outlandish later, innovative yesterday, and accepted wisdom today.

South Africa certainly stands at a point of crisis now. The GDP statistics that came out recently hinted at the economy’s economic anaemia. With year-on-year growth at 0% and quarter-on-quarter registering a decline 3.2% we’re seeing no sign of the sort of turnaround that South Africa is so desperate for.

And we’ve not seen it in a decade. Since the global financial crisis sent growth negative in 2009, but went into positive territory again in 2010. The best we’ve made since then was 3.3% in 2011. Over the past few years, it has not even managed 2%.

Against this, the National Development Plan projects a growth rate of 5.4% as necessary to underwrite our development. The NDP was released in 2012, and envisioned South Africa in 2030. That means that we are fast approaching what should be the half-way point of its implementation. In terms of our growth rate, we haven’t even started to get there.

And it ensures that millions of South Africans are excluded from participating in the economy, realizing their potential, and reaching even very modest dreams. As much as 55.5% of our population lives in poverty, at least as defined by income in 2015. Some 25.2% cannot afford enough food to supply minimum daily energy requirements.

Even for those more fortunate, there is a sense of pervasive insecurity. Not only fear for personal safety in a country living with extraordinary levels of crime, but about concerns about job security, about provision for a decent retirement, and about the prospects for the children.

And for millions of South Africans, there is also a profound sense of disillusionment with the conduct of governance and politics: from the widespread corruption and misappropriation of resources, the dysfunction of so much of the state, the taxpayer-life-support condition of many of our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to the reckless invocation of racial nationalism, to the aggressive (sometimes violent) conduct of some of our elected representatives.

It is not a happy picture. Concerningly, there is little to suggest that the government appreciates the full gravity of the situation – and if it does, that it has any serious sense of how to address it. President Ramaphosa’s recent State of the Nation speech struck a lyrical register, but offered very little of substance.

Indeed, what has been floated by the government and ruling party merely doubles down on reckless courses of action that are all but guaranteed to aggravate rather than to ameliorate the problems facing the country. The centerpiece of this, expropriation without compensation, offers no solutions to the problems facing land reform, but has already inflicted great damage on the country. This included destroying the prospects of a Ramaphoria windfall last year.

Similarly, the idea that ‘prescribed assets’ – in other words, South Africans’ savings and pensions – could be used to shore up our failing SOEs does little but delay the hard choices and thoroughgoing reforms that are needed, at the expense of ordinary people.

Meanwhile, hopes that a messianic figure might step forward, or that President Ramaphosa was playing a ‘long game’ that would ultimately deliver productive policy reform are fading.

South Africa needs new thinking. This will require a long process of advocacy, difficult and uncertain though it often is. Making compelling arguments about what is at fault in the present, and how it might be altered for the common benefit in the future.

Fortunately, there is an appetite for this. Our polling shows, for example, that a solid eight out of ten South Africans respect their fellow citizens and see their fates as intertwined. They reject race-baiting be it from the ‘right’ or the ‘left’. Most too reject populist faux-solutions to our economic woes. Their priorities are employment, safety and education. It is, in other words, our political class – along with many influencers and intellectuals – that is out of step with society.

And thus the task that we as the IRR seek to accomplish now: to help those millions of moderate South Africans to find one another, and to join us in shifting the country’s conversation towards promoting workable ideas that offer the country a roadmap to a free and prosperous future.

Sadly, much has been done to push South Africa down the potholed road on which it now finds itself. The bad ideas that have done this are well entrenched and supported by powerful interests for reasons that are at times ideological and at times venal. Pushing back against this will be a long and difficult task, for which there are no guarantees of success; although in South Africa there never have been. Yet it is a challenge that should be gladly accepted by all who cherish this beautiful country and its wonderful people.

Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations. Readers are invited to join the IRR and take a stand against the Expropriation Bill by sending an SMS to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).

https://www.dispatchlive.co.za/news/opinion/2019-07-03-opinion--time-for-big-pushback-against-dysfunction/

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