The State of the Nation: A Response

I write this response as proud 25 year old South African living in Durban. I will acknowledge now that I am writing this letter from the ‘ivory tower’ that is the upper-middle class lifestyle that many white South Africans are fortunate to be living in. I do not believe, however, that my fortunate socio-economic status renders me any less qualified to comment on the state of our Nation than any other South African.

In 1994, to a 12 year old boy, the miracle taking place in our country was not something I was able to fully understand. Fortunately, with the support of my ex-Rhodesian parents, I came to understand just how important freedom was to the majority of South Africans and how unique the South African passage to democracy had been when compared with the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia example and, indeed, that of virtually every other African state.

I was proud: proud to be a part of the miracle; proud of our people and their willingness to work together for greater good; and in the early years that followed, proud of the achievements of the Government of National Unity and the new ANC-led government under Nelson Mandela.

Mr Mbeki was someone I was intensely proud of – he was a moderate and reasonable President, which, after the magic of Madiba, was what the young South African democracy needed. ‘Mr Delivery’ was going to see to it that the ANC did indeed create a better life for all by focusing on the delivery of basic services to the poor, growth in the economy and the creation of jobs.

Unfortunately, President Mbeki remains somebody who I was proud of. In time he showed himself to be consistently poor in his leadership of both Government and the ANC. South Africa can be thankful it got a centrist leader in Mbeki, but further than the political and economic stability such a leader provides, our President failed to deliver on his party’s promises to the people of South Africa.

ANC MP Kader Asmal, who will be retiring from Politics this year, was forthright about the risks involved in Government’s ever aggressive stance on transformation at a recent conference on racism: “People are being appointed who have no experience. We need to do an introspective evaluation of affirmative action. You can’t employ a tone deaf person to direct an orchestra or a brain surgeon who doesn’t know science.”

Minerals and Energy Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, said in Parliament that “[the] government cannot give up its transformation targets in order to solve the energy crisis”. In 2001, Robert Mugabe led his government in Zimbabwe, in a grand manifestation of what I believe is the same sentiment expressed by Minister Sonjica, to seize white-owned commercial farms because land reform was more important that safeguarding the fundamentals of the Zimbabwean economy.

In that single campaign, Mugabe effectively whipped the rug from beneath the feet of the Zimbabwean economy and in the wake of the resultant crises, greatly reduced the means with which the Government could, if it wanted to, support the people of Zimbabwe – all in the name of the people.

In South Africa, the Land Bank is a key state institution in the drive to effect land reform and more importantly, the promotion of sustainable and economically productive activity in the agricultural sector. A forensic audit of the Land Bank, performed at the instruction of cabinet by Deloitte & Touche in 2007 brought to light the misappropriation of at least R20 billion worth of agricultural development funding in a stark example of the ANC Government’s wavering focus as cronyism and patronage politics take root. The credibility of the Land Bank came into question again at the end of the February 2008 when their auditors Ernst & Young indicated that unless the bank appointed senior officials with suitable qualifications it would terminate its relationship with the bank.

If one day the South African Government decided to answer the land reform question in a manner similar to what happened in Zimbabwe in 2001, would it be because of unwillingness on the part of white farmers to sell land that they, reasonably, feel they have claim to – quite possibly; but will it also be because the Department tasked with resolving this critical and sensitive issue was fraught with incompetence, mismanagement and corruption – most definitely.

Economic growth is the fundamental underpinning precursor to Government meeting its Millennium Development Goals by 2014, and electricity is fundamental to that growth. Indeed, the top 5 of the President’s list of Apex Priorities were related to “the further acceleration of our economic growth and development”, but without sufficient economic growth, accelerated transformation will serve only reduce the productivity of business and parastatals by replacing experience with inexperience.

‘Business Unusual’ is how the President describes the work ahead of the country over the next year. If the ANC was proud of the work it has been doing and impressed with the progress it has been making then, most certainly, they would be ordering more Business As Usual – but they are not. ‘Business Unusual’ means Government has realised it must greatly accelerate delivery on the promises it made when 69% of the people of South Africa voted for the ANC in 2004.

This year will be the fourteenth year that the people of South Africa have been waiting on the ANC to deliver on its many promises and indeed some promises made in the 1994 campaign have yet to be delivered upon. During President Mebki’s second term as President, we have seen conditions deteriorate in areas from food security to electricity and government accountability, health and education. All of these issues are considerably to the detriment of the millions of poor and understandably expectant South Africans who voted the ANC back into power in 2004.

South Africans in the middle to upper-class brackets are less materially affected by deteriorating social and economic conditions than their poorer and less fortunate compatriots, and are thus more likely to weather the economic storm. In January 2008, CPIX, which best represents inflation as it affects middle to upper-class South Africans, rose to 8.8% whereas CPI, which best represents lower income earners rose to 9.3%. Poor South Africans are bearing the brunt of the economic woes resulting from poor ANC government policy and even poorer policy implementation.

President Mbeki’s ‘Business Unusual’ address and its accompanying Apex Priorities thus, unsurprisingly, list, among the top fifteen projects (of 24 in total), six ‘Social Cluster’ projects aimed at shoring up the “War against Poverty”. I would suggest as plausible the assertion that the ANC is worried that a great many poor South Africans are tired of waiting for the ANC and their promises and that in 2009 voters will seek other political parties to champion their rights. The General Election next year will test this assertion and it is my sincere hope that the ANC meets with stiff competition.

Written for and in the interests of a free, open and prosperous South Africa served by a committed, open and accountable government.

Warwick Bruce Chapman

1 thought on “The State of the Nation: A Response”

  1. Interesting comments. Good to see a positive whitey is SA.

    Re Mugabe.

    I don’t buy into the idea that the land grab had anything to do with reform. This was Mugabe’s way of getting back at his own people for rejecting his wish to be made President for Life in 1997. Rather than accept defeat he went on the rampage, targeting white farmers and white business who he decided were responsible for influencing his people to vote against him. The man is a nutcase, and doesn’t give a damn about his people, other than those who maintain him in power. If the country goes down, so what? He can get out and enjoy the billions he has stolen over the years.

    Hitler was also nutcase who believed that the German people had let him and themselves down and therefore deserved to fight to the very last… even if it meant the destruction of Germany.

    Too many lunatics in politics. It will be interesting to see how JZ pans out as a leader. We could be pleasantly surprised. Or not.

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