How South Africa’s ruling party blew a windfall and made a nightmare 
How South Africa’s ruling party blew a windfall and made a nightmare

Know what sticks in the gullet but has to be swallowed? Liberators from Apartheid inherit a windfall and succumb to self-grandeur and greed. Honestly. Comrades (among old communists endearments die hard) could not wait long enough to build on the good luck and cut a bigger pie, not even for their own Apartheid-deprived people. “We didn’t struggle to be poor” seems to have been the refrain driving the rot. Many have followed the unpalatable tale here viral-bound, meaning a good many stuck gullets.  

Will America and Europe hound the culprits with sanctions, up to and including the dirt bag who led the rot before his party honourably retired the President and left the taxpayers he plundered to pay for his retirement? Not if his replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa and neighbouring leaders can help it. They’d like to call it a day. Fixing the blame is enough; depriving old comrades of comfort and freedom alleviates nothing. What a precedent African leaders set with Zimbabwe, giving war criminal and arch wrecker Mugabe amnesty, and  retiring him with hero status and an Aladdin trove of loot. If comrades must be hounded, let America and Europe do the dirty work. 

The words may be mine, but the next lament and plea for America to keep sanctions on the late tyrant’s lieutenants is that of ordinary Zimbabweans trying to live through the aftermath of democracy under black liberators.    

“It gives credence to accusations that the SADC (the regional body that Ramaphosa heads) is merely a collection of heads of state bent on supporting the status quo rather than improving the well-being of citizens.” 

Sixty odd million citizens of South Africa, a country that once mattered, are also learning to cope with the aftermath of electing into power a series of wrecking crews.
What goes around comes around. Sixty odd million citizens of South Africa, a country that once mattered, are also learning to cope with the aftermath of electing into power a series of wrecking crews.

Could not captains of business or, dare one say, civil society with spine, have done something to stop them? Could no one warn comrades in suits of greed fraught with peril, of a legacy being trampled and a dream wrecked?

Regrettably no one could, not for lack of spine but for want of wisdom. What clout do buzz words have? Corruption, inefficiency, poverty and, laziest of all, structural problems, give no inkling of what to solve and how. They are not thought provoking words but thought subduing, and there are still elements in academia, in politics and in business even, that would flatly deny any windfall and regard the legacy from a different angle – as deprivation from the Apartheid era. Knowledge, ethics and brain power are brought to bear. Understanding, however, must be marked absent. 

I can’t remember one thought leader to whom the forest was distinct from trees, that could see the big picture from the detail, or distinguish origins of the rot from symptoms of it. Corruption is no cause but one result of descent into hell.  

We can learn from this an object lesson in what business leaders are, and what they’re not. Let a Jeff Bezos of Amazon step into the political ring and he competes for worldly wisdom with the likes of you or I, mostly to our advantage. And so it goes for leaders of religion and human rights honchos. So when a new President took the reins of office, leaders who should know better acted precipitously, welcoming him like the knight on a white steed. A rabbi extolled Ramaphosa as a ‘mench,’ upright and reliable – a useless trait for a leader at a time of catastrophic shambles crying out for a leader with “iron in the spine,” as a journalist at the Daily Maverick put it so well.  

In that case how did liberators from Apartheid blow a windfall and manufacture a nightmare society of rich robbing poor? And was it an economic windfall, or was it a burden with no sell-by date? 

Academics, ideologues to a fault, are prone to go for a burden. Back in the mid 1980s the apartheid government had declared a moratorium on repaying foreign debt due to a state of emergency from widespread unrest. This left the first ANC government in 1994 saddled with foreign debt of R87 billion ($14 billion at the ruling exchange rate). Talk of a miniscule molehill compared to a mountain!  May burdens always be so light! Today one state-run entity is indebted for R500 billion ($33 billion at the ruling exchange rate.) Several others get billions in bailouts annually, only to fill bottomless holes from unearned salaries, theft and tender fraud. 

And what if the unrest that led to the debt moratorium was fomented by liberators waiting in the wings? The first ANC government could be held accountable for Apartheid era debt. Anyhow, creditors gave it seven years to settle. You could say that citizens here and now have been unfairly saddled with debt incurred by corrupt comrades and cadres, the lucky party members assigned to plum jobs. 

What’s more, people forget that the Apartheid debt came with assets. The era of democracy received a kick start with world class schools and universities, health services better than any in Africa, pristine water works, failsafe power grid, spick and span railways and harbours, well-kept roads, knowhow and what else. Who’d refute that the Nelson Mandela cabinet team began life fed by a silver spoon.   

So how did the windfall get blown so quickly? By 2010 – into the sixteenth year of government under black rule – the cracks were already wide enough to drive a herd of elephants through. Forget the symptoms of third world decadence everywhere you peer into government. Look for the causes. Avoid being the medic who treats your fever instead of your flu. 

In no order of importance (remember, this is a real time socio-economic madhouse) the causes of a catastrophic descent into hell seem to encapsulate the following: 

  • Black rulers made the black majority into victims. This, we recall, was Hitler’s big appeal – he played on Germany’s victimhood. Create a victim and you have a malleable human bent on taking revenge. Victims are exempt from norms of right and wrong – a more populist vote-catcher you can’t imagine. Trouble is, when the party ends how to get lawless revellers to go home? Harping on the legacy of colonialism or of Apartheid leaks a malignant energy into society, a culture of whingeing entitlement. “What can be done to compensate me the victim?” Tell you what, said a comrade named Ace known for his game of treating the poor as pawns and the head of state as a pliable king. Your turn has come. Take back your land from whites –  we’ll help you.
  • The governing party got in with the wrong crowd. In international forums it allied with Israel-haters or, the same crowd, with failed states, tyrannical regimes, terrorist groups, plunderers and the like. Go to Walter Russell Mead for a tart lesson on what  inevitably happens. “Quite sane leaders when it comes to Israel lose their minds. Nations and political establishments warped by Israel-hatred tend to make one dumb decision after another.”

Representing South Africa at the UN Security Council, Naledi Pandor could be the warped and dumb model of the fixation that Mead had in mind. After her stint            (or stunt) making South Africa’s school system among the worst in Africa, she was sent to deliver a lesson on international relations to First World powers. “The question of peace in the Middle East will not be resolved unless the question of Palestine is resolved.” 

Give Palestinians a state, Pandor taught the powers that be. Only then – 

  • The butchering in Syria will lapse into a sleep-in, the butchers turning into that lion of Isaiah which will lie down with the lamb.
  • Iran will stop destroying Saudi oil fields and funding terror throughout the Middle East and beyond.  
  • Guns and bombs in Yemen will fall silent
  • ISIS will stop beheading and raping Kurds and Christians.
  • Turkey will stop ethnic cleansing Kurdish people from its border
  • Islamic Jihad will turn rockets in Gaza into pruning hooks and ploughs.

Notice how the teacher jumps the gun and awards a state off her own bat, taking the liberty of naming it Palestine. 

One way or another, such warped dumb-think abroad invariably rubs off on policies at home. South Africa is the home of a rate of unemployment higher than any democracy in the world. A full third of adults are out of work. Pandor’s comrades egged the feat on byimposing a super duper minimum wage guaranteed to drive unemployment through the roof.      

It could be the bed rock of the rot – tossing merit out the window. Economic signals headed to hell in a basket when merit became the last consideration for filling jobs. A merit-free economy and a doomed society are wedded closer than a horse and carriage. Slummy public services, policing that fails to police, schools that fail to educate, a power grid that has made backup generators for home and business a necessity, public servants stealing more than serving – these are symptoms of the rot. A discarded meritocracy is the trouble maker at the root of all. 

How so? Suppose you have zero merits to land a plum job in power supply. You get it thanks to your colour of skin, or your gender, or your political connections, or on the wink and nod of some bigwig, who himself owes the position he’s got to a wink and a nod. So there you sit, taking it easy in the executive chair. What is not earned is not valued. Easy come easy go is the mother of a witch’s brew of incompetence, indolence, turpitude and brazen extravagance. 

If the madness stopped at the public sector it would devastating. Prescribed for the private sector it becomes catastrophic. And this is what the ANC governing party did with Black Economic Empowerment,’ a catch-all policy for the chosen to become wealthy by signing on the bottom line of some corporate deal (shareholders to pick up the tab), or for the many to get jobs ahead of candidates born white or brown or in between. And this is the government that harps on the never-ending discriminatory harms of Apartheid. 

Then there’s good old Marxist claptrap. The ANC rose to power on the back of a Freedom Charter decreeing that "the national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people.” One thanks God that comrades have been too busy at the trough to put the claptrap into full gear. Beware, though. It niggles at the back of minds.

The current government has allowed land to be expropriated without compensation. Now it’s begun toying with another folly that will bankrupt the country beyond redemption: a nationalised health system. These may be signals of a deep wish to transfer ownership of all kinds of tempting assets to the people – after comrades have taken first pick, naturally.

Hell though is not the end of the world. Life in a junk-rated economy is not entirely bad. After all, how much lower can indicators head? The economy is already in an ICU. In hell you have to deal with elements more or less stable, more or less controllable, more or less mad. Only one thing really matters – to recognise what brought you to hell and what will keep you there unless you learn how you got to hell.