The part of my job I love the most is meeting hundreds and thousands of South Africans on my travels across the length and breadth of the country. Talking with voters in their homes and communities gives me a far better insight into what is really happening in South Africa, beyond what the headlines and statistics tell us. We are told that the economy has just slipped into recession, with a 0,7% contraction, but that we should still grow by around 1% this year. That is what we’re told. But the reality on the ground is plain to see: life is getting much, much harder for everyone. Jobs are even scarcer, many of those who have jobs are at risk of losing them, and groceries, transport, airtime and electricity are all getting much more expensive.
This is the human reality of the economic crisis we face. It is much more important than the statistics.
And the truth is: there is absolutely no good reason for us to be facing this crisis. It is entirely self-inflicted and avoidable.
It is caused by a governing party that is systematically dismantling the ability of the state to deliver to the poor and invest in the economy, for the purpose of funnelling resources to cronies and friends. Let’s not mince our words: the ANC has turned South Africa into a kleptocracy – the “purpose” of the state is theft, and theft on a colossal scale. Before the Gupta email leaks, we had only an inkling of how widespread and deeply entrenched the corruption was. Now we know a lot more – and it is staggering.
Under Jacob Zuma, the ANC has destroyed the prosecution services and the police, has tried to buy the free media, and has neutered Parliament. In the mould of Russia’s Putin or Turkey’s Erdogan, Zuma has been willing to manipulate any institution of state for his own ends, (most recently, the intelligence services) and deliberately sow division and stoke racial tension in a sick diversion. Those institutions that resist come under siege attack until they yield or break: the Public Protector, the Reserve Bank, and National Treasury. All the while the ANC has protected him, and still do so.
Knowing this, as we all now do, it was strange to see that anyone expected the ANC’s National Policy Conference, which ended this week, to focus on how to seriously resolve our economic crisis and get the economy growing again. Why would it? That is not the focus of the ANC. Far from a serious discussion about how to achieve real economic reform and build social consensus, the Conference discussed new ways of diverting the country’s attention away from the crisis.
There was not a single new policy idea discussed to improve consumer and business confidence, increase investment or savings, fix basic education to address the skills gap, or support entrepreneurship. No honest discussion about state capture and corruption and how to fight it. Restore investor confidence and avoid a credit rating downgrade? No, not that either.
In place of real reform, the “big ideas” from the Conference were two: destroy the independence of the Reserve Bank, and expropriate land without compensation. These two ideas are so profoundly destructive that their mere mention caused a market tremor. Any further action to implement them could only be described as suicide.
They are, however, a useful distraction for the ANC from the core issue: a failing economy, a government that is broken and captured, and 9 million unemployed South Africans. Every distraction that can be dreamt up to get our attention off the real crisis, will be used by the ANC in the months ahead. Their Bell Pottinger strategy was exposed and has backfired spectacularly. Don’t for a minute think they will give up there and concede.
The simple truth is this. The ANC does not have any plan to get our economy growing and create jobs. The do not have a plan to seriously tackle corruption and state capture. They do not have a plan to improve the quality of basic education. They do not have a plan for the country. The National Policy Conference was a proxy for the fight for resources and control of the money flow. That is the only plan the ANC cares about now.
There are two options for the ANC: it can either be a maturing political party which realises that losing elections is part of a proper democracy, or it can continue to be just a liberation movement, in perpetual enforcement of the struggle, demonizing any democratic advances as ‘regime change’. But it cannot be both.
South Africa is in a hole now. But we can get out of it. I believe in the incredible potential of our country and our people. We can dig ourselves out, like we’ve done before. It will take absolute unity of purpose and a national consensus on the need to grow the economy and create jobs. It will require taking difficult decisions.
The 2019 election will be a choice of alternative visions for the country. We will proudly present a positive and constructive manifesto to build a better South Africa for all. Our proposals are aimed at increasing the freedom that South Africans enjoy to achieve a life they value, at making South Africa a fairer society that addresses the injustices of our past, and one which extends equal opportunities to all.