Our top writers on Ramaphosa's desperate fight to fix SA
Read articles by Justice Malala, Ranjeni Munusamy, Peter Bruce, Lukanyo Mnyanda, Tony Leon and Steven Friedman on the state of the nation
First up, Business Day editor, Lukanyo Mnyanda, writes under the headline 'Self-serving interests poison body politic'. This from his article:
It’s interesting to observe when and why politicians suddenly decide any particular subject constitutes an urgent problem that requires being dealt with immediately, especially when it’s something that’s been of little concern up to that point.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize and former British prime minister David Cameron don’t immediately strike one as having a great deal in common, but a Bloomberg interview last week with the former indicated they may have similar political instincts.
Cameron decided that the question of Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU had, after four decades, become so urgent that it needed to be decided once and for all. So he called a referendum in 2016.
Other than a small majority of hard-core eurosceptics, relatively few voters had that relationship at the top of their priorities, concerned more about austerity and the state of the health service. That perhaps explains why he called the vote, expecting an easy win.
There are parallels to how the land debate in SA suddenly flared up during the ANC’s leadership contest in December 2017. There, as well, the issue was more about appeasing factions within the governing party than concern with the national interest.
Group editor-at-large Peter Bruce has written a sobering article outlining SA's limited choices, under the headline 'Ramaphosa must act or we slide into a debt disaster'.
The rand is falling because of a toxic mixture of internal and external pressures. Principal among the latter is that investors are fleeing (selling) emerging-market currencies like the rand and buying up dollars because they see US unemployment falling to record lows and anticipate increases in US interest rates as a result.
One short-term measure that might be assembled before the public is that the Reserve Bank could raise domestic interest rates to encourage some buying of the rand and, thus, its strengthening. But in the face of a VAT increase, debt ratings downgrades and Eskom seeking steep rises in electricity tariffs, a rise in interest rates would hurt the very people Mabe is supposed to speak for.
That leaves only one other route - sensible domestic policies that, even in the face of external events, can serve as a floor from which to build viable defences of our own.
First we need to reduce our debt. Ask any household. Jacob Zuma's administration ballooned the national debt by dramatically increasing the size of the public service and turning its back on, or directly indulging in, monumental theft and corruption in the state.
Ranjeni Munusamy writes about 'The games Duduzane plays' as Ramaphosa's corruption crackdown staggers on. She writes:
If the police and National Prosecuting Authority are serious about the state capture investigations, should they not have taken Duduzane in for questioning on the series of matters in which he is implicated?
Could he not also assist the authorities in determining the whereabouts of his business partners, the Guptas, who are fugitives from the law?
What then was the purpose of the theatre around his court appearance, with the added drama of him having to walk to and from the dock in shackles?
Can this case really be taken to trial without the main accused: Ajay Gupta?
Or could the purpose of charging Duduzane on this matter be to deliberately botch the case to cast doubt on the state capture allegations?
South Africans have been played for fools before, so it must be asked whether there are deliberate attempts to do it again.
Columnist Steven Friedman writes that the ANC has misunderstood voters, under the headline 'ANC closes its ears to 12-million voices'. He writes:
Around 12-million South Africans badly need politicians who understand election results. The signs for them are not promising.
The 12-million have featured here before. They live in areas controlled by traditional leaders, which were once apartheid’s Bantustans.
They are angry because the government has given chiefs greater power over land, which they use not only to take it from small farmers but to enrich themselves at rural people’s expense. They have been voicing their anger by voting against the ANC.
Until last week, the ANC seemed to have heard them. It announced it was pressing ahead with a bill, published in 2017, which would transfer control of the land from chiefs to the people. Last week, the ANC seemed to have blotted the message from its mind.
Traditional leaders, the Zulu king in particular, are angry because the high-level panel chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe criticised the way they use their land powers. The ANC has been hurrying to assure them that it has no intention of interfering with their control over land.
Columnist Tony Leon has compared the mistakes being made around policy to those made by US president Lyndon Johnson as he became bogged down in the Vietnam War. In 'Vietnam War-like outcomes loom over social engineering schemes', he writes:
The Vietnam War, a 10-part series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, contains no end of reminders on the costs of conflict and mistaken analysis. The price tag, in terms of blood and treasure, was steep beyond belief: 2-million Vietnamese perished, 58,126 US troops of 600,000 deployed there died and more ordinance rained down on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos than the US Air Force dropped on Germany and Japan during the Second World War. And the US lost this one.
But early on in the series, and before the US troop escalation, viewers are witness to perhaps the most chilling comment. It is a tape-recorded conversation in early 1965 — a telephone conversation between then president Lyndon Johnson and senator Richard Russell. At this early point, the viewer realises that Johnson, whose presidency would be immolated by this war within three years, knew at the outset that it probably couldn’t be won.
He says: "Dick, I feel like a jackass caught in a Texas hailstorm. I can’t run, I can’t hide and I can’t make it stop." Johnson had promised the year before in his election that there would be no retreat in Vietnam, and so he stuck to a course that he knew would probably lead downhill.
I immediately noted some local equivalents who proceed on a course that makes so many other grand plans unachievable or at risk, or who realise the perils of the chosen path but can’t stop proceeding on it.
Finally, columnist Justice Malala asks 'Is Ramaphosa yesterday's man?'. He writes:
Last week in Mexico, a populist, leftist leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was elected president in a landslide victory that was interpreted by many as a rejection of the centrist path the country’s political elite has pursued over the past few decades.
The rout in Mexico follows a series of rejections of establishment candidates across the globe, and the rise of populist leaders such as Donald Trump in the US, several in a fast-changing Europe and more in Latin America.
What’s going on?
“The recent elections in Latin America have exhibited the same demand for change (as the election in Mexico) ... The results are not endorsements of ideologies, but rather demands for change, a fatigue felt by people waiting for answers that simply have not arrived,” the New York Times quoted Laura Chinchilla, the former president of Costa Rica, as saying.
What does this say about our future political configuration in SA? We would be foolish to think that a populist, left-leaning or right-leaning leader will not rise to power here on the same basis. People are just tired of the ANC’s failures.