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Helen Zille at the IEC national results centre at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. Picture: VELI NHLAPO
Helen Zille at the IEC national results centre at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. Picture: VELI NHLAPO

It is understood that the government of national unity (GNU) was cobbled together in great haste, with a deadline approaching, under considerable pressure. Added to this is that there is an ideological divide between the participants, which will not readily be overcome.

The resultant statement of intent is an inevitable compromise. And yet it lacks an essential piece of content, which a politician as seasoned as Helen Zille should not have overlooked.

The document is a disappointment, as inevitably it would be; it is long on words and short on specifics. Also, it contains a long (seven paragraphs) preamble, a device so beloved by politicians, devised to do no more than stir the emotive sense of “we’re in this together”.

The question every sentient commentator would ask is what is to be done to bridge the divide. Zille might have considered that instead of the preamble she should insist upon a clear expression of the hurdles to be overcome, while expressing a commitment to its progressive accomplishment.

What would these hurdles be? Shall we count the ways? The national democratic revolution (NDR), to which Fikile Mbalula recommitted the ANC even as the talks were under way; expropriation without compensation; National Health Insurance (NHI); the broad-based BEE quota system; the device of extracting shareholding by the threat of licensing regulations, cadre deployment, the Basic Education Laws Amendment Act; the increasing tendency of the government, in defiance of the rule of law, to effect legislation by way of decree (ministerial regulation); the emasculation of autonomous professional bodies, brought under the control of government; and the self-inflicted unemployment catastrophe.

There are countless others, but these would have sufficed to concentrate the minds of the participants. The last is the most important, both for the GNU and the country, and also — once the ANC feels no longer hidebound by the tripartite alliance — the easiest to accomplish. Abandon some of the most destructive imperatives of the labour legislation, as well as the Minimum Wage Act.

The ANC, in its turn, may have retaliated with a list of its own. These are not hard to envisage. They would have included the inevitable march towards the socialist/communist paradise envisaged by the ideologues.

Would this exercise have advanced, or retarded, or possibly destroyed, the process then under way? It would certainly have had the benefit of holding the participants’ feet to the fire and a further benefit in the knowledge that the GNU was not a delusional project. It must be borne in mind that the ANC needed the agreement more than the DA did.

It might be countered that clause 11 of the document does, in indirect terms, convey much of what is proposed above. It is the indirectness of the message that is the problem. What is required in a statement as momentous as this is candour, not circumlocution. An indirect commitment is always subject to interpretation, especially by politicians.

• Van Schalkwyk, a former Supreme Court judge, chairs the Free Market Foundation board and rule of law panel.

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