Wearing a DA T-shirt on an early-morning run in Cape Town, it felt as if I was receiving looks of friendly sympathy from others out on road, the sort of of looks you get as the patron saint of lost causes. This party has suffered depth-charge damage from its divisions.

If there’s any benefit to be had out of the current situation, it is worth considering the major area of division: that race needs to be used as the tiller in the direction of the state.

As reported in your November 1 edition, the party’s review panel has recommended that race should not be used as a criterion in organising a progressive society. There is sense in this: it accords with the liberal philosophy of the party; and it stands as a counter to the policy which the ANC government embarked upon when it took control of the levers of state in 1994.

Its policy saw the race, party affiliation or the personal connection of the applicant as more important than whether he or she was the person best suited for the appointment. This was done in the attempt to redress inequalities, both financial and social, between black and white people.  

Twenty-five years later, the record of failure within almost all the businesses or public utilities owned or managed by the state says that this policy has not worked. When organisations which once worked efficiently decline to the extent seen in many of our state-owned enterprises (SOEs), effective and experienced leadership must be lacking.

It is too easy to put the blame on corruption and pretend that the reason for the breakdown of services is all due to evil, corrupt individuals. The more challenging truth is that there have been people in charge who have not known what to do in managing a major enterprise, largely because they lack the experience which comes from working their way through the organisation; instead they have been put into positions which do not suit their expertise or experience.

If the model used so far to redress inequalities and create a more prosperous society has not worked, why not try another? Labelling such a shift of approach as right-wing or racist is a superficial reaction to an attempt to address a chronic problem. Such a shift is needed: not only are these failed enterprises driving the state deeper into debt but they are also unable to employ people and help in combating the unemployment problem.

As the overriding concern in SA today is debilitating unemployment and poverty, economic growth is urgently needed. Ironically, it may be that the policy of using race as a base for appointments has actually done more harm to the society as a whole: those enterprises which might have employed many were they in a sound financial state have lost the ability to fulfil that function.

When moving China on to the road of economic growth 30 years ago, Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping stated: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white: as long as it catches mice it is a good cat.” 

SA does need a change of plan.

Roger Graham

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