PETER BRUCE: A new president must sort out the policy mess
'Be careful with your country and its future. We cannot continue the way we are. Unemployment is at record levels. Debt is at record levels. The government is literally borrowing money to pay salaries'
President Jacob Zuma had persuaded the party to vote for each individual position in the top six individually. Slate politics were to be a thing of the past. They invited corruption. Whoever lost the top job would become deputy president, or could at least be a candidate.
That would have suited him. Beset on all sides by a crumbling legal fortress as judges rule against him, Zuma at least needed to know that if his candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, lost to her main opponent, Cyril Ramaphosa, she would at least be Cyril's deputy, with some clout.
That is now not to be, the party decided on Thursday, as delegates headed to Johannesburg. It would all take too long. They want the voting out of the way so they can concentrate on policy. The slate politics of old are back. It will be winner takes all. There'll be R200 notes floating around the hall like confetti as vote-buying reaches a climax.
If Cyril wins, Zuma is in deep trouble. If Nkosazana wins, he has time to wriggle a little more.
There's obviously nothing to be done about the leadership vote any more but whoever wins, there's going to be a policy discussion of sorts afterwards and it is vital that the party members at the conference take it seriously.
So to delegates, I have this plea. Be careful with your country and its future. We cannot continue the way we are. Unemployment is at record levels. Debt is at record levels. The government is literally borrowing money to pay salaries. State-owned companies are bankrupt. Denel will have to borrow from the National Treasury to pay salaries this Christmas. Eskom cannot pay salaries in January.
It is an unholy mess. We are much closer than your leaders will admit to losing our sovereignty, our ability to control our future. If we have to ask the World Bank or the IMF for money, they will impose pitiless conditions for lending to us. They will demand reforms that will make your eyes water.
And our new "allies" will not help us for free. The Russians have no money and the Chinese are heartless about lending to countries whose finances are badly run. Brics, once a great hope, is moribund. Four years on and Brics has made just one small loan to South Africa, of $180-million, to fund renewable energy. And renewable energy here is on ice. So, too, is the
$180-million loan, until our renewable energy future is clearer.
The fact is that policy uncertainty is crippling foreign investment. There are leaders among you who think foreign investment should not matter. But it does. We simply cannot survive as an independent economy without it. And try not to think of foreign investors as fat white capitalists smoking cigars in a club somewhere and deciding which ideological friend to finance and which not.
It doesn't work like that. They're investing the savings and pensions of people just like you - farmers in Italy, grannies in California, doctors and lawyers and teachers from Singapore to Peru. They need a return on those people's money, just like you need a return on yours.
So as you make policy after the party elections, try to think of ways to attract more of that money to South Africa. That's your job as you vote on policy.
The question to ask of any policy proposal is "will it work?" The more money foreigners invest here, the more jobs and wealth we can create. Without it, whatever promises Nkosazana or Cyril may make to you, they cannot do anything.
Radical economic transformation may sound good from the podium, but if it doesn't improve lives in a sustainable way it is meaningless.
Just recently Nkosazana was promising people near Pietermaritzburg that she would take whites who oppose radical economic transformation to townships to see how people live. She would take factories to rural areas so rural people wouldn't have to go to the cities. That way she would "restore dignity" to poor people.
Really? That flies in the face of every credible developing economy theory. Imagine, instead, attracting new investment into established cities so that jobs could be created there for the poor. We could build more cities near metropoles to service them.
Restoring dignity is the responsibility of all of us. When you hear populism, recognise it for what it is. It's a trap. Rather, think about what works and let's do that. And let's do it together.