Voices

We need to talk about power as the nation faces profound choices for the future

2020-02-12 22:00

Ramaphosa needs to make profound decisions to pull SA out of the political and economic quagmire

The political doctrine of the Cyril Ramaphosa presidency is predicated on a primal desire to secure his re-election as ANC president and, crucially, to help avert a looming financial and economic apocalypse that would otherwise imperil our democratic experiment.

Like a honeypot attracts bees, Ramaphosa’s quaint, enigmatic leadership style inexorably invites the faked ire of peacetime revolutionaries and, increasingly, the chagrin of the compassion-fatigued.

Let me explain.

Our political system is not working for the majority of ordinary, poor and vulnerable people.

Poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption, economic woes, pervasive hopelessness and innumerable social ills fuel national discontent and discord.

Arguably the deepest divide in our body politic isn’t so much between the political right and left, as it is between the haves and the have-nots, and the politically wise and ignoramuses.

This transcends race, religion, culture or educational stations.

Often, those with political power either become unaffected or fail to adequately respond to the core grievances of the majority of the population.

In most instances, the politically influential or ambitious prey on the aspirations and frustrations of their loyal supporters who, almost invariably, are the downtrodden.

There is clearly a pressing need for political will to change the allocation and dispensing of public power if we are to mitigate pervasive abuses of political power and public office, and indeed safeguard our democracy.
Tebogo Khaas

Most of those who have economic power, and thus are able to command political influence, are often too enslaved by the trappings of their privileged lifestyles to be concerned about the plight of the less privileged.

They are often intolerant and disdainful of those who challenge insatiable greed and increasing inequality.

The politically powerful and economically privileged habitually detest growing global calls for egalitarianism, including veritable, legitimate demands by the downtrodden for just and equitable political and economic participation by all.

It is very easy to put blinkers on when you’re inside the system and refuse to see how political opportunists’ strategy is to use the emotional cord of bigotry and fear to ignite public anger.

These dichotomies serve as a potent allure to political opportunism and turmoil.

LEGITIMATE PUBLIC CONCERNS

Legitimate public concerns and frustrations can easily be channelled into racism, xenophobia, political hyperbole and nationalism – with the last pursued under the pretence of patriotism.

These are the oldest tricks in demagogues and opportunistic peacetime revolutionaries’ playbooks.

Nouveau peacetime revolutionaries and political opportunists, lately exemplified by the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and AfriForum’s Ernst Roets, prey on group vulnerabilities and insecurities to advance their self-serving agenda.

The less said about Roets, who falsely claimed the practice of white genocide in South Africa and counts among his white supremacist sympathisers ensconced in the political regime of an impeached president of the US, the better.

It was, however, disappointing to watch Ndlozi, wilfully and knowingly, propagate disinformation and hyperbole during what was meant to be a solemn memorial service for Enock Mpianzi, the deceased Parktown Boys’ High School pupil, recently.

Enock
Funeral service of the late Parktown Boys' High learner Enock Mpianzi. Picture: Morapedi Mashashe

In an apparent quest to pander to proponents of open national borders in South Africa, Ndlozi’s falsehoods and feigned ire sought to stoke the embers of prevailing xenophobic tensions in the country.

If Ndlozi’s inflammatory and irresponsible remarks were intended to mimic or outdo the EFF’s alpha male’s renowned oratorical prowess, he clearly failed.

But the sociology of reckless political populism should not only be limited to Roets and Ndlozi.

Read: Emotional send off for Enock Mpianzi

In recent months, a handful of union bosses have suddenly found their lost tsunamic voices to exhort vulnerable workers to embark on strikes at SAA despite the precarious financial position the distressed airline is in.

More rolling mass action is planned by a certain union and the EFF for later in the year.

It seems that SAA offered these zero lessons.

It is common cause that what was initially billed as a “mother of all strikes” by union bosses precipitated the “mother of all business rescues” at SAA.

Financial newspaper Fin24 quoted an unnamed labour union official warning that the airline intends “accelerating plans to reduce its wage bill and implement deeper job cuts than previously announced”.

Arrogant exhortations by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim following Eskom’s proposals to unbundle the ailing electricity behemoth are as ill-timed and unhelpful considering the dire situation at Eskom.

Instead of engaging with Eskom on logical, alternative counter proposals to unbundling, Numsa seems steadfast on political dogma and being petulant.

Jim seems not to appreciate that there is a clear distinction between labour militancy and the sheer political lunacy in the wake of the extremity of the challenges this nation is facing.

It is, however, sobering to observe that labour federation Cosatu has offered constructive proposals aimed at slashing Eskom’s debt and mitigating inexorable retrenchments.

Bar the usual cynical suspects, Cosatu’s proposals convey political maturity, and this seems to suggest that the power of reason has prevailed with the union.

Ramaphosa should be encouraged to embrace Cosatu’s proposals in his upcoming state of the nation address.

The elephant in the room remains the ANC under Ramaphosa.

It is worth repeating that Ramaphosa inherited an organisation that has squandered its moral, intellectual, political and electoral capital, and is acutely hobbled by internal party-political machinations and pervasive mistrust within its top leadership structure.

Notwithstanding, Ramaphosa must stridently deal with apparent political deities, especially cabinet minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams who seems to be immune from consequence management.

Our political system is not working for the majority of ordinary, poor and vulnerable people. Poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption, economic woes, pervasive hopelessness and innumerable social ills fuel national discontent and discord.
Tebogo Khaas

Allegations of her abuses of public funds and authority are serious and the optics aren’t good for Ramaphosa who is roundly ridiculed for dragging the corpse of irony out of the grave with his apparent doublespeak on clean governance.

The ANC’s future depends largely on the choices it champions about whether we make the system – political and economic – work for everyone who works hard and plays by the rules, or we continue down the road we’ve been set on since 2007 when our nascent democracy effectively lost its allure, eminence and innocence.

PROFOUND CHOICES

This nation faces profound choices for the future!

And nobody among the political elites – particularly of the ANC – would earnestly want to talk about power, but that’s the discussion South Africans must have.

Most people feel as if they do not have control over their fate, especially considering how the national and party-political electoral systems work.

The current systems do not optimise, never mind assure, accountability by elected public representatives or cadres deployed in state-owned enterprises.

There is clearly a pressing need for political will to change the allocation and dispensing of public power if we are to mitigate pervasive abuses of political power and public office, and indeed safeguard our democracy.

This much the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture continues to make abundantly clear.

Most of those who have economic power, and thus are able to command political influence, are often too enslaved by the trappings of their privileged lifestyles to be concerned about the plight of the less privileged.

And since there is currently no discernible difference between the ANC and the opposition parties, the governing party’s political grind and relevance is secured – at least in the short- to medium-term.

By genuinely empowering South Africans politically and economically, and making the tough but necessary choices, the venal and peacetime revolutionaries – emboldened by their social media-driven valour – would be severely neutered.

And whereas the late icon Hugh Masekela’s galvanising son Thuma Mina may have been a perfect choice for Ramaphosa’s maiden state of the nation address, the president may wish to consider Kori Moraba’s sobering hymn Haufi le Morena.

This may serve as a timely reminder to peacetime revolutionaries, demagogues and the venal within the ANC that ours is a fragile democracy, currently facing its darkest hour.

As we collectively wrestle the challenges we face as a country, it is crucial that we continue to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

  • Khaas is founder and chairperson of Corporate SA, a strategic advisory and consulting firm. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas

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March 29 2020