Light at the end of the tunnel?
Many commentators, including myself have explored the problems facing our country over recent months. Loadshedding, corruption, attacks on the judiciary, a weak economy and unemployment come to mind. However, it is not all doom and gloom and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s spend some time looking for it.
People are speaking out
The first thing that we find is that increasing numbers of influential South Africans are speaking out against the problems that we face. Last week, in response to attacks on our judiciary, 26 of SA’s most senior judges, led by Chief Justice Mogoeng committed themselves to a steadfast fidelity to the constitution. This was followed by a speech by Deputy President Ramaphosa at the SACP congress where he warned against attacks against the judiciary and stated that “the independence of the judiciary is something the ANC will always defend”. A meeting between the judges and President Zuma is on the cards. It is clear from these moves that the SA judiciary remains vigorously independent and will not lay down without a fight. It also has powerful people in its corner.
Increasingly, insiders are speaking out against Nkandla upgrades and Minister Nhleko’s report. Most vocal has been Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile who reportedly raised the issue again at the recent summit between the ANC, SACP and SANCO. Nelson Mandela’s daughter and grandchildren have taken exception to claims by Minister Nhleko that Mandela’s Qunu home also had a “fire pool”, confirming that Mandela had paid for said swimming pool himself. Even ANC secretary-general Mantashe has called “reckless” Nhleko’s statements that more money must be spend on Nkandla. There certainly appears to be a great deal of division on the Nkandla issue and how it is being handled and opposition within the ranks is likely to continue growing.
A strong anti-corruption campaign is building in SA, led by civil society figures such as Zwelinzima Vavi, Mark Heywood and Irvin Jim. This will culminate in a mass march to the Union Buildings on 19 August. The march already has wide support, including from NUMSA, Section27, OUTA, Equal Education and Solidarity. Even the ANC national spokesman, Zizi Kodwa stated that “people have the right to march, we can’t stop them” and “I am sure the organisers themselves are ANC members”. This march could be a very effective mechanism of putting pressure on the ruling party to address corruption issues and any opposition from them against it could cast them in a very poor light with their supporters.
The opposition is active
Opposition parties in SA are working very hard to keep the pressure on the ruling party, to build support and to prepare for increasing votes in next year’s municipal elections and the general election in 2019. The ANC is facing a two-pronged attack from both sides of the spectrum. On the one side, the EFF continues to use its position in parliament to keep the issues surrounding Nkandla and Marikana alive and well. This is not going unnoticed within the ranks of the tripartite alliance. The recent speech at the SACP congress by General Secretary Nzimande where he urged the Young Communist League (YCL) to take on the EFF and to make sure it “dies” (“organisationally”) highlights the concern that there is for the party’s growth and growth potential, in my opinion. The EFF remains a populist threat to the ruling party.
On the other side of the spectrum, the DA’s new leader Mmusi Maimane has been extremely active since his election. Following his #AskMmusi campaign in May, he actively helped promote the DA’s Vision 2029 strategy and has visited large parts of the country including the Nelson Mandela Metropole, Nkandla, Soweto, Marikana, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Mpumalanga and Polokwane. In the last week, he launched a charm offensive in Kwazulu Natal. He is also a darling of the SA media, being quoted daily by many publications. It is difficult to see a situation where such active electioneering does not result in increased votes for the DA, especially when the ruling party offers so much cannon fodder.
I don’t see anything that can better focus the mind of the ruling party than growth in opposition support. In my opinion, the voices within the tripartite alliance calling for better delivery, dealing with problems, fighting corruption, etc. are only likely to grow as we approach next year’s election. I would be surprised if we do not see progress on the National Development Plan (NDP) and loadshedding in particular over coming months.
The economy keeps ticking over
During the first quarter of 2015, the SA gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 1.3% in real terms (after inflation). Although this is a low rate of growth, at least we are not going backwards and most forecasts are for this to lift to over 2% by next year. A resolution of loadshedding and a pick-up in commodity prices could imply a much higher growth rate. SA’s unemployment rate jumped during the first quarter to 26.4% on the narrow definition, which is the highest it has been since 2011. We need stronger economic growth to turn this trend around and success with the NDP to markedly turn it around. The rand has stabilised against the dollar over the past month after depreciating by c.15% over the past year. The JSE has recovered some of its recent losses and is now up 2% on a year ago.
Our economic indicators are not looking great at the moment, with the rise in Government debt to GDP to 44% (compared with 22% in 2009) and a current account deficit of 5.1% adding further concern. However, we are nowhere near panic stations and there is room and time to address these issues. Most importantly, we need to deal definitively with loadshedding to avoid shaving 0.5% (based on Stage 1 loadshedding) from our annual GDP. The NDP needs to be rolled out aggressively so that we can start building infrastructure, creating jobs and boosting the economy. We also need to avoid “own-goals” like putting pressure on the tourism industry through more stringent visa requirements (government needs to relook at this) and strikes.
SA continues to have a robust economy, which creates jobs, earns foreign currency, delivers taxes and grows in real terms. We just need to do the right things to avoid a deterioration and more importantly to put it on the strong growth trajectory.
We live in relative peace
I know that crime is a serious issue in SA, which affects the most vulnerable of society most severely, including the poor, women and children. It is an issue that deserves our continued attention and our strongest efforts. However, it is important to acknowledge that we have made some progress over the past 20 years, although the pace has been much too slow. More importantly, unlike many places in the world, we are not in a state of war or civil war. I know it is little comfort for those that suffer from violent crime, but unlike in warzones like Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Sudan and the DRC, most South Africans and free to go about their day to day lives without disruption and violence. They can go to work or school, they can earn a living, they can feed their families and they can contribute to society. This is something we have to be grateful for and something we can build on. Let’s continue to strive for lower crime levels while using the relative peace that we enjoy to be productive citizens, to speak out against injustice and corruption and to interact in a constructive way with each other.
And then all the other good stuff
There is so much that is great about this country. We enjoy a level of freedom that many countries envy and that we did not know 25 years ago. We strive for equality, at least of opportunity, although much more needs to be done. We have wonderful diversity of people that helps us to find unique solutions and makes this an exciting and interesting place to live. We have so much natural beauty. We have an abundance of land and natural resources that if properly utilised, can make us a leading country. We have made some great contributions to the world in the past and we are in a strong position to continue doing so. We are a land of opportunity and we need to grow our skills base so that more people can benefit from it. We have one of the strongest business infrastructures in the world and companies and investors recognise this. Political discourse is vibrant and healthy in this country and we must make sure that we continue to allow people to have their say, even if we disagree. We have a young and growing population and have to think about ways to improve their education and levels of employment. And finally, we suffer from inefficiency. It may be strange, but this is really an asset for us, because we can do so much better without having to spend more money. However, it is only an asset if we actively become more efficient (otherwise, we are wasting money).
Yes, there are many things to be concerned about in our country, but we must be wary not to be fatalistic about it. For every area where we may be moving in the wrong direction, there are people who are speaking out, opposing what is happening and taking steps to turn things around. We have a solid foundation to build on, including a large economy, abundance of natural resources and beauty, great infrastructure and standards, a youthful population, freedom of speech and expression and healthy political discourse (and a growing opposition). Instead of being down in the dumps, let’s go out and help drive the country in the right direction.
What can you do? Go out and be productive, work hard, make money, spend some of it and save some of it. If you are in the position, create jobs. Demand better education and get involved with schools. Become more civically active, support campaigns for better service delivery or against corruption. Reach out to your fellow South Africans, especially those that are different to you and talk to them. We are in this together. Be proudly South African and don’t let your criticisms of our problems become criticisms of our country and its people. I know you want the best for this country, otherwise you would not be here.
Are you depressed about the state of SA? Do you think the country is in a tunnel and if so, do you think there is light at the end of it? What are you doing to improve the situation? I would love to hear your feedback.
In the mean time, keep your talking straight!