ANC: Man Up or Destroy South Africa?

I have written several articles about the decline of the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, into a mess of corruption and power-grabbing socialism. Any common-sense minded observer can see that the ANC has lost whatever they had in the form of credibility and respect after the historic 1994 end to Apartheid. The economy is in poor shape, with private businesses struggling to stay afloat under a barrage of taxes, regulations and high crime; the majority of the blacks are trapped in poverty, either on the government dole or in very low-paying jobs, and far too many of them still live in squalor.

On top of that there is an ongoing genocide against white farmers, of proportions that clearly the ANC government must know about – yet they refuse to even acknowledge the genocide.

The massacre at Marikana revealed how the ANC government has lost its way and become just another superficially democratic yet de facto authoritarian socialist regime. This begs the question how far it really is from Sharpeville to Marikana.

Apparently, some within the ANC are beginning to ask themselves that question. According to the Mail and Guardian, Desmond Tutu is among the worried:

Tutu said at a ceremony in Cape Town on Thursday to celebrate winning the Templeton Prize, that South Africa became the “flavour of the month” when apartheid was abolished in 1994, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up, and citizens were riding on the victory at the Rugby World Cup. “We can’t pretend we have remained at the same heights and that’s why I say please, for goodness sake, recover the spirit that made us great.”

He points to violence as one of the most pressing symptoms of the ANC’s failure:

“Very simply, we are aware we’ve become one of the most violent societies. It’s not what we were, even under apartheid,” he said. Rape, murder and the high number of road accidents, especially over the holiday season, were worrisome, he said.

But then he falls into the same old tirade that all socialists revert back to when their ideological map does not match reality:

Tutu added that one did not have to look at statistics to see that South Africa was one of the most unequal societies in the world, and the problem was underpinned by a lack of spirituality. “This is why we ought to be saying it is utterly blasphemous that we should still have people who live in shacks. It’s not politics, it’s religion.”

When it comes to solutions, though, he delivers nothing. All he says is that he hopes the young generation will fix the problems his generation caused:

According to Tutu it was everyone’s responsibility to see the divine in others, even in the man sleeping in the street. Tutu said he had great faith in the youth being able to deliver on this aspiration. “There is no question at all that young people know what they are looking for and almost all would say it’s a spiritual thing,” he said.

Not a very good strategy, especially when viewed against the backdrop of South Africa’s enormous problems. Another story from the Mail and Guardian speaks of rampant corruption in South Africa, which Tutu did not even bother to mention (inequality, though…):

On the edges of Diepsloot stands a half-completed municipal building. Once intended as a library and offices, it was surrendered to decay before it even came to life. A few years ago, it seemed to symbolise a governmental intent to recognise and modernise Diepsloot. Now it is just an unexplained shell, a free supply of building material for locals. It must have cost tens of millions of rand before construction was abandoned. One guesses that its halt was related to corruption: another dodgy tender to another incapable contractor.

Corruption and socialism go hand in hand. Socialism is the unabridged grab for power; corruption is the attempt by suppressed agents of the free market to survive in an environment of unabridged government power.

The Mail and Guardian insightfully recognizes this, though not in such blunt words:

After 1994 political commentators should have been wise to the likelihood that corruption would become a blight on our new democracy. The arms deal shows how the new government was immediately prey to an established global elite of corruptors, people well trained in statecraft, aware of opportunities for grand theft. Observers would have done well to point out, then, that the government would be at risk from a new generation of home-grown baby criminals, who would make corruption a growth industry and a redistributive system.

I cannot remember when I saw such a well-worded analysis of how corruption rides the coat tails of socialism.

Had political scientists stressed these risks at the time, our then bona fide government and its exhilarated, trusting citizenry might have been less naive.

A good point indeed. However, if you were around in 1994 and remember the euphoria surrounding the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of Apartheid and Mr. Mandela’s swearing-in as South Africa’s first black president, then you can also easily imagine what people would have said of you if you had sounded the corruption alarm at that time. The Mail and Guardian are asking for something necessary, yet undeliverable at the time. This, however, does not take away from their analysis of the destructive effects of corruption, which, they say…

involves the theft of value created through real economic production. It is the theft of money, originally collected as tax, intended for reinvestment in economically or socially productive parts of society. Instead, this value exits the economy. It cannot be invested in the real economy because it must be hidden. So it is salted away in hidden accounts, spent on imported luxury items, houses and cars.

Well, technically speaking the corrupted money re-enters the economy at this point. Some people get jobs building, renovating and maintaing those houses; people get jobs importing, selling and maintaining those luxury cars. But the point is well taken: the very economic activity where corruption takes place distorts the allocation of economic value, disrupts free markets and erodes, even shuts down the functioning of democratic government. Which may be the worst of all the costs that corruption inflicts on society. The Mail and Guardian concludes:

The most common mines for corruption are municipalities and the public education and health systems. For example, about R20-billion is stolen every year from the public and private health sectors. This theft makes people sick – literally. People who do not get treatment are less able to progress at school or work.

However, if the ANC government is ever going to be able to do something about the mess they have created, they have to sever their ties to their own dogmatic past and openly admit what has gone wrong during their two decades of being in charge of South Africa. It would take a lot more than Desmond Tutu’s candid but shallow attempt at speaking frankly; but even his short inroad into a very sensitive but even more necessary territory of political introspection is met with resistance from the ANC establishment. This is well illustrated by a story from The Times of Johannesburg about the ANC’s relation to South Africa’s old Apartheid legacy:

There is no contradiction between what President Jacob Zuma and Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel have said about the legacy of apartheid, the presidency said on Thursday. “Stating that the apartheid legacy and impact still exists and will linger on for a long time does not mean that the president is saying that public servants should use it to excuse laziness and incompetence,” spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.

The controversy has to do with ANC’s eagerness to maintain Apartheid as a political tool, available for them to use whenever it is expedient:

“To suggest we cannot blame apartheid for what is happening in our country now, I think is a mistake, to say the least,” he said, in an apparent reference to the comments made by Manuel. “We don’t need to indicate what it is apartheid did. The fact that the country is two in one — you go to any city, there is a beautiful part and squatters on the other side — this is not the making of democracy and we can’t stop blaming those who caused it,” said Zuma.

So after the ANC has been in charge for two decades, President Zuma thinks it is perfectly fine to continue to blame Apartheid for the fact that millions of black South Africans live under worse conditions now than they did under Apartheid. He is betting in part on the fact that all South Africans 25 or younger will have no real personal experience with Apartheid and therefore no independent memories of what life was like back then.

Personally, I always found Apartheid a totally unacceptable, race-based, government-imposed invasion in people’s private lives. It was a reprehensible institution that does not belong in any society with modern aspirations. But just as it is important to recognize the wrongdoings of the Apartheid regime, it is crucial for the ANC to recognize how its policies have actually made life worse for most South Africans.

In a matter of speaking, when the ANC came to power it sat down at a table already laid for them, with food on the plates. There was a well-working economy, relative peace except for the violence stirred up by the ANC. Farming, mining and manufacturing were thriving. The one big thing missing was racial equality.

The ANC could easily have accomplished that by simply removing restrictions for the black population. But they did not stop there. They went ahead and started building a massive welfare state, soaked in corruption and spiced up with a vengefulness that to date has cost thousands of white farmers their lives.

The vengefulness and bitterness over years of Apartheid was certainly genuine to many, but to the new political elite it became a power tool, an emotional button to push when they wanted the masses to forget that their lives were actually deteriorating under the new, “democratic” regime. As the ANC’s notorious failures are stacking up, their leadership is desperately trying to hold on to their old way of ruling – not governing – a nation that is at least as divided today as it was under Apartheid. Only for different reasons.

Fortunately, some are trying to point out that the emperor is naked. The Times again:

Speaking to reporters on the sideline of a government leadership summit last week, Manuel said the government should take responsibility for its actions when it came to service delivery. “We [the government] should no longer say it’s apartheid’s fault. “We should get up every morning and recognise we have responsibility. There is no longer the Botha regime looking over our shoulder. We are responsible ourselves.” Addressing public servants at the summit earlier, Manuel said the government had run out of excuses and had failed the people of South Africa repeatedly in terms of service delivery. “We cannot continue to blame apartheid for our failings as a state,” he said in speech prepared for delivery. “We cannot plead ignorance or inexperience. For almost two decades, the public has been patient in the face of mediocre services. The time for change, for ruthless focus on implementation has come.”

This is the kind of attitude that can save South Africa. It falls well in line with what Desmond Tutu is trying to say.

President Zuma, on the other hand, holds on to the old ANC rhetoric:

Zuma said: “While wanting to see change happening fast in every corner of the country, we are under no illusion that South Africa will automatically and comprehensively change in only 20 years. That is impossible.” However, Zuma said as leaders of public servants, the government had to work harder, faster and more efficiently to ensure true freedom reached the poor and working class in a shorter time.

Nothing is impossible in 20 years. Look what the former Communist countries in Europe have accomplished in less time. Look at the transformation of China, the rise of India… President Zuma is using Apartheid the same way some black American grievance merchants are trying to use slavery (which ended a century and a half ago) as an excuse for why many black neighborhoods are poor, unsafe and socially and economically destructive.

The ANC has become the same authoritarian power machine that the Apartheid government was before them. Its effects on the economy and on society as a whole is even worse, though, because they are both ideologically arrogant (a character trait they share with the Apartheid regime) and economically illiterate. This is a destructive combination that has already done a great deal of damage to South Africa.

It is time for the ANC to either man up or get out of the way. If they stay on their current course they will eventually destroy the prosperity that many South Africans still enjoy.

Poverty shared by all is indeed the ultimate price for socialism, but let’s hope it does not come down to that.