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Cutting to the chase, Cees Bruggemans sounds yet another alarm. He talks about a restlessness that is bubbling under the masses. He talks about the 66% of the population that sits outside the affluent middle class, searching for jobs, while some of them have even given up the hunt, pointing to transformation policies that are causing more harm than good, and only benefiting the already benefitted. The Arab Spring in 2010 started as a demonstration but turned into a full blown civil war in areas like Syria. And while the idea of a civil war may be far-fetched, the fear lies in this thinking spreading south and inciting an African Spring. But then again, as has already been noted, are the ANC even listening and do they really care? In this article Cees writes with professor Willie Esterhuyse, putting together yet another brilliant piece. – Stuart Lowman
by Cees Bruggemans & Willie Esterhuyse*
Things in SA have progressed to a point where some may feel things are fine, but others are increasingly experiencing or showing a certain restlessness. About the state of things and where we might be heading.
Is there reason for any restlessness?
At issue is not the decimal point level of the country’s growth rate. Something far deeper is being questioned. Things that used to work are breaking down, or even disappearing. Those “fixing” things apply the usual spin, about many plans, good intentions, excellent people doing the necessary.
Yet the breakdowns keep multiplying and spreading.
It is no longer just your local police station, or public school or health clinic or municipality. Or the steadily congesting inner urban roads (and not a few in the country). It is electricity supply, passenger trains, water supply, visa access, lifeblood in other words. That seems to be going, the way of the Dodo. Extinct.
And throughout we find ourselves in a situation where at least 1-in-3 people are not at all participating (unemployed or discouraged) and another 1-in-3 only marginally favoured by a little work, or only a little income.
That makes two-thirds of us effective outsiders to the affluent middle class and even the well-do unionised working class. These latter groupings, however much they may be occupying different spaces, are the lucky insiders that participate generously in the fruits generated by the country.
The remainder are a watching hungry audience, yet not a quiet one.
With aspirations fed by example and political slogans, expectations fired up by growing aspirations and the loud message that everything should be accessible to all, and a deepening sense of entitlement that this be so, none too bothered how this be achieved, if need be through greater ‘sharing’.
One observes commentary (Afrikaans radio) that the truly worst, as in Zim, hasn’t yet happened (such as large scale land invasions, or grabbing majority corporate shareholdings). This may be true, but the processes at work should not be underestimated.
One also observes government willingness to explain away any disappointments by way of two features, namely global crises and the ghosts of times past (such as apartheid and colonialism). There doesn’t seem an interest in seeing any other reasons for or causes of failure.
Over time, certain patterns have shown through that could explain much.
There is a deep commitment to address the iniquities of the past, but this is done in ways that appears to do yet more damage. This is not acknowledged. Instead, specific ideals and populism are adhered to, often at whatever cost.
One notes a legalistic emphasis (demanding restitution or rich compensation) rather than an active use of productive economic logic accumulated over the past 100 years shining through more clearly.
It would seem skill and experience were sacrificed a tad too easily in far too many niches of society over a period of decades. This counts, in managing existing structures and planning new ones. A ‘reality deficit’ has opened up in too many instances, reflecting badly on ALL where shortcomings are often very specific.
Yes, but, we are told ad nauseum daily, the country needs to transform, as if that explains and condones everything, irrespective of outcomes.
There is such a thing as constructive transformation (in other words “change” in simple language) and then there is something that is clearly destructive transformation. And for deep psychological reasons the choice of destructive transformation is apparently fine, while any suggestions of constructive transformation are frequently made off as distastefully uninformed and not in tune with the wishes of the majority.
This aside of constructive transformation actually yielding the positive results demanded by ordinary folk, while destructive transformation hardens the structural shortcomings while only favouring a relative few, at the great cost of the many, either directly (the tax, fee-paying middle class) or opportunity lost (the poor).
Government has apparently been captured in a strategic sense by a mix of ardent idealists, populists and traditionalists who fail to sense or acknowledge their often breathtaking, cumulative destructiveness.
Instead, we are told, things will be fine as we march yet deeper into unknown territory. The looming nuclear deal, like previous weapons, airplanes and railway rolling stock deals, but also highway tolling plans, creates a deep unease in those that will face the final bill.
And this feeds a deepening disagreement in the insider ranks opposite from that offered up by the poor downtrodden outsiders.
There is unease about public corruption, self-enrichment, plain misleading about qualifications, and resulting incompetence of a multitude of public officials who should never have been tempted in the first instance.
But that is in the nature of destructive transformation that sidesteps rational rules, ultimately including the Constitution, in favour of simpler ways of getting things done.
But in the process something very precious is being sacrificed, thrashed in too many places beyond recognition, whether physically or in terms of accepted behaviour.
There is little logic to it, except emotion. The results plainly do not bring a genuinely better life for all, as compared to only favouring the chosen few, who are admitted to the ranks of the middle class (while others are forced out to make way for the many newcomers, as the larger cake doesn’t grow fast enough to accommodate everyone in comfort).
So for us not the Singaporean or South Korean or Taiwanese upliftment of the broader society. Instead much talk, many more claims, and a reality that doesn’t come close to doing justice to the original ideals of the governing party.
Will that party take back its birthright, and start genuinely delivering in the broadest sense, through constructive transformation?
It certainly remains early days, given the daily assessment dispensed with great conviction by those ruling us, with apparently not the slightest indication of budging, indeed the very opposite (digging in, with supposedly no end in sight until the Second Coming?). But their logic harvests its own results, and these are not getting better. As a consequence, the unease in the ranks keeps growing, because where is this supposed to lead?
There are many who don’t necessarily want a change of direction, to whom the chosen destructive transformation tools are fine. And then there are steadily more of those who object to this illogical way of squandering precious resources and foreclosing on futures even as the greater poor multitude demands to have its condition improved.
This is a historic clash. Its resolution, one way or the other, will determine our future for generations to come. There is no certainty on this score, only fear and unease, and a growing clash of wills across many fronts in society.
* Cees Bruggemans is consulting economist at Bruggemans & Associates and Professor Willie Esterhuyse is a political commentator
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