What if the democratic experiment in SA fails: Shawn Hagedorn

South Africa faces a looming crisis if ANC aligns with EFF or MK, risking erosion of constitutional protections and economic stability amid deepening youth unemployment. Patronage-driven policies prioritize redistribution over growth, hindering progress. Media landscapes, shaped by DEI narratives, face disruption as AI challenges biased reporting. Musk’s influence highlights the need for less partisan news, urging pragmatic solutions over ideological divides to navigate complex economic challenges and foster sustainable growth.

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By Shawn Hagedorn*

If next month they form a national ruling coalition with the EFF or MK, ANC leaders will have decided to avoid legitimate elections in 2029.

South Africa has the world’s most entrenched youth unemployment crisis. Over the next five years, the number of permanently marginalised young-ish adults will rise more than a million.

As the ANC can only expect that its electoral support will have dwindled by 2029, they would want EFF or MK leaders working within a coalition government, to accelerate the erosion of constitutional protections. The pretence of coalition partners possibly vacating the Union Building in 2029 would pass.

That is not a random scenario; it is among the most likely. A coalition government that includes either the EFF or MK would almost certainly be disastrous for our economy and it is naive to casually presume that our democracy would be allowed to survive.

Viewed from afar, South Africa is on track to soon being seen as the nation that institutionalised Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) ideology and then, rather promptly, failed. Viewed domestically, the severe implications of our youth unemployment crisis are hard to accept − so we play down its corrosive economic and political effects.

South Africa’s living standards should be rising as this mostly just requires raising our workers’ productivity − which shouldn’t be difficult. Unfortunately, however, half of our youth workforce is idle, and at risk of becoming permanently marginalised.

Sustaining significantly higher GDP with normal-level service delivery is perhaps our best, realistic scenario. But there would still be over two hundred thousand young would-be workers drifting into permanent marginalisation each year for many years.

Read more: SA economy reels from R850bn loss due to six successive shocks

Greatly hinder

Those in South Africa whose views most coincide with anti-western university protesters are those who have been setting our nation’s policies for thirty years. Today’s youth unemployment scarring, which traces to the ANC prioritising redistribution over growth, will greatly hinder our economy over the next thirty years.

The injustice of extreme inequality was exploited to justify sacrificing growth. The key beneficiaries of redistribution-centric policies were the new political elites whose electoral strategy relies heavily on patronage. This was always going to backfire politically and this has now happened in urban areas.

For the ANC to choose to align with the EFF or MK would amount to doubling down on patronage. Growth would continue to flatline or decline, while dissatisfaction would be compounding at an accelerating rate. Mitigating some extreme failures would be heralded as progress while prospects wither.

The ANC politics and policies have crushed the hopes of most of our born-free adults. In the court of global opinion, South Africa has become exhibit “A” evidencing how victimhood politics cements inequality amid rising poverty and unemployment.

Mainstream western university and media have, like the ANC, obscured the reality of needing to navigate among imperfect options. Instead, public opinion is shaped by combining oppressor-versus-oppressed narratives with the appeal of idyllic outcomes.

Read more: Investors shouldn’t count out SA’s economy just yet, StanChart says

Mundane grind

Whereas life is largely a mundane grind, our 1994 political transition was globally celebrated as good triumphing over evil. This was a wholly unrealistic precedent for setting expectations on how to best navigate our formidable economic challenges and tradeoffs. The stage was set for the ruthless to outmanoeuvre the idealists. It now seems that the final act will begin as the votes are soon counted.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy is being recast as a tragedy where outstanding courage and compassion are sullied by the greed and indifference of the failed leaders who followed him. The South African who now strides across global stages is the world’s most impactful entrepreneur.

Elon Musk’s many oversized ambitions include making media output more truthful. The knowledge curators who dominate universities and media companies have benefited from the landscape being so broad and multi-tiered. This has favoured those who could best weaponise language and narratives.

Now, however, protests on college campuses are provoking intense scrutiny of how DEI initiatives have corrupted values at many universities and media houses. Meanwhile, AI is about to fundamentally reinvent how information is gathered and processed.

Corroborating biases becomes more profitable than upholding high journalistic standards through audiences becoming addicted to having their views validated. As so many mainstream media houses routinely encourage their audiences to reach a judgemental conclusion that validates their ideologically framed values, AI and, to a lesser extent X, pose existential threats to how major media outlets bond with their audiences.

Read more: DA burning flag ad sparks debate on free speech and national identity – Sara Gon

Ripe for disruption

While continuing to severely disrupt more than half-a-dozen other key industries, Musk has recently been targeting mass media. His actions and comments make clear that he thinks this sector is ripe for disruption as their basic value proposition is so profoundly flawed.

K-through-12 teachers and professors had long sought to prepare students to contribute constructively to society. That objective seems to have lost much ground as students are now conditioned to judge using oppressors-versus-oppressed framing. Such conditioning is reinforced by many media outlets.

Claiming that people are being programmed sounds like a grand conspiracy theory. But as AI chatbots are becoming less partisan, we are entering a phase where the programming which empowers AI will be used to unpack how people have been programmed, over roughly the last half century, to increasingly favour ideologies and judging over pragmatic considerations like solutions and tradeoffs.

DEI initiatives are no more pro-growth than the ANC’s redistribution-focused policies. While diversity and inclusion are important priorities consistent with sustaining rapid growth, equitable outcomes is a delusional policy objective which supports abundant patronage while undermining growth.

It seems that Musk had quite a broad vision when he bought Twitter. Too bad that South Africa’s wobbling so badly validates the need for less partisan news reporting.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

*For 20 years, Shawn Hagedorn has been regularly writing articles in leading SA publications, focusing primarily on economic development.