Gerhard Papenfus: NDR – a path of disempowerment, uncertainty & poverty

It’s true that a leopard never changes its spots, but it’s at times like these, that one wishes it could. Many proponents are challenging the current leadership on its growth strategy, slowly coming to the realisation that it won’t bring about the desired numbers needed for adequate job creation. And what that may bring to an already fragile economy is unfathomable. Cees Bruggemans recently unpacked his theory in the piece: SA stuck in the past, miss the future.. at what cost? Below Gerhard Papenfus joins the anti-choir and says the ANC’s current program is stripping the already disadvantaged of their potential and self-esteem, binding them into a state or permanent helplessness. – Stuart Lowman


by Gerhard Papenfus*

During the ANC’s recent lekgotla, the Minister of Finance warned that South Africa is stuck in a low growth trap, currently far below the global average economic growth, with the risk of social unrest and political consequences. How will the ANC respond to this?

Even if it so desires, the ANC, Cosatu, SACP (Tripartite) Alliance, is incapable of meeting this challenge as a result of its current ideology and policies as contained in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Any strategy, without a fundamental break with this ideology and its policies and tactics, is inevitably bound to fail, in the process also setting South Africa up for failure.

The NDR, which forms the foundation of the Alliance’s policies, is all about the resolution of historical injustice and vast material gain through redistribution. The inherent philosophy of both these objectives hold the potential to ensnare those who are misled into believing that they will benefit through it, into everlasting disempowerment, uncertainty and poverty.

The resolution of historical injustice, unless the aim is reconciliation and healing of both the perpetrator and the victim, is unproductive, uninspired and limiting. The resolution of historical injustice, in the manner envisaged by the NDR, is widening division and is driving groups apart; this can only lead to increased polarisation, conflict and consequently poverty. This is indeed the direction in which South Africa is moving; and persisting with these policies will invariably lead to the continuous deterioration of an already fragile national landscape, affecting every facet of our society.

Redistribution policies, in whichever guise, have never created sustainable wealth. In the South African context (and this is admittedly an oversimplification of a complex matter), dividing that which belongs to 3 million between 45 million, will never render the desired result. The outcome will always be disappointing and short-lived, unless a privileged few are the only beneficiaries of these spoils, in which case this form of enrichment will be worthwhile for them; but it will never create lasting wealth.

A decent life, in whatever sense, can only be the accumulated result of skills, sustained hard work, discipline, perseverance and integrity. There is just no other formula. Wealth obtained in any other way is temporary, and is always more detrimental than beneficial.

The recovery of Germany after the Second World War was the result of the collective resolve of the German people. Fortunately for them, there was nobody to take from. It was left to them to rebuild something from nothing. There was nobody else to blame for their misery, nobody else to take from and nothing left to redistribute. It was their responsibility to build a prosperous Germany out of the ashes of war. The same applies to Japan, South Korea, Israel and many other current prospering nations; the collective attitude of accepting responsibility, a realisation that unless you make it happen, it’s not going to happen. The collective absence of entitlement, together with the collective acceptance of responsibility, can create lasting wealth.

In South Africa, the complete opposite is taking place. Instead of encouraging people to tap into yet undiscovered potential, instead of encouraging people to develop and to take responsibility for their own lives, to develop those attributes which will lead to sustained improved quality of living, the ‘previously disadvantaged’ are made to believe that they must find their fortunes in laying claim to that which others already have. Through this message the already disadvantaged are stripped of their potential and self-esteem, binding them into a state of permanent helplessness.

Those who are fortunate to realise that entitlement and redistribution, in the long run, is a cul-de-sac, will continue to be innovative, compelled to always be vigilant for new opportunities and be inspired to explore unchartered territories. This is the sphere where real wealth, in terms of the broader meaning of the word, can be found.

The beneficiaries of redistribution policies do not need to apply these attributes. For them wealth lies in that which is easy to access and which somebody else has already accumulated. Perhaps that explains the level of crime, corruption and the blistering pace of self-enrichment; it is a desperate ‘grab-what-you-can-get’ attitude – while the resources are still available. Crime, corruption and redistribution policies all fall in this category. Those unfortunate enough to be caught in this trap of disempowerment, do not believe themselves capable of creating anything and therefore place themselves in a permanent state of poverty from which they cannot escape.

The NDR’s model of redistribution is pure propaganda, a misrepresentation, limiting and disempowering. It is for this reason that those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of redistribution will ultimately be the losers. Within the context of this ideology the gap between the ‘haves and have-nots’ has increased over the last few years. As the pace of redistribution polices increase, so will this gap.

It is natural to desire retribution on those who caused you hardship. One might argue that the perpetrators of apartheid should somehow pay; but therein South Africa’s salvation will not be found. Unless those viewed as perpetrators of apartheid also have a future and are also afforded the opportunity of full participation in the economy, unless the underlying unrighteousness of racism, past and present, is eradicated, South Africa will never prosper. Unless we completely eliminate the evils of racism, South Africa will continue to carry the seed of division and hatred, which leads to poverty.

It is now up to the leadership to take us forward. There are two options. The short-sighted easy option is the populist one, which will buy short term political convenience. This is the option where people are told what they want to hear, false hope is created and the past is blamed for current inadequacies.

The other option is one of reconciliation, including drawing all citizens into the main stream economy. This alternative requires delivering an unpopular message, challenging all South Africans to take up personal responsibility, convincing them that only hard work and personal commitment will secure a better future. This option inherently contains the only sustainable outcome, requiring bold leadership.

*Gerhard Papenfus is chief executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa

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