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LONDON — It is always controversial when newspapers take sides in elections. Political parties demand even-handedness during an election campaign. The influential UK-based The Economist – it calls itself a newspaper even though it is published in magazine form – has openly come out in support of SA’s President Cyril Ramaphosa. On the front page of its 27th of April edition it features a picture of Ramaphosa with the heading “South Africa’s best bet”. The paper devoted several pages to a special report on the South African election and the main message of the article is that Ramaphosa is a “good man” with a “bad party” and “to stop the rot in South Africa”, voters should “back Cyril Ramaphosa.” It is however not only an article singing the praises of Ramaphosa; there is a lengthy analysis of the corruption and deterioration of South Africa under ANC-rule. For Ramaphosa, the Economist is an important endorsement as its readers include many influential investors that South Africa’s president is trying to tap for the $100bn he is trying to raise from foreign investors in his five year plan. For SA’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, this comes at the wrong time just days before it is trying to lure disillusioned voters away from the ANC. Especially since the backing of the ANC by The Economist is a reversal of the position the newspaper took in the 2014 elections, when it actually endorsed the DA. The loud protest of the “unconscionable endorsement” in the open letter below by the DA’s John Steenhuisen asking for a retraction by the Economist is likely to be ignored. The DA says the Economist refused them a full right of reply. Here’s the letter the UK editors wouldn’t publish. – Linda van Tilburg
The Economist’s unconscionable endorsement of the ANC
By John Steenhuisen*
Your endorsement of the ruling African National Congress ahead of democratic South Africa’s sixth general election is irresponsible and unconscionable. The ANC is a criminal syndicate that will destroy South Africa if it remains in power for another decade.
Your argument that a stronger mandate will help President Cyril Ramaphosa push through a reform agenda by somehow (no mechanism given because none exists) strengthening him against the crooks in his party is deeply flawed.
This is the same crowd that supported former president Jacob Zuma through eight motions of no confidence as he looted the state and destroyed its institutions, only to replace him when it came time to save themselves ahead of this election. You have the Trojan Horse thing back to front: Ramaphosa is the mechanism to get the ANC back into power, not the other way around.
South Africa is on its knees after 25 years of one-party dominance by a patronage-driven party that works only to enrich a connected elite. Our democracy urgently needs a strong alternative. Even if the liberal Democratic Alliance cannot win in this election, South Africans need to see that another way is possible. A weak ANC mandate coupled with a strong showing for the DA can only strengthen Ramaphosa’s so-called reform agenda.
Under a stronger ANC, the fate of 58 million South Africans hangs on a single person. This is an extraordinarily high-risk outcome. Were Ramaphosa to be recalled by his party, South Africa would be left in the hands of Deputy President DD Mabuza who has looted and allegedly killed his way to the top.
With a strong showing, the message from the electorate will be one of impunity, which will embolden the crooks in his party. Indeed, the only reason Ramaphosa won the ANC Presidency was because of the party’s poor showing in the 2016 election. Mabuza realised his best route to the top was to throw his bought-with-public-funds support in with Ramaphosa.
A weak mandate for the ANC coupled with a strong showing for the liberal DA will strengthen the push for reform by making the ANC more responsive to the country’s interests. And it will prevent the ANC and socialist, populist EFF from together achieving the constitutional majority required to change the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation.
As for Ramaphosa’s supposed “reform agenda”, there is little evidence of it other than his tepid fight against corruption. So far, he has supported the attack on property rights and the forced investment of pension funds into chronically corrupt, bankrupt state-owned enterprises as well as the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and of SA’s health system.
Ramaphosa was deputy president and head of the ANC’s cadre deployment committee during Zuma’s State Capture drive. He was tasked to fix Eskom in 2015 and today the power utility is in a death spiral and looks set to take our economy down with it.
The Economist should issue a fulsome retraction before 8 May 2019 or it will find itself on the wrong side of history. DM
- John Steenhuisen is Chief Whip, Democratic Alliance.