Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The Inauguration of President Jacob Zuma on Saturday, the easy narrative goes, signified both an ending and beginning in our country’s fast-changing story. Of course, real life is not like that at all: the past constantly impacts on the present, and yesterday’s dramatis personae linger like Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth. But yes, the symbolism and muted tone of the inauguration; not least the conciliatory overture to former President Thabo Mbeki, drew a pencil line under the recent past.
Before turning to my hopes for President Zuma’s government, a brief word about his inauguration address. It was just right for these grey times: plain-speaking, workmanlike, and infused with a light sprinkling of gravitas.
Msholozi’s invocation of Madiba’s song of liberty and non-racialism was spot on too. President Zuma’s personality also chimes with the times. I know Mr Zuma to be a man of friendship; a natural reconciler by temperament. Whilst exhibiting courtesy and respect, Mr Zuma lacks cant and grandiosity.
President Zuma also comes into office with an unusual advantage. When Barack Obama was elected last year, I wrote in this column "I fear that expectations of Obama are so high and so undefined, disenchantment could quickly follow, if sober minds and commonsense do not prevail". The truth is that expectations, after the profound national drift that has afflicted and paralysed SA in recent times, are at an all time low. So things can only really get better.
He does share, however, with his American counterpart, a bewildering panoply of public policy decisions: alternative energy, redefining SAs relationship (please note that "relations" have replaced "foreign affairs") with the world, universal healthcare, racial and ethnic tolerance and diversity, and restoring faith in the market economy. The latter, with the inclusion of prominent leftists in the new government, is of particular salience.
Mr Zuma’s pragmatist instincts might stand him in good stead as he comes to office at a time when the store cupboard of ideas – be it ‘left’ or ‘right’ – is looking threadbare. There seems to be no pattern or trend as governments of the left and right rise and fall across the democratic world: the centre right reigns in France and Germany and the left is trying to hang on to power in Britain ahead of the European elections next month.
The once invincible certitudes of Reaganomics/Thatcherism have disappeared as Obama tries to halt the world’s largest economy’s "deflationary spiral" (in layman’s terms, a vicious economic cycle of falling wages and prices).
On Monday the cost of this evasive action was revealed to be a 2009-10 deficit in the region of $1.84trillion. SA’s rescue plan, unbeknown to most South Africans, is far more ambitious in per capita terms. Mr Zuma has another key advantage here too. The political opposition has yet to offer a policy alternative to this economic lacuna. And let us not forget, all economic projects have a political fuse.
South Africa today remains as much a two-tiered economy as ever; one rivalling other developed countries and the other with only the most basic infrastructure and shocking levels of poverty and inequality. On the one hand, private sector, mostly on its own initiative, has become more advanced, more liquid and better able to fund new ideas whereas, on the other, the number of people living on less than one US dollar a day has, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations, increased by 122.6% between 1996 and 2005.
Statistically acute poverty peaked in 2002 and has since declined marginally, largely because of social grants and miniscule job growth. Both the post-apartheid South African state and the ruling ANC which has managed it to its own image, continue to be rather precarious economists, perhaps well-intentioned ones, but ones that are abominably short on delivery and implementation.
The new Presidency should perhaps desist from its predecessors’ grandiose plans and, like us in the IFP, begin to view poverty as an individual’s condition.
The task of its eradication would then be about improving one person’s plight at a time. The ruling party should resist the tendency towards sweeping government interventions with unpredictable consequences. The ANC should reassess its implicit assumption about the role of government which renders the public sector all-powerful with the capacity to intervene and contribute positively in every nook and cranny of our society.
It seems to me that a new era is upon us of sharp-minded, compassionate but unsentimental people, not necessarily, as I have alluded, political or party people, who can propose and develop fresh thinking; and the hunt for such people and ideas is on. This brings me directly to the new cabinet.
The expanded cabinet is, in my view, too big and unwieldy; too Sovietesque in its size and ambition. But it does includes some real talent. The appointment of Pravin Gordhan is the brightest star in the new constellation allaying fears that SA’s macro-economic stability could implode into a black hole after Trevor Manual’s exit.
Mr Manual’s deployment to the new Orwellian sounding Ministry of National Planning might provide some "joined-up" think in government policy; but its real importance lies in the comforting signal to the markets that Mr Manual’s retention provides. On balance, I go with the consensus. I would say the cabinet is what the political exigencies of the hour dictate: a painstakingly stitched compromise, between maintaining the cohesion of the tripartite alliance and the growing clamour for better service delivery.
Finally, Mr Zuma has one last advantage – his biggest. South Africa is institutionally and economically the most advanced country on the continent. We are blessed with a spirit of enterprise, we always make the best of every situation and we are, as they say, "alive with possibility". Good luck Msholozi!
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Liezl van der Merwe, 083 611 7470.