Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The ruling party’s second decade in power is increasingly generating public protest against the lack of delivery. Only today I heard some disturbing reports of popular discord in Vryheid. This follows the large-scale demonstrations across the nation prior to the 2006 local government elections.
In many respects, today’s demonstrations markedly resemble the pre-1994 struggle antics with anti-apartheid activists damaging infrastructure and boycotting municipal services. What we see in Vryheid and elsewhere confirms the trend that thirteen years after liberation many South Africans still feel they have not been liberated at all.
The other aspect of this is the tragic fact that we are reaping the fruits of internalising a culture of ungovernability during the liberation struggle. Many of us will remember the chants “we want to make the country ungovernable. We want to the townships ungovernable”.
The traditional interpretation of this phenomenon by the South African Communist Party is that political liberation was not immediately followed by economic liberation. They do have a point. The reverse scenario is to be found in the People’s Republic of China where partial economic liberation has never been matched by political liberation. The SACP would argue that we need a classic Marxist revolution to reverse the trend. This is where I disagree.
For me, the argument has always been more about wealth creation than wealth redistribution. I do not believe that one person’s wealth is at the expense of another person’s poverty. I am more concerned with baking a bigger cake than slicing up the currently available cake.
The ruling party, usually in denial of legitimate criticisms, has acknowledged the existence of public protests in its own way. It has gone on the defensive. This has been evidenced by a remarkable shift in government discourse. Far from promising a million houses in five years like the ANC did in 1994, we are now inundated by the statistics of how much the ruling party has achieved in the past thirteen years, apparently against all odds.
The truth is that a large segment of the post-1994 delivery has been based on the premise of wealth redistribution rather than genuine wealth creation. The current economic growth, albeit higher than under sanctions, comes nowhere near the economic performance of the Asian Tigers and the like. If you think that rapid economic growth is a South-East Asian peculiarity, then what about the Celtic Tiger of Ireland?
The next object of liberation in South Africa must be our national economy. Our people have been given political rights, but they still lack the freedom to participate fully in the market economy. The labour market, as I have pointed out in previous online letters, remains constrained by racially-defined regulations resulting in skills shortage and our financial markets still bear the brunt of the ancient sanctions-busting strategies.
So far in my argument, I have separated politics from economics, but, as we all know, economics has a political fuse. The question I am asking now is whether human rights, which are an explicit political concept, have an equally explicit economic aspect. In other words, are economic rights really political rights? My instinct is that this is not necessarily so. I believe that the primary political right is the right to vote. I also believe that the best place for the electorate to decide future economic policy is at the ballot box.
The obvious danger here is that the lack of progress in achieving economic rights will unravel the hard fought for political rights. Interestingly, opinion surveys often indicate that people who register the smallest improvements in their lives tend to be the most optimistic. But it is for the government, rather than the opposition to capitalise on optimism.
There is an additional point I wish to make. One fact of life is that we get the government we deserve. Many demonstrators across South Africa resent the lack of essential services, yet they cheerfully march into the ballot box and vote for the party which is directly responsible!
Are these people the victims of unclear public policy or inept political parties unable to explain themselves and offer a crisp, comprehensible and instantly recognisable alternative? I would venture a bit of both.
Where does this leave the political organisation I lead: the Inkatha Freedom Party? The IFP has consistently advocated a free enterprise economy in which the fruits of growth are shared on merit. This sounds elementary, but have we succeeded in conveying our message in our actions as well as our words to our core base and beyond? It would appear that if we concentrate our focus on formulating clear political choices and public policy preferences, we may actually find a way out of the current malaise.
This might be unusually candid for a politician, but I know herein lies the solution to serving people’s expectations and, ultimately, preventing popular discord. My readers might be surprised that I earlier quoted the SACP.
I am happy to indulge any left-leaning observers with one last thought. Kier Hardy, the founder of Britain’s Labour movement said that a political party is a crusade or nothing at all. I cannot disagree.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 555 7144