The ‘F’ word has been creeping into the lexicon of the chattering classes more regularly of late.
By the ‘F’ word, I don’t mean the ‘F’ bomb, but far more ominously, the ‘Failed’ word to describe the current and future state of South Africa. Some pessimistic commentators, politicians and self-promoting financial advisors have leached the ‘Failed’ word into common parlance, while an uncritical local media has regurgitated these alarmist outpourings without applying any thoughtful filter.
Former State President, Thabo Mbeki, added credence to these sensational prognostications recently by warning that we are facing our own Arab Spring, implying that we are sitting atop a national tinder box of unemployment, poverty, frustration and anger that is ready to explode. For a former State President who prides himself on his intellectual, analytical and philosophical prowess, Mbeki’s analysis is miscast. The Arab Spring was in essence a popular revolt against undemocratic authoritarian regimes that spread through a contagion effect across the Sahel.
By contrast, South Africa is neither authoritarian or undemocratic. As a constitutional democracy, South Africans enjoys an extraordinary array of rights and freedoms, a robust media, a strong and independent judiciary and a highly developed civil society. But there is another vital feature of South Africa that distinguishes it from its North African and Arab neighbours and that is its economy. While South Africa’s share of global GDP has shrunk in the 21st century, particularly when measured against its BRICS counterparts, it is by far the most diverse, advanced and sophisticated economy on the African continent. Only South Africa can boast a truly advanced mixed economy that combines its unique natural resources bounty, with world-class manufacturing capacity, a leading-edge financial system and a highly-advanced services sector. Post the Covid lockdown, South Africa’s tourism sector is showing encouraging signs of recovery – affirming its status as one of the most attractive destinations for global holiday-makers.
So, what’s the problem and why are we hearing so much of the ‘F’ word? One answer is a failure of political leadership. While the nine wasted Zuma years hollowed out far too much of what is good about our country, current political leadership has failed abysmally to tap into and harness the enormous energy, entrepreneurship, and goodwill that characterises South Africans. Rather, we have been left frustrated by the warmed-over platitudinous neo-Marxist slop that is served up as ‘policy’, while failing to take the necessary steps to pluck even the lowest hanging fruit.
For example, crisp, clear and costed solutions to the chronic power cuts have been on the table for years, yet Independent Power Producers have come and gone, leaving our shores and taking with them oven-ready solutions that have gone stale on the altar of political ineptitude, indecision, corruption, malfeasance and ideological dogma. In contrast to the energy and job-generative, privately funded, sustainable solutions offered by IPPs, the Minister of Minerals and Energy has now floated the idea of an Eskom ll as the ‘solution’ to our energy needs. Alarmingly, rather than treating this proposal with the contempt it is due, our State President reportedly regarded this a “good idea”.
So, I offer one, and only one, piece of advice to our State President. Take just one good idea – the creation of the social compact promised in this year’s State of the Nation – and implement it. Nothing could be more important to erasing the ‘F’ word Mr President.