The National Treasury recently released a bold and pragmatic discussion paper titled “Towards an Economic Strategy for South Africa”. It is breath of fresh air and has the potential to usher in change and bring hope to many South Africans. It could not have come at a better time.
The Treasury’s paper is to be welcomed by all South Africans concerned about the depressing, downward trajectory the country has been on over the past decade and who fervently want to extricate it from the political instability, policy uncertainty and grand-scale corruption it finds itself in. This toxic cocktail has pushed the country to the precipice.
In the current socio-economic situation, characterised by massive 29% unemployment and youth unemployment upwards of 54%, grinding poverty levels upwards of 51% of households and resultant accompanying crime and other social instability, it is imperative to approach the discussion with a clear and open mind and to objectively engage with proposals in the paper.
The turbulent sea of unemployed people and those who have given up hope of finding a job now exceeds 6.7 million. They have lost patience and are tired of being fed cheap politics and rhetorical ideological fixations. Every day desperate people burn tar, clinics or libraries, which are seen as symbols of a state failing them. They march and picket to demand real and genuine change to better their lives. Foreign-owned shops are looted under different guises and foreign truck drivers are attacked because they are accused of “stealing the jobs” of locals.
The introduction of the GEAR policy package in the mid-1990s was widely accepted as a necessary and appropriate way to address existential challenges of macro-economic stability in a debt crisis and to grow the economy. Today it is almost universally agreed that it was the right remedy to cushion the country from effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. Benefits were in the form of sustainability of government public subsidy programmes in health, education, housing and other important services. There was economic growth.
These benefits were effectively used by political incumbents during the “nine wasted years” and during subsequent election campaigns – until the money ran out, due to a lack of prudent management of resources and efficacious economic policy management.
Those zealous ideologues who smeared GEAR and attached all sorts of labels to it, prior to and during the nine wasted years, once in government offices, had no shame in claiming personal glory for the impact of a strategic policy they had denounced as “right-wing”. Already noisy voices from within the so-called governing alliance are rubbishing Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s discussion document without any objective analysis. One wonders if they had even read it before their boring and unconvincing press conference.
As we seek to rebuild our devastated economy and create jobs, we must not be dragged back into a repeat of the “Nintendo” ideological games that will never put food on the tables of the poor or create a better life for the majority. We must not be held hostage to ideological gimmicks again.
We need viable and practical solutions to raise the bar and for the sustainable well-being of the nation. We cannot afford more policy inertia while our peer nations forge ahead with higher economic growth in a world economic system to which we are inextricably linked.
An initial study of the Treasury document shows it to be well researched, evidence-based, underpinned by empirical and methodical analysis of the South Africa reality and devoid of subjectivity or political arrogance. It is to be embraced and engaged with objectively, with a view to finding solutions to the many crises we face in this country.
The document puts forward proposals that resonate with observations made by various knowledgeable stakeholders – independent economists, ordinary citizens and private-sector organisations – who have been frustrated by a lack of transparent policy engagement from the government.
Finally, after a rude awakening in the form of the impending disaster, somebody has had the guts to kick the door open.
The paper acknowledges, “Inequality contributes to extremely divergent views, which make compromise difficult – the resulting stalemate and policy uncertainty can contribute to economic weakness.” We need to heed this warning and tread carefully in search of the workable and inclusive solutions that this paper tries to direct us towards. It cannot be déjà vu in terms of jettisoning sound and valid propositions that seek to build.
We desperately need the government, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to take a strong leadership role and push ahead with these necessary reforms.
GEAR was strongly supported and led by the late President Nelson Mandela. And it worked. We cannot afford any equivocation or vacillation of leadership. Filibustering and playing ideological mind games while Rome burns must be resisted – and viewed as anti-progress.
The democratically elected government, not some unelected lumpen “cadre” with a false sense of self-importance, must come forward to lead a noble effort to ensure change and instil hope in all South Africans.
Mboweni has raised his hand. We should join hands with him in rebuilding our battered economy and souls. Let’s engage in the battle of ideas.
- Pakes Dikgetsi is MD of Karabo Strategic Advisory and was formerly COPE national chairperson.
OPINION: Pakes Dikgetsi