Critical and strategic national conversations seldom occur during an election year, and this year is not going to be an exception. As evidenced by the content of the election manifestos of different political parties, election pork pies, pipe dreams and things utopian have taken centre stage.
As they say about heated arguments, maybe it is always much wiser to strike when the iron is cold. It may, therefore, be much wiser to engage in strategic national conversations after the elections. What are these ‘strategic conversations’ I am talking about?
First of all, these conversations must start with an honest, sober and nonpartisan assessment of the state of the nation. And, if the discussions I have been having with people across the political spectrum over the last few months are anything to go by, they may be evidence of a growing hunger in this country for nonpartisan leadership and deliberations about the state of our nation. In fact, without effective nonpartisan leadership, we will remain too internally divided as a people to unite behind a common vision for our future. In other words, if leaders in business, politics, labour and elsewhere in our society continue failing to lead beyond the narrow confines of their sectional and immediate interests, ours will be a future of underperformance relative to our peers on the continent and emerging powers and markets. More important in this regard is the possibility that the continuing failures in leadership will render inevitable South Africa’s inexorable slide towards a perfect storm of citizen discontent.
It is for this reason that I take seriously the economic proposals and other proposals contained in the election manifestos of the African National Congress (ANC), the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Contained in the campaign promises of the DA, EFF and the ANC is the promise of a nirvana of economic prosperity and South Africa as a twenty-first century land of milk and honey.
The DA is telling voters that it will deliver 8% economic growth and voters, as it says, must believe the party because a group of researchers at the South African Reserve Bank has made the same promise.
The ANC continues to talk tough and left on the economy but will probably do more or less what it has been doing since 1996. It will continue to be sensitive more to the concerns of constituencies that will never vote for it. What this means is that the poor and the working class engage in an exercise in disenfranchisement every time they cast their vote. This time, the ANC, according to the authors of its election manifesto, will effect a radical shift in the content of economic policy. It is not clear why voters should believe the ruling party in 2014, given the fact that they have made this promise on countless occasions in the past.
The EFF, for its part, is either a victim of grand economic and ideological illusions or is genuinely trying to force on us a conversation about the need for a counterhegemonic logic in the economic discourse. In other words, those who are going to put their mark next to the face of the EFF commander-in-chief, Julius Malema, will do so not because the promises are not utopian, but will do so in the belief that they see their social and economic conditions, that is, themselves, reflected in both the promises and how the EFF describes their conditions of underdevelopment.
When I look at the promises that are being made by all the parties, I am tempted to put my mark next to the faces of all their leaders, but the mark would probably be a drawing of my middle finger. Seriously, though, we cannot afford to continue having the same economic conversation we have been having since 1996 and hope to achieve different results for our people. We must have a serious look at which interests have benefited the most from the conversation.
Should our people continue to be the recipients of scraps from those who are dominant in the economy? What is the point of being a political majority when you are an economic minority? In short, to aver that South Africa belongs to all who live in it is to tell a lie, since in the economy, where it matters the most, that is definitely not the case.
The fundamental strategic national conversation we must have after the election must be about how we are going to change this. South Africa and the continent must ask themselves whether they are getting a fair share from the exploitation of their resources. The fact that African leaders get their fair share from the exploitation of our resources and do so at our expense and that of our economies impugns the dignity of all Africans.