In SA the darkest hour is often just before the dawn

Dave Steward responds to Magnus Heystek's despondent article on the state of the country


The Foundation has been asked by a number of friends to comment on Magnus Heystek's recent, very gloomy, article about South Africa's prospects (see Moneyweb article on the "Death of the Rainbow Nation" here).

Let us say at the outset that there are many cogent reasons for concern: as readers of our articles will be aware we have frequently commented on - and warned about - many of the issues that are now causing Heystek so much despondency. 

We were one of the first organisations to draw attention to the very negative implications of the ANC's National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Two years ago, FW de Klerk stated bluntly that South Africa was at a crossroads: it could either take the path of the pragmatic National Development Plan (NDP) - or it could continue along the road of the ‘second radical phase of the implementation of the NDR' then being advocated by the ANC. Sadly, the ANC chose to trundle down the NDR road with only a minimal nod in the direction of the NDP. 

Recently, we warned about the degree to which the SACP has seized control of the direction of the NDR and economic policy - and how this is increasingly reflected in laws and approaches that are undermining property rights and free market approaches. We have also drawn attention to the catastrophic impact of our militant trade unions - many of them to the left of the SACP - and the predictable effect on international ratings, overseas and domestic investment, economic growth and unemployment.

Added to all this is the sordid spectacle of Nkandla; fiasco after fiasco in our parastatals - or should they be called parasitals? - and the shocking invasion of Parliament last week by the riot police.

South Africans who are not worried simply do not understand what is happening.

However, if Heystek thinks the situation now is fraught with danger, he should cast his mind back to August 1985. PW Botha had just delivered his Rubicon speech; the Rand was falling through the floor; foreign banks were refusing to roll over our short-term loans; the economy was increasingly hamstrung by sanctions; the townships were ungovernable with nightly scenes of violence; the international media were circling like vultures, waiting to swoop on the carcass of the latest failed state.   

The uncertainty continued during the constitutional negotiations. On Sunday, 30 May 1993, I made the following entry in my diary:

"God knows what the future holds. We certainly do not - lurching as we are from crisis to crisis, adrift from the realities of the country. Where will the river sweep us? We do not know: shoddy decline into a socialist pit? Civil war? The resurgence of the right and forward to the past?"

In fact, the river swept us to the New South Africa. Sanity prevailed. Leaders from all our major parties reached agreement on a new non-racial Constitution with a strong Bill of Rights. 

That ‘world-class' Constitution - that Heystek so easily derides - provided the foundation for stability and progress for the next 20 years. It has repeatedly shown its ability to protect our freedoms and to assure our rights. Time after time, our courts have fearlessly struck down unconstitutional laws and executive action.

Under the direction of Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel, South Africa experienced 15 years of uninterrupted economic growth that exceeded 5% in 2005/2006. The government ran a budget surplus and reduced our national debt to only 23% of GDP. 

And then, at the ANC National Conference in Polokwane in December 2007, everything changed. The SACP and COSATU won what they called ‘the battle for the heart and soul of the ANC'. By persuading only 10% of the delegates at the conference to shift their support from President Mbeki to Jacob Zuma, they were able to seize control of the state - including the legislature, the Presidency and the executive. The SACP has since then redirected economic policy and the NDR toward the achievement of its socialist goals.

This is the main cause for South Africa's descent into the parlous situation described by Heystek.  

The question now is how we should react? Should we transfer our wealth overseas before the gates of exchange control are slammed shut? Should we wring our hands in impotent despair? Should we leave for the anodyne security of Perth or Vancouver?

Do not look for words of comfort or for easy solutions. There are none. South Africa has always been a hard and dangerous place - a place for courageous, tough and resilient people.

We should rally together with the moderate majority from all our communities - just as we did in the early 90s - to defend the constitutional democracy that we established 20 years ago. 

We should refuse to allow our democracy to be stolen by the SACP cuckoos who have settled in the ANC nest. 

We should make use of all of the levers of power that the Constitution has put in our hands:

We must actively support the political parties of our choice;

We must use our right to freedom of expression to expose corruption and political manoeuvres that undermine our freedom;

We should protest;

We should challenge unconstitutional laws and behaviour in the courts;

We should support NGOs that defend the Constitution;

We should launch economic literacy campaigns to warn workers about the grave dangers posed to their interests by communism;

We should work for a society in which all South Africans will enjoy human dignity, equality and all the rights and freedoms that are assured by the Bill of Rights. 

Above all, we should commit ourselves unreservedly to South Africa and to the future success of all its peoples.

If somebody had given me a peek into the future in August 1985 or in May 1993 and had shown me then what South Africa would be like in November 2014, I would have seized what we now have with both hands - despite all the problems listed by Magnus Heystek. It is so much, much better than it might have been. 

The time has come for us once again to struggle for the future success of our society.  Struggle is part of the frightening and exhilarating nature of being a South African - but the privilege of being able to live in South Africa is worth every sacrifice that we might be called on to make and every danger that we might have to endure. 

Dave Steward is Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation.

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