NEWS & ANALYSIS

South Africa: It is the future that counts

Douglas Gibson says much of our current political debate is pointless and unproductive

It's South Africa's future that counts

In his book, "The mystery of Aging," written in Swedish, journalist Henrik Lennart interviews the world's leading researchers on aging. Among them, demographer James Vaupel says that half the children born in Sweden in 2012 will live to 104 years old.

Vaupel says further that since the year 1751 life expectancy in women in Sweden has increased by 2.5 months a year. He states "...it is quite likely that there is a small child already born somewhere who will live to be more than 200 years old."

Views such as this focus the mind of someone whose twin grandchildren were born on Friday (28 November) last week. With a little luck Thomas Gibson and his sister Keira will live well into the twenty second century. Clearly, to them it's the future of South Africa that counts.

When thinking about that future, the essentially boring and pointless nature of the current political discourse becomes evident.

Will President Jacob Zuma serve his full term? The answer is obvious: yes he may, or no, he may not.

Will Deputy President Ramaphosa become president? Again, he may or he may not.

Is Helen Zille right to tweet and to dance on stage if she feels like it? Hell, yes. Twerking may not be fine, though.

Is Chester Missing right about Steve Hofmeyr? The majority of South Africans will ask: Steve who?

Will Mr Julius Malema MP be convicted and sent to gaol on the serious charges he faces? If fortune smiles on parliament, yes.

And so on. Sometimes entertaining, interesting and amusing, but unproductive. Against the backdrop of the future, so many of the current questions seem irrelevant. Surely what our country needs is for our political leaders to prove to us that South Africa's democracy and its constitution are strong enough to survive the inevitable leadership changes, the headwinds and the setbacks we will face in the next few decades. More importantly, our leaders must articulate a convincing vision of a future where we grasp the opportunities we could create to become the best we can be.

An important question to answer is the following: will children, black and white, born in 2014 be full and equal citizens of our country into the next century? Will children whose parents are utterly committed to making this country work be able to live and thrive here and contribute to a South Africa that is forging ahead to the future? Or will they, or some of them, because of the colour of their skin, fall prey to this country's old sickness of racism, with some, because they are white, not ever quite fitting in and others, born black, never able to achieve equality and a better life? Will these children, in a few decades, have to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the world?

Many people are pessimists and there is a good deal of gloom around about our future. I do not fall into that category. I never believed that our country, during the apartheid years, would descend into racial war. I do not believe now we are on our way to being a failed state, although it is possible we will be far less than our potential.

The future depends on our politicians, the unions, business and ordinary citizens. Are we going to become an Australia or a South Korea, or are we going to bumble along and be a Zambia? Or, Heaven forbid, a Zimbabwe?

One of the most damaging effects of apartheid - persisting today - is the low expectations of so many in our country. People put up with appalling service standards now because in the old days they had no option. Too many black people , in particular, fail to realise that they are entitled to demand and receive courteous, efficient service from every public official at whatever level of government. Public officials are paid by all of us to serve us; they are not our bosses. The same with politicians; and unions; and business. If we choose to support them, they need to recognise us, poor or rich, black or white, male or female, as people with a human dignity that must be respected.

Our politicians must articulate all of this. We need to see the larger picture of what is on offer for the future from each of the parties. How are we going to achieve equality of life chances with opportunities for all our children? How are we going to cope with the new world phenomenon of a scarcity of jobs, and especially low-skilled jobs? Who do we see creating jobs and exactly how will they do it?

The ANC has had a very long spell in government. Twenty years is a very long time to be in power in a democracy. What the ANC should perhaps have had was a period in opposition to regroup, refine policies by ridding itself of warring ideological factions that make effective policy choices impossible, losing some of the bandwagon climbers and careerists and those who think they have a divine right to rule forever.  The voters in their wisdom in this year's general election decided not to end ANC rule just yet. They punished them by giving them fewer seats and by giving the opposition more. Inevitably the ANC will lose power, sooner or later - perhaps by the end of this decade.

One faction appears headed for a socialist left, enthusiastically embracing policies that are now sixty years out of date and doomed to fail here, if ever tried, as they have failed in every other socialist country. The other portion of the ANC looks likely to be able to coalesce with the Democratic Alliance and follow a largely market oriented economic approach, with a very strong social conscience. Such an alliance, or coalition government, could rule South Africa for a good long while. 

What an exciting moment it is to be born in South Africa. Those children have so much to look forward to - if only we make the right choices as a country.

Douglas Gibson is a former Opposition chief whip and the former ambassador to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

This article first appeared in The Star.

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