A fiscal crisis and a fork in the road
Two concepts that have crept into our discussions will probably dominate political discussion over the next decade. The one is the fiscal cliff and the other regime change. Both are drawn from the political debate in the United States. Over the past decade commentators have often used the term fiscal cliff with reference to the enormous national debt and in the inability of the political class to address it.
The term regime change is often applied to a violent change in the form of rule, like the toppling of Saddam Hussein by a US armed force; however, far reaching change can also be brought about peacefully. It usually happens after a government has shown that it is not capable of addressing a major political or economic crisis and suffers from administrative paralysis. A good example is the establishment of the Fifth Republic in France in 1958 after a new constitution had been crafted by General Charles de Gaulle.
In South Africa the refusal of the government of General J.B.H. Hertzog to leave the gold standard exacerbated the profound economic crisis of the early 1930's. It prompted General Jan Smuts, leader of the Opposition, to state that the nation's condition was like that of a wounded man whose lifeblood was ebbing away. South Africa, he said, was doomed to inevitable and sure destruction.
The United Party, formed in 1933 out of the parties of Hertzog and Smuts, represented a regime change. In place of a government resting on an Afrikaner base consisting, outside the Western Cape, mainly of struggling farmers and blue collar workers the new regime drew on those sectors of society that paid the most taxes. The mining, manufacturing and commercial sectors now had a much more direct influence on government than was the case under a NP government. The realignment formed the base for a growth phase averaging just under 5% from 1933 to 1973.
The economic crisis of the 1980s led to the regime change of the early 1990s and the coming to power of the African National Congress, based predominantly on lower income black groups. But the system was still unbalanced. Before the regime of 1994 the largest part of the labour force was not represented in government; after 1994 the sectors that paid the most taxes, as individuals or as owner or managers of companies, were not represented in cabinet.