NEWS & ANALYSIS

The ANC: Not governing but drowning

And the party is pulling South African down with it, says William Saunderson-Meyer

JAUNDICED EYE

South Africa has been watching the Cyril Ramaphosa doggy-paddle for two years. It’s a stroke that involves a lot of splashing about and going around in circles.

But now, his African National Congress administration is no longer keeping head above water. It has moved from floundering to drowning.

The danger with a drowning person is that, in their panic, they may pull their rescuer down with them when they go under. The ANC, in its flailing around to preserve itself, potentially threatens the entire country. 

Instead of just concentrating on keeping its nose above water, it is in its panic and wilfulness dragging down its well-intentioned rescuers. By latching on and attempting to exert control, it’s drawing SA into a death spiral.

In this regard, President Ramaphosa’s government has been worse than that of his predecessor, President Jacob Zuma. Zuma’s was simply about laissez-faire looting. Ideological rigidity and policy consistency were secondary always to pillage. In contrast, Ramaphosa approaches levels of control-freakery last seen during the presidency of President Thabo Mbeki.

Take the electricity outages, which have inflicted years of misery and economic damage.

The mines and large industries stand ready to generate at minimum the necessary back-up power for when the national grid is down. The ANC, however, can’t bring itself to give the go-ahead, since its union and Communist allies believe this will open the door to privatisation by stealth. Rather the dark than allow privately generated light.

Similarly, domestic electricity consumers have been warned that solar installations have to be licensed and controlled, and that selling surplus home generation into the grid is not on the cards. Tax breaks for solar geysers, half-heartedly implemented in the early Zuma years, have long since scuttled into the bureaucratic thicket, never to be seen again.

Then there's sport. The government has just tabled an amendment bill that will see all sporting bodies, down to the level of your neighbourhood running club, brought under the control of the sports minister. International fixtures and the awarding of national colours will be only on the say-so of the minister, although federations can make recommendations.

Many SA sporting codes — among the bigger ones especially soccer, but also cricket and athletics — have become dysfunctional and rotten with corruption because Sascoc, the over-arching sports confederation and Olympic committee, is itself tainted and useless. Rather than the hard grind and embarrassment of prosecuting the scum at the top, which involves acting against several ANC grandees, the government hopes to legislate the problem away.

Sport will be run from the top down by administrative fiat, with the minister deploying his chosen men and women. In passing, this will destroy the structure of sport administration and is, quite likely, going to be found to be a contravention of international Olympic and Commonwealth regulations that forbid political interference in sport.

But sport, for all its centrality in the SA psyche, is frippery compared with the critical matters of private property and health provision, where the ANC’s drowning-man syndrome is at its most obvious. Both are interventions into admittedly flawed existing structures which, when implemented, will widen the flaws into cracks, culminating in eventual collapse.

This week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize bemoaned the “fear-mongering” critics of the National Health Insurance system that is at present being bundled with indecent haste through the legislative process. The predictably bombastic Blade Nzimande, general-secretary of the SA Communist Party and Higher Education minister, says the party wants the NHI to be implemented this year: “The alliance must unite to advance and defend the interests of our people and defeat all those forces opposed to the NHI.”

As is the ANC’s practice when it comes to listening to differing views, the constitutionally mandated consultation process on the NII has been a farce. At many venues, ANC supporters have been bused in to shout down any criticism, no matter how nuanced. 

And encouragingly, most of the criticism has been evenhanded. Very few people have rejected universal health coverage driven by the state as an inherently objectionable idea, as long as it does not involve the complete dismantling of the private health sector in the process. 

Overwhelmingly, the reservations expressed have been around the likelihood of the government being able to administer the enormous bureaucracy that the NIHI entails. It’s a crux issue that has made unlikely allies of the likes of the official opposition Democratic Alliance and the activist organisation, Section27.

There are two sets of evidence upon which, rationally, to base one’s assessment. At a macro-level, one can look at how effectively the ANC administration has performed historically; at a micro-level, one can look at how well the public health system is currently being administered.

Aside from keeping in mind incidents such as the deaths — by, among other things, starvation — of at least 122 state mental health patients, one should look at government attempts to demonstrate an ability to administer an NHI structure. More than a billion rand was spent on bringing 10 pilot projects up to NHI levels, of which the independent assessors afterwards, trying their best to be charitable, could at best conclude that “none was an outright failure”.

But we shouldn’t worry, says Mkhize. All that is needed for the NHI to succeed is “political will”. And in this week’s statement, the health minister goes further.

The NHI “will be run with the same efficiency and integrity” as the Road Accident Fund and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, he assures us. These are public entities that have “set a precedent of good governance and accountability” and there is a “high index of confidence” in them.

Let’s get real. If this is what Mkhize finds confidence-inspiring and examples of good governance and accountability to be emulated in the NHI, God help us.

The RAF has been technically bankrupt for years and owes injured motorists around R17bn that it cannot pay. The NSFAS is also technically bankrupt with more than 52,000 graduates owing the scheme R967m in unpaid bursaries, causing it in 2018 to be placed under government-ordered administration that continues to the present.

Lifeguards are taught, should the worst comes to the worst, how to break a drowning victim’s death grip and swim free. Sadly, ordinary South Africans lack that option.

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