Fixing SA: A corollary to JKB’s ideas

Eugene Brink says communities need to take in hand the task of keeping the country going

Two recent articles by John Kane-Berman, a previous CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), got me thinking – as they usually do. The first one contains advice about what the government should do to fix the country. The other is a forthright rebuttal of criticism to the first.

Kane-Berman is one of South Africa’s foremost intellectuals and I have admired his courage and honesty ever since I started reading his work more than a decade ago. To this day, he is one of the few voices speaking (complete) truth to power when most analysts and commentators are cowed into silence or merely going after the low-hanging fruits.

I thus agree wholeheartedly with the contents and tenor of both these articles. Sustained scrutiny and criticism of the ANC’s racial and ideological policies is something that is ignored across the board.

Criticism of cadre deployment and corruption are soft targets, and the media and most opposition parties never question the broad ideological direction of the country or probe the reasons for its many failures in great depth. Its noxious racial policies are holy cows that are accepted willy-nilly.

The ANC’s misguided attempts at empathy by means of grants and creeping socialism is not being denounced to any significant degree. While the outcomes and symptoms of its deleterious policies – such as corruption, the brain drain and unemployment – are constantly lamented, their causes receive precious little attention. Luckily, there are quite a few exceptions and if you look carefully, their ranks are growing in often unexpected quarters.  

I also agree that loudly and continuously declaring your opposition to harmful policies and laws and putting forth sensible ideas are not “pie in the sky”. Failed countries are ones where everybody with a meaningful voice is silenced.

Their ideas don’t reach the masses and no vigorous debate is allowed. Just because the media does a bad job at analysing and condemning the ANC’s ideology and policies, doesn’t mean no alternatives should be posited. It must be done – relentlessly. Kane-Berman has been doing this for decades with gusto and glee and certainly not for popularity.

The reason why I’m writing this is not to deviate from what he has already written, but rather to add to it. A corollary of sorts. First, the ANC believes in the balance of forces. Intended policies are furthered, moderated or scrapped on account of the amount of pushback they receive. Agreement and silence signal approval.

Secondly, excellence in service-delivery and results are not, by design or default, part of their plans at all. The main objective of their National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is for the party and more broadly, the revolutionary movement, to rule over obsequious minorities, and their unstated or implied goal is to loot the state as far as possible.

But, until the ANC changes course or they are voted out of power – both admittedly distant prospects – life needs to continue. I recently visited KwaZulu-Natal to conduct research on behalf of AfriForum on the causes and impact of the recent riots and looting. What struck me was how the police were both incapable and, in most cases unwilling, to prevent it from happening.

They were outgunned and outmanned in virtually every place where turmoil occurred. For instance, in Amanzimtoti the police could only spare nine police officers two days after the unrest was already underway.

During this time 1 700 community members from all creeds and walks of life had already combined forces to protect the town. The end result? Amanzimtoti was left largely unscathed. This wouldn’t have been the case had the community sat back and merely criticised the police for not doing their jobs.

Across South Africa, communities are coming together to resolve service-delivery problems ranging from restoring water supply to fixing roads and feeding people during government-mandated lockdowns and in the aftermath of socio-political turmoil. Fixing (or at least alleviating) South Africa’s problems is no easy feat and there is no silver bullet.

Far too many ordinary people and especially the elite stratum of society are in thrall to the ANC’s policies when in fact, as Kane-Berman keeps pointing out, they are all harmful. But also, far too many people accept their failures without doing something tangible about it.

Unrelenting criticism and the promotion of alternatives are therefore a keystone of reform and change, but more importantly, so is an active citizenry that deals with the challenges as they arise on the ground and provide widespread and intense resistance to government overreach and failures.

Dr Eugen Brink is Strategic Advisor for Community Affairs at AfriForum.