John Kane-Berman writes on why moral and intellectual critique matters
Last week’s column on “How to fix the Country” stated up front that Cyril Ramaphosa would probably do very little to halt South Africa’s downward slide.
So why bother to put forward ideas previously dismissed as “pie in the sky”? There are various answers to this question.
One emerges from our own history. Few people in the 1980s believed that the National Party (NP) would be able to jettison apartheid. FW de Klerk showed that they were wrong. He did so because he was a courageous man who recognised the need for liberal reform. Mr Ramaphosa is neither courageous nor a reformer.
But among the other reasons why apartheid was abolished was that it had been subjected to powerful moral and intellectual attack. This is not the case with most of the policies of the African National Congress (ANC). Attacks on the ANC’s corruption and incompetence are no substitute for the thoroughgoing scrutiny to which the NP’s cruel and unworkable racial policies were subjected.
The main reason why the ANC does not change course is that there is not nearly enough pressure on it to do so. The national democratic revolution to which the ANC is committed is barely mentioned, let alone criticised, by more than a handful of journalists and one or two think-tanks.
Cadre deployment now encounters more criticism than it once did. But there are only a handful of exceptions to the general rule that the ANC’s racial policies, including its vengeful hostility to whites, enjoy the tacit or explicit support of the bulk of the commentariat, as well as many people in civil society, academia, and business.
There is a great irony here: the ANC draws heavily on identity politics to retain support, but the commentariat plays into its hands by its own disdainful attitude towards opposition leaders unless they are black.
While the country is transfixed by all the evidence of state capture, the equally destructive effects of intellectual capture by the ANC’s various racial policies are condoned or ignored. No fewer than seven of the twenty points on last week’s list of how to fix the country dealt, directly or indirectly, with the need to scrap racial preferencing, which has become so pervasive that it now enjoys a momentum of its own.
The ANC’s labour policies also fail to attract critical scrutiny. Sky-high unemployment is widely seen as among the causes of last month’s mayhem. So we hear renewed talk of “active labour market policy”, “social compacting”, “reducing barriers to hiring”, and “public employment programmes”.
But nobody wants to go into any detail about one of the many key policy changes necessary to enable this economy to generate jobs: removing the minimum wage provisions from labour law. Public employment “opportunities” are no substitute for a private sector able to generate jobs.
If you don’t regard the private sector as the key to combating unemployment, then you cannot possibly be serious about doing so. Major policy changes of various kinds are required if business is to start employing people on the scale required. One of them is the fourth point on last week’s list: liberalise the labour market.
This is what Golden Arrow Bus Services is trying to do in Cape Town by asking the labour court to scrap the extension of a bargaining council wage agreement to employers who are not members of the council. This is not the first challenge to the power of such councils to extend their decisions to non-parties. Nor will it be the last. Such challenges need wider media and public support, with the purpose of undermining the legitimacy of the legislation that provides these councils with undemocratic powers.
Which raises the vital point of legitimacy. Although the ANC’s corruption and incompetence can no longer be hidden, its racial and interventionist policies still enjoy widespread support. But it is pointless to complain about poor intelligence, incompetent policing, or local authorities that cannot get clean audits without connecting all the dots, including the application of racial quotas and the removal of qualified people who have the wrong pigmentation. Destroying support for the ANC’s racial policies – masquerading as “redress” – is essential to turning more voters against that party.
Last month’s violence has been seized upon by proponents of a basic income grant (BIG) to renew their calls for such a grant. Although there is no reason to assume that such a grant will avert future such crises, this is a good example of how to exploit a crisis.
Liberals need to emulate the example of the BIG proponents in exploiting the recent crisis. They must highlight the fact that the failures of the ANC are rooted not only in criminality and corruption but also in its racial ideology, its dirigiste mindset, and its job-destroying labour market policies. Some critics say the ANC has run out of ideas. This is not true. It has plenty of extremely bad ideas which it has been steadily implementing (even if some of them do not – yet – go as far as certain factions might wish). Last week’s cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to change that scenario (let alone reform the police).
But it is no good merely attacking these ideas, though they warrant sustained and fundamental opposition. A comprehensive alternative has to put forward – hence the twenty points on last week’s list.
They are not meant to be a plea to the ANC, which is not interested in fixing the country or abandoning the ideology that prevents it from doing so. But they are the kinds of policies that will have to be implemented by anyone seeking to arrest and then reverse this country’s downward slide. Some coincide with the views of some key people in opposition parties. But they also need to be embraced by civil society, business, and the commentariat.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.