The DA and the Bloody Horse Factor

Mike Berger writes on the thing that is missing from the opposition party's platform

The DA's platform for the next elections is once again out for our consideration. Yawn!

Don't get me wrong. Mmusi Maimane is a brave, intelligent man in a very tough position. The decks are stacked against the DA at many levels. It's is a good party - at least as good and competent as the vast majority of First World political party's go. Doubting Thomases and the like notwithstanding, compared to the ghastly alternatives the DA is manna from heaven.

But for heaven's sake: where's the 'bloody horse' in Maimane's manifesto?

For those who don't know what I'm talking about see Roy Campbell's caustic comments on South African novelists: "You praise the firm restraint with which they write - I'm with you there, of course: They use the snaffle and the curb all right, But where's the bloody horse?" We, South Africa and the DA, desperately need to find a leader with the 'Bloody Horse Factor' (BHF).

It's easier to point to those with the BHF than to attempt a definition. Churchill had it. So does Helen Zille and so does Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu. Mandela had it in spades. Maybe what I'm talking about is authenticity, political judgement way beyond book knowledge, a special flair for human interaction, boundless self-confidence and fighting spirit.

Possessing the BHF is not an unmixed blessing. It comes hand-in-hand with controversy and very human flaws. The problem is finding the right person combined with a strong moral and pragmatic compass.

We have any number of bloody horse candidates in the form of narcissistic sociopaths and greedy opportunists running amok through history. Most of them are exactly what they seem. Electing Chavez changed Venezuela in a couple of decades from possibly the most respected and hopeful country in South America into a bottomless basket case.

The point is that right now the DA desperately needs someone with the necessary BHF and moral compass.

The global Sustainable Society Index in 2016 ranked 156 countries on indices of human, environmental and economic well-being. Our scores were 107/156; 103/156 and 126/156 respectively. Another worldwide study of national performance, The Social Progress Index provides a scorecard which compares each country with its peers within its GNP per capita bracket as well as globally. South Africa's global rank across all indices was 77 out of 146 countries examined. But compared with our GNP-PC peers we performed significantly below average on Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, Shelter, Personal Safety (where we ranked 135/146 globally), Foundations of Wellbeing (mainly education) and Health and Wellness.

The Institute for African Alternatives divides the South African economic pie into the chronic poor (50%); the transient poor (11%); the vulnerable (15%); the middle class (20%) and the elite (4%). That's more-or-less what I had previously suggested: SA is composed of 3 zones: a smallish First World, a somewhat larger Borderlands and a huge and disgraceful zone of the Entrapped and Despairing.

These figures, and plenty of other evidence, powerfully support the portrait of a grossly unequal social tinderbox which is getting worse not better. The solution is emphatically not, as the recent "Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) Confronting Inequality "conference suggests, more 'progressive' politics; that is, the same self-serving, pious politics which has resulted in the very inequalities the conference carefully documents.

The situation is one that requires a robust, free enterprise system devoted to economic growth strongly allied to the virtues of an inclusive, fair and sustainable society. When people who classify themselves as somewhere within the conservative-liberal bandwidth yield the ground of social or environmental justice to 'progressives' they do their cause and South Africa immense harm. It is time that we claim social justice for ourselves and make it happen.

South Africa teeters at the tipping point and is liable to totter on until through random bad luck or simply poor political decisions we take a Zimbabwe-Venezuelan leap off the cliff. But on the other hand we are also in the position to take a small but decisive step out of shaky mediocrity into the high-performance bracket.

But to do so we must return to essentials amidst the noise of the political soap opera. No society can achieve stability without at the same time embracing fairness. This is not a Utopian fantasy of instant perfection and personal gratification but the realistic inclusion of fairness as means and ends in the pursuit of effective, pragmatic politics.

So what does the leadership of the DA need to articulate convincingly and unambiguously? Here is a draft selection of my own thoughts on the topic:

- The DA puts South Africa first and intends to make this country the standard by which the rest of Africa measures itself. It intends to restore the pride and dignity of South Africa on the global stage.

- The DA stands for delivery and performance - not ideology and advertising slogans.

- The DA rejects all rent-seeking special interest groups from whatever quarter. Thus the DA will get rid of diversity and transformation targets everywhere ('quotas' to call a spade a spade).

- The DA stands for deep opportunity. That means every citizen, irrespective of racial, gender or religious identity, has a set of basic rights (see below*) including at least a secure, livable income, essential social services, opportunity, dignity and respect.

- The DA will ensure the social, legislative and investment environment necessary to achieve this. That includes seriously tackling organised crime, gangsterism, corruption and domestic abuse and will provide the skills, legal and monitoring framework to do so.

- This also entails respect for property rights and merit (talent, competence, integrity and effort) in appointments and promotions irrespective of racial, sexual or other identities.

- The DA will create a decent educational system from the foundations up through tertiary and higher education. It will provide appropriate special facilities and encouragement to all suffering from disabilities (social, economic, physical or psychological) and for those with special talents and a proven willingness to put such gifts to good use. These steps are vital in order to maximise the pool of talent available to this country.

- As part of this commitment the DA will repurpose the civil bureaucracy so as to liberate the talents and ambitions of all South Africans.

- The DA believes in a free enterprise system and will limit government to the provision of the judicial, social, economic, educational and physical infrastructure to mobilise the energies and talents of individuals and to promote social cohesion, a common identity and national pride.

- The DA believes in freedom of speech, assembly and protest but will ensure that the exercise of these rights will not be allowed to infringe on the rights of other South African citizens.

- The DA will seek both moral and economic support from other democracies in order to achieve these ambitions. South Africa wishes to be both an integral part of the African continent and the global family of democratic nations. The DA aims to provide an example of how a multi-ethnic, developing nation with a divided history can achieve economic success, social cohesion and a fair society through the exercise of democratic means.

- The DA takes our Constitution as its guiding document in negotiating the complex terrain to achieve its vision.

These are enormously ambitious goals and it is tempting to dismiss them as grandiose fantasy, but a developing society needs vision, a credible strategic framework, and over-arching moral ethos together with the leadership to achieve it. The vision as articulated may not be fully realised but the closer to it we can get, the better and more sustainable a country we'll become.

The ideas I've expressed above are embryonic. They have been written in the hope that the readers of this post will take this opportunity to explore their own thoughts on the topic, to contribute to the debate and especially to participate in the struggle to achieve a worthwhile destiny for our country and its citizens. It is in the vital interests of us all.

* Fair Society. There is a massive literature on the ideas behind a fair society and the means to achieve it but here is a sprinkling of my own most recent reading:

Peter Corning - The Fair Society, University of Chicago Press, 2011

Rutger Bregman - Utopia for Realists

James S Albus - Peoples Capitalism

Mike Berger