LONDON — SA has gone from hero to zero under President Jacob Zuma’s poor leadership, with international investors turning their backs on the country.
This was the stark assessment of former anti-apartheid activist and Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain in a speech at Swansea University Thursday night. "Can the ANC (African National Congress) reclaim (Nelson) Mandela’s vision of the rainbow nation? Perhaps we all expected too much. Perhaps it was naive to think that the party — for all its moral integrity and constitutionalist traditions — could be immune to human frailty, especially in the face of such immense social inequalities. Could any political party anywhere (including Britain) have done better?" Mr Hain asked.
He said the ANC had to address corruption and cronyism and lead the development of a new social compact if SA were to prosper.
He pointed to Mr Zuma’s firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, which sent the rand plummeting and the stock exchange into meltdown, as an example of how badly the country was being run.
"Although there was a modest inflow of foreign direct investment and portfolio investment into the country during the first two decades of freedom, the inflow has all but dried up since Zuma’s dismissal of the Finance Minister in December last year," Mr Hain said.
"Companies are either sitting on piles of surplus cash or investing abroad. Private citizens are spiriting as much money as they are able out of the country."
Mr Hain’s lecture was titled SA today: Betraying or upholding Mandela’s values?
SA was usually romanticised as Mandela’s miracle or cynically dismissed as "going down the pan", "but neither of these are accurate — and they never were".
He said: "Of course, the ANC is no stranger to criticism. On the one hand, there have always been the ‘jaundiced whites’ — those who reluctantly praised the ‘Mandela miracle’, but who never accepted the consequences, namely that their grotesquely privileged existence had to go. These days they can barely conceal their smirks, as they proclaim ‘I told you so’!"
"I know some of these people only too well: they continually troll me on Twitter. I choose to ignore them, just as I ignored those whites who attacked me during the long, bitter battle against white supremacy and its police state," Mr Hain said.
"They and their children are also part of a whinging expat community in the UK. Their privileged South African education has opened doors for them in Britain, but they have conveniently forgotten the debts they owe to the land of their birth.
"I can — and do — dismiss such voices. But I cannot ignore the growing constituency of people who sacrificed so much for the freedom struggle, and who are now dismayed at the squandering of Mandela’s legacy.
"Jacob Zuma has indeed allowed corruption to flourish on a scale which poses a huge and cancerous threat. Cronyism has replaced merit, not only in the public services, but also in the parastatals which play such a vital role in the economy — from energy to airlines and water supply," Mr Hain said.
Apart from load shedding, "South African Airways — once a rival to BA for quality — is almost bankrupt, with fears that its once excellent safety record may be compromised. The water system, once the cleanest in the world, has fallen into disrepair and is shamefully imperilled," Mr Hain said.
He gave his assessment of SA as a "critical comrade", noting that the ANC had achieved much since 1994.
Mr Hain said: "Not just under Mandela, but also under his successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma — achievements all the more remarkable given the horrendous legacy of apartheid. The shanty towns; the lack of healthcare; the forced displacements; the dehumanising education system, designed to keep the black majority as servants for white masters.
"All the time a growing population, continuous migration from sustainable rural subsistence to urban squatter poverty, now swelled by over 2-million immigrants from Mali to Zimbabwe, has meant the demand on government for basic services seems insatiable. As fast as new houses are built, new shacks appear beside them," Mr Hain said.
"Yet in just 22 years, the ANC government has built more than 3-million new homes. It has created 4-million jobs. Millions more South Africans now have running water and electricity. Some economists say that income per capita, in real terms, has risen by almost a third.
State bursaries had opened up the country’s universities to 400,000 new students, mostly black, and the government had made progress in HIV/AIDS and TB programmes, he said.
But challenges, such as structural economic inequality, remained.
Mr Hain spoke of what former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils framed as "the devil’s pact" — made in the transition from apartheid to democracy — that was "a terrible betrayal of the poorest of the poor".
He said: "When white rule finally came to an end, the fear was that white businesses and investors would flee. Instead a deal was struck, and compromises were made for the sake of a peaceful and economically stable transition."
But workers, largely black, "still struggle to survive".
"The Marikana massacre seemed to symbolise the unresolved legacy of apartheid: a wealthy white-owned corporation pitted against its poor, black migrant workers," he said. Of meeting a widow of one of the Marikana miners in the Transkei, Mr Hain said: "It was hard to see how two decades of democracy had made any improvement to their living standards."
The former cabinet minister then drew on his own experience in government in discussing the future.
"Our Labour government achieved a huge amount, but we failed to renew ourselves. As the years went by, we became more managerial in our focus. We moved further and further from our roots and lost trust. How much harder it must be for the ANC to retain its ability to self-question when it is steering such a young democracy and has such a monopoly of the vote."
He asked: "Is it even possible to launch meaningful economic reform without jeopardising foreign investor confidence?"
It "is hard enough to attempt such a feat in Britain. SA must also deal with an apartheid legacy which remains a gigantic millstone around the country’s neck, and a public administration increasingly undermined by corruption and cronyism," said Mr Hain.
He concluded that: "Perhaps the South African government only has two options: The first is to develop a new social compact, where privilege and reward are renegotiated in favour of a more equal dispensation."
Otherwise, he warns, "the alternative would be to face a revolution of rising expectations and frustration, in which SA could once again become as ungovernable as it was during the darkest years of apartheid."
So, can the ANC "reclaim Mandela’s vision"?
Mr Hain said: "Perhaps the ‘born frees’ — those young South Africans who never knew apartheid, and who comprise over 40% of the population — will reclaim his legacy for the 21st century."
© BDlive 2016