THE Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) proposed new election campaign suggesting that the African National Congress (ANC) is the natural successor of the old National Party (NP) is one of the most flagrant and outrageous. But, at the same time, it makes bizarrely accurate claims about South Africa’s increasingly strange political scene.

The document making the claims includes an old South African flag with the ANC logo at its centre. It is, of course, intentionally scandalous, which is a reason in itself to ignore it. But there is something ominously resonant about it.

Before the offensive claims and indignant counterclaims get too out of hand, it’s worth underlining the ways in which the ANC is nothing like the old NP.

First, the most important difference is that the ANC rules under a constitution and the NP did not — a situation the ANC itself enthusiastically endorsed, mostly designed and that it broadly abides by.

That distinction alone makes South Africa a fabulously better place in which to live and anyone who claims otherwise is simply bonkers. In this sense, the ANC is absolutely right to say ordinary South Africans will see through this political ruse.

Second, the ANC is a legitimately and democratically elected government. One can appreciate that the DA is sick of being painted as an illegitimate apartheid relic when its history is distinct, but reversing the accusation and trying to claim that the ANC is now somehow illegitimate is not only factually wrong but also, frankly, a bit lame.

Third, the ANC’s record in delivering services, particularly to poor South Africans, is just fabulous. Just to cite one example, the notion of a "social pension" — a cash handout in all but name — was in fact begun by the NP, but it has been fantastically expanded. N ow more than 13-million people benefit from the scheme every month. The much-heralded comparable Brazilian programme, Bolsia Familia, reaches about the same number of people, but, as a proportion of the total population, the South Africa system is four times more widespread and the hand-out is about three times the value.

As a result, hunger has been more or less eradicated in South Africa. Of course, as we all know, some other programmes have gone well, including some of the housing schemes, and some have been tragedies, like the antiretroviral programme, education and so on. But to somehow minimise the difference between these efforts and the human dumping grounds called "homelands" the NP bequeathed to the ANC is, to my mind, simply outrageous.

There are also ways in which the boot is on the other foot too; there are ways in which not only is the ANC not like the NP, but the NP was never like the ANC. I think one major difference is that for all their many and grievous sins, the NP were good infrastructure planners. There was no prouder day in an NP politician’s life than to have a bridge named after him. The NP was also obsessed about education, sadly more for their own constituency than for the population as a whole. While many things lagged during apartheid, education more or less held its own.

So differences obviously abound, but on the margins, there is an odd grip to some of the DA’s claims and it’s worth asking why that is.

According to the Mail & Guardian, the document, produced by the Western Cape branch of the DA, compares the levels of police violence and the use of legislation to suppress democracy and personal freedom under both governments.

It puts side by side the iconic image of Hector Pieterson’s dead body during the 1976 Soweto uprising and that of Ficksburg activist Andries Tatane, 35 years later. Likewise, it draws parallels, the Mail & Guardian says, between the killing of 34 mine workers by police in Marikana last August to the Sharpeville massacre under the apartheid government in 1960, when police randomly opened fire on a crowd of black people, killing 69.

I think these comparisons are specious: the context in all cases was different. But where the document gets closer is where it compares cronyism in the NP and the ANC, the inflation of the public service in order to create a loyal cadre inside the state and the handing out of political favours to party loyalists.

Political analysts generally agree that a combination of sanctions, international isolation and the general untenability of the political dispensation brought down apartheid. This is true of course, but I think a contributing factor was a growing corruption, in the wider sense, in the core of the NP, particularly in the dying days of apartheid. Until its final capitulation, this corruption really stained the ability of the party to distinguish right from wrong.

The problem was not just moral, it was also social and economic.

In some ways, it was a consequence of a condition known as the "weak state" syndrome — a situation in which a political party is nominally in power, but where its writ simply does not run well. Africa is filled with weak states and the result is often increasing corruption, a disjuncture between notional policy and actual implementation, and economic weakness. Because maintaining public order becomes increasingly chaotic and desperate, much more brutal policing in necessary and as a result, coups are common.

So why do states weaken?

According to political consultant Claude Baissac from Eunomix, it’s happening in South Africa because the political and economic convergence that took place until 2007 has begun to move out of alignment, increasing political risk. For example, it is taking place because the economic incentives the political system created are moving out of alignment with the productive sector.

I would put it more simply: the social contract is being violated.

In South Africa, a long period of convergence has ended and we are in danger of entering a period of divergence. In that sense, perhaps in that sense only, the ANC has been bequeathed to us by the old NP.

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THERE is a good example of this process of divergence in something called the Licensing of Business Bill. The bill has been roundly castigated by a host of organisations and commentators, including chambers of commerce and the Free Market Foundation. Their objections are well taken, but the mentality that underpins the bill is, in a way, as worrying.

The bill seeks to force all businesses to have a licence issued by a municipality. To enforce the licensing law, it seeks to draft a whole host of government employees into being "inspectors", including customs officials, police officers, health and safety inspectors and even traffic police. These "inspectors" are then granted wide-ranging powers, enter and search premises, investigate complaints, question people on the premises, confiscate goods, summon business owners to appear before them and shut down premises temporarily or permanently. All they need is "reasonable suspicion".

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies claims optimistically that licensing will be easy. The Free Market Foundation points out that this is unlikely since there is no clear transitional period for existing businesses to obtain licences. More importantly, it’s not clear that licensing authorities will be obliged to issue licences to businesses that qualify.

The bill does not say that a licensing authority "must" issue licences to businesses that satisfy the requirements, but that it "may".

"What if they don’t? Does a business then close down?" the Free Market Foundation asks.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce is equally opposed to the bill, pointing out that it’s not actually necessary since existing laws already outlaw trading in counterfeit goods and in unhygienic conditions.

Many also warn of a payoff explosion as random municipal employees march into shops and demand a bonsella.

Essentially, it seems to me the bill’s underlying motivation is actually to boost taxpaying, formal or quasi-formal "legitimate" businesses against street-vendor type businesses, often run by immigrants and those who specialise in counterfeit goods. This notion has all kinds of advantages for the ANC: more tax of course, but the pro-union aspect is also visible, since unions find it hard to organise against disparate, fragmentary business operations.

And in the background, it is possible to distinguish a whiff of empowering ANC municipal cadres to impose their own form of tax on businesses, both legitimate and illegitimate.

It seems like the action of a strong state. But it’s an example of the weak state syndrome in action, because it underlines the growing disjuncture between the incentives that apply to the state sector and those that apply to the productive sector.

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JUST to round out this series, the weak state syndrome applies as much to business as to government.

Weak state business arrangements display a poor understanding of how free markets benefit ordinary citizens and, therefore, why com-petition is important. These businesses are often contracted between politician and cadre businessmen, and tend to be monopolistic or, at least, "organised".

Not entirely in the same breath, but distinctly related, is the telecoms industry in South Africa, which is highly regulated, and consequently cadre capitalism has been visible in its make-up from the transition.

Some big developments are likely to take place in the next few months, as Telkom decides its future. One aspect of that will be whether or not the country favours the re-concentration of telecoms players.

Telkom has a big money-losing cellphone division, 8ta. According to Business Times, Cell C CEO Alan Knott-Craig has given his strongest suggestion yet that SA’s third mobile operator would need to be swallowed up by a larger group to compete with the likes of MTN and Vodacom. Consequently, it seems logical that the two should combine forces.

It’s not an easy decision for Telkom, since Cell C reputedly has debt of about R6bn. That, presumably, is why Telkom is hesitant about the tie-up. Mr Knott-Craig claims the market is saturated and consolidation is necessary. Yet, how can that be true when both MTN and Vodacom have excellent margins and exploding digital usage?

Anyway, it would reduce competition in the sector. And would also leave the government, a big shareholder in Telkom, with something of a regulatory quandary. It is all very interesting, but it does illustrate the complications that arise when the government seeks to be both regulator and player.