Letter: SA must regain its moral compass

ANC loses ground in elections

South Africa’s stored wealth isn’t enough to make the poor wealthy, no matter how it’s divided. We must create more wealth, but not at the expense of honesty.

The values of truth, trust, acceptance, restraint and obligation, though grounded in religion, are also pivotal to democracy and an individualistic contractual economy. The ANC has shown itself to be trustworthy neither in wealth-creating skills nor in the values mentioned.

But the blame should be shared. As a nation we have lost our moral compass.

There is moral decay in private enterprise, health, education and public service; growing inequalities; eroded trust in social institutions; self-indulgence among the rich; despair among the poor; indifference to minorities; inability to exercise discipline today for the sake of prosperity tomorrow; diminishing faith and a lack of vision for our country.

There is an alternative: we can reclaim the optimistic and sane Nelson Mandela legacy, whose moral dimension, uniting the welfare of all in a spirit of national dignity, made 1994 happen. The ANC can no longer credibly claim stewardship of this legacy.

The ANC is passive and reactive rather than the economically and morally proactive government we need. It invents an illusion of activity by constantly reacting to political problems and pressures, generally of its own making. In its years in office it has, until now, been unwaveringly supported by most South Africans, an allegiance derived from its liberation credentials as a reactive force against apartheid.

But these credentials were never an ANC monopoly, they had nothing to do with creative good governance and they can no longer be propped up by reference to a long-extinct apartheid. The electorate needs no more political slogans cooked up in Luthuli House.

Metros and rural voters have just told us that they are perfectly capable of deciding what is good for them. The election outcomes have less to do with individual ANC scandals than with a realisation that for many years now voters have been excluded from the running of the country.

While the ANC deserves gratitude for many positive results, it has failed massively in governmental and moral terms. In addition to highlighting this failure, the vote has made it clear that the people want a new kind of engagement of government at the local level, not based on constant confrontation for the sake of political theatrics but rather involving cooperation between all political groups to achieve results.

The people are tired of obsolete and empty political slogans about making the poor rich. They want the poor to be competently and determinedly helped to become productive, self-supporting and upwardly mobile.

They want the poor to be treated not as a faceless mass but as a community of individuals entitled to pursue responsible self-interest. Too many well-intended collective enterprises fail because they ignore the rights and realities of individuality, and individual advantage.

TV feeds this awareness by constantly depicting individuals enjoying lifestyles unattainable by the collectivised poor.

The people reject a minimum wage policy that sounds good politically but will in fact cause job losses. They reject an asinine sugar tax that will do likewise, as well as populist fiscal policies which will only benefit feeders from the trough of government patronage.

The people reject overpriced electricity from Russian nuclear power plants. They reject lies about power production from the Ingula scheme and fairy tales about the parastatals being fixed when everyone knows the ANC lacks the will and know-how to do so.

At this stage only whites and clever blacks (as Jacob Zuma puts it) may so far know of the scandalous, and not so clever, sale of our strategic oil stocks to benefit not the country but Zuma acolytes, but even ANC supporters will be outraged when they learn the facts. (Many homes for the poor could have been built by what was skimmed off the proceeds.)

The ANC will err gravely if it sees the national government as insulated from what is happening at the local level. The ANC’s commitment to democracy is being crucially tested.

There is no point in Gwede Mantashe squealing now for a change in voting methodologies. The ANC passed that opportunity up years ago.

Kgalema Motlanthe asserts that our democratic institutions remain robust. I wish he were right.

Council chambers around the country are now going to be carefully watched for ANC obstructiveness. Restraint and cooperation must be the order of the day.

Peter Drucker pointed out in The Age of Discontinuity that the world is now divided into nations that know how to use technology to create wealth and nations that don’t know. We are in the latter group.

We have the talent to change this, but time is running out. If we don’t build quickly and cooperatively enough on the messages which the elections have sent the ANC, public frustration may reach an irrevocable tipping point and violent protests will escalate disastrously.

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