Watch: Mcebisi Jonas warns against ‘short term populism’ in Kathrada Foundation speech

Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas spoke at the Kathrada Foundation yesterday, saying that South Africa has lost its way.

Jonas said that the ruling party has been turning to short-term populism to try and gain support at the expense of the economy, a path which he warns will reduce its legitimacy in the long term.

He said that as a cadre in the struggle, he was taught the value of non-racialism, however this does not seem to be quite what the ANC is like now.

Jonas said that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic stimulus plan has laid a decent foundation for hope for the future but “a lot needs to be said about execution.”

Jonas said that any effort to achieve progress is going to require broad coalitions to work together, and that is something our country has been struggling with.

Part of the problem, according to Jonas is that we have to dismantle our systems of patronage which have undermined the legitimacy of the government. He said the state capture inquiry is a good first step to understanding the scope of the problem.

He warned however that if we just focus on the old forms of state capture, new ones could rise to take their place.

He stated that we need to fight corruption at all levels – including in local government and the private sector.

He said private sector corruption does as much damage as corruption in the public sector, and requires the same focus.

Jonas said that a second and important area that requires focus is having a clearer agenda to rebuild the state.

“Until we are ready to accept that we almost suffered a complete collapse of the state, we are not going to be able to grapple with the challenges that we face,” Jonas said.

Jonas cited three areas where the state suffered severely – the presidency, local government and state owned enterprises (SOEs).

The presidency is supposed to play the role of system steward – marshaling the government’s resources to enact state priorities. According to Jonas, we lost that in the last couple of years. He feels that Ramaphosa has at least restored presidential legitimacy but this needs to be maintained.

With regards to local government Jonas warned that there is real capture at the municipal level, which is the front line in service delivery. If we fail to deal with corruption at this level we’re unlikely to achieve much.

Jonas said SOEs were the focus of the state capture project. Jonas said that without money leaving the country, there can be no state capture – and these enterprises trade with suppliers all around the world.

This makes it easy to use them to externalise resources – which is why almost 80% of state capture focused on these enterprises.

He also pointed to the governance of SOEs as an issue – because every new minister can appoint a new board whenever they feel like it. This means once you appoint a pliable board, a SOE will be at your service.

Jonas called for South Africa to focus on education, which he says is crucial to our economic development.

“Our current system reproduces inequality, through streaming learners from poor, rural and township schools towards unemployment, while streaming the children of elites towards highly paid professional and technical vocations.

“That’s our education system today.”

If we can’t deal with education performance, inequality will remain or even get worse Jonas said. Jonas further said we lack concrete programs to deal with inequality as a whole.

Jonas called for a bigger agenda to transform society, which he said required a more focused effort from civil society.

My Take

There is a lot of important stuff that Jonas is talking about here, I’m just going to focus on two of them.

The first is the issue of non-racialism. Part of the thing here is to recognise why Bell Pottinger tried to stir up racial resentments, why Jacob Zuma and his cronies thought that would be a good idea.

This is because racism is a tool for the corrupt to use as a means to getting away with stuff.

The Gupta leaks showed that amongst their other flaws, the Guptas were racist – but they were happy to use the BLF to further their state capture agenda. Bosasa is a similar sort of thing – Angelo Agrizzi’s k-word rant on the one hand, and his revelations about state capture on the other.

Racism is one of the major enablers of state capture, because outrage is a finite resource – and if you’ve spent it all on some real estate agent in Durban, you’ve got less left to spend on how the government is being captured.

Whenever you hear someone talking about how you should hate someone else for the colour of their skin, or that entire racial groups hate you for yours, check your wallet. Racism is real, but it is also a tactic.

Now as to the presidency – I don’t think Ramaphosa’s actually restored its legitimacy. The Institute for Race Relations is no friend to the EFF, but according to News24, they’re projecting the EFF more or less doubling its share of the vote come the next elections.

Which is to say that rather than stealing the wind from the EFF’s sails, the ANC’s about turn on land expropriation without compensation looks weak and desperate.

How much of Ramaphosa’s reign is going to come as too little, too late I’m not sure, but I think we need to start seeing some positive economic results before we can say he’s restored the legitimacy of his office.

Overall however, I was listening to the whole speech and what kept creeping into my mind was, why isn’t this our president?

He proved his integrity by rejecting the Guptas, he sounds interested in governing for all instead of some few, and he seems to understand the scope of the problems ahead of our country.

So why not Jonas?

  • Picture taken from the video courtesy of the Kathrada Foundation via Facebook.

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