OK, I get it, the President isn’t the only one in charge. The ANC believes in “collective responsibility” (So that nobody has to get blamed when things get screwed up), so I address this to everyone in government – the whole lot of you – good, bad and ugly (That’s you, Blade).
We were all so pleased with your renewed promises to deliver services (we’ll forgive the fact that in some places people are worse off than in 1994); to root out corruption (so far your record is worse than under Mbeki, Mandela or the Apartheid regime – what with family members becoming overnight millionaires); and build infrastructure (State tenders going disgustingly awry and pretty stadia standing empty notwithstanding) – and with the good job you did when FIFA were telling you what to do for a few months this year. Give yourselves half a pat on the back. Since President Sepp went off with his billions I’m afraid we have less to be proud of – Public Servants Strikes, more Presidential bastard children, increasing unemployment and a lack of leadership that allowed the Unions to make the elected government it’s bitch. You should be more than a little worried – but you’re not. Hence my letter. Here are some things that might have passed you by:
1. You have to stop corruption. Don’t stop it because rich people moan about it and because it makes poor people feel that you are self-enriching parasites of state resources, but because it is a disease that will kill us all. It’s simple – there is only so much money left to be plundered. When that money runs out, the plunderers will raise taxes, chase and drain all the remaining cash out of the country and be left with nothing but the rotting remains of what could have been the greatest success story of post-colonial Africa. It’s called corruption because it decomposes the fabric of society. When someone is found guilty of corruption, don’t go near them – it’s catchy. Making yourself rich at the country’s expense is what colonialists do.
2. Stop complaining about the media. You’re only complaining about them because they show you up for how little you really do or care. If you were trying really hard, and you didn’t drive the most expensive car in the land, or have a nephew who suddenly went from modesty to ostentatious opulence, we’d have only positive things to report. Think of Jay Naidoo, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Zwelinzima Vavi – they come under a lot of fire, but it’s never embarrassing – always about their ideas, their positions, and is perfectly acceptable criticism for people in power to put up with. When the media go after Blade Nzimande, Siphiwe Nyanda and the President, they say we need a new piece of legislation to “make the media responsible”. That’s because they’re being humiliated by the facts we uncover about them daily, not because there is an agenda in some newsroom. If there had been a free press during the reigns of Henry VIII, Idi Amin or Hitler, their regimes might just have been kept a little less destructive, and certainly would have been less brazen and unchecked.
3. Education is a disaster. We’re the least literate and numerate country in Africa. Zimbabwe produces better school results and turns out smarter kids than we do. Our youth aren’t usemployed, they’re unemployable. Outcomes-based-education, Teachers’ Unions and an attitude of mediocrity that discourages excellence have reduced us to a laughing stock. Our learners can’t spell, read, add or subtract. What are all these people going to do? Become President? There’s only one job like that. We need clever people, not average or stupid ones. the failure of the Education Department happened under your watch. Someone who writes Matric now hadn’t even started school under the Apartheid regime, so you cannot blame anyone but yourselves for this colossal cock-up. Fix it before three-quarters of our matrics end up begging on Oxford Road. Reward schools and teachers who deliver great pass rates and clever students into the system. Fire the teachers who march and neglect their classrooms.
4. Give up on BEE. It isn’t working. Free shares for new black partnerships in old white companies has made everyone poorer except for Tokyo Sexwale. Giving people control of existing business won’t make more jobs either. In fact, big companies aren’t growing, they’re reducing staff and costs. The key is entrepreneurship. People with initiative, creative ideas and small companies must be given tax breaks and assistance. Young black professionals must be encouraged to start their own businesses rather than join a big corporation’s board as their token black shareholder or director. Government must also stop thinking that state employment is a way to decrease unemployment – it isn’t – it’s a tax burden. India and China are churning out new, brilliant, qualified people at a rate that makes us look like losers. South Africa has a proud history of innovation, pioneering and genius. This is the only way we can advance our society and economy beyond merely coping.
5. Stop squabbling over power. Offices are not there for you to occupy (or be deployed to) and aggrandize yourself. Offices in government are there to provide a service. If you think outrageous salaries, big German cars, first-class travel and state housing are the reasons to aspire to leadership, you’re in the wrong business – you should be working for a dysfunctional, tumbledown parastatal (or Glenn Agliotti). We don’t care who the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces is if we don’t have running water, electricity, schools and clean streets. You work for us. Do your job, don’t imagine you ARE your job.
6. Stop renaming things. Build new things to name. If I live in a street down which the sewage runs, I don’t care if it’s called Hans Strijdom or Malibongwe. Calling it something nice and new won’t make it smell nice and new. Re-branding is something Cell C do with Trevor Noah, not something you can whitewash your lack of delivery with.
7. Don’t think you’ll be in power forever. People aren’t as stupid as you think we are. We know you sit around laughing about how much you get away with. We’ll take you down, either at the polls – or if it comes down to the wire – by revolution (Yes, Julius, the real kind, not the one you imagine happened in 2008). Careless, wasteful and wanton government is a thing of the past. The days of thin propaganda and idealized struggle are over. The people put you in power – they will take you out of it. Africa is tired of tin-pot dictators, one-party states and banana republics. We know who we are now, we care about our future – and so should you.
Article by Gareth Cliff