Drop bullying, bring back the brains

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan made a couple of noteworthy points in an interview with Bloomberg last week. He commented on the fact that government expenditure on social spending had jumped from 49 percent of the budget to 58 percent over the past ten years.

"The challenge now is not so much the increase in the rand value of social expenditure, but the increase in the quality of public services, especially education and health," he said. "More importantly, our task is to shift people out of the welfare net and into jobs."

And I once again found myself reminded that we are so often smacked about the face by the incompetence and ineptitude and arrogance of so many prominent members of our ruling party that we forget that they also have some very smart and highly competent people in their ranks.

Only recently, Cyril Ramaphosa trended on social networks when he delivered a carefully considered judgement against Julius Malema on behalf of the ANC's disciplinary appeal panel. Prior to that, Trevor Manuel's national planning strategy has drawn praise across the political spectrum. And lest we forget, Reuel Khoza is also a product of the same political school.

Think about it. The ANC has serious intellectual capital within its ranks. and many of them are of the old school of service-oriented politicians who genuinely seek to better the country before buying BMWs.

It's easy to forget this because the ANC's public profile is no longer of intellect but rather of bullying. The rot began when the ANC Youth League under Malema were allowed to drop their pants in derision of Mbeki and his associates without rebuke. It's a short step from there to the distasteful outbursts against Reuel Khoza by Gwede Mantashe, Nathi Mthetwa, and Jimmy Manyi – none of whom addressed the substance of his arguments but instead maligned his personal integrity.

Contrast those worthies with the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies where one could look forward to receiving the ANC Today newsletter because one could expect to read the "Letter from the President" with a genuine sense of respect.

I, for one, frequently disagreed with both Mandela's and Mbeki's viewpoints as expressed therein, but never at any stage felt less than proud at the standard of discourse.

The question then arises: how do we get to a situation where the intellectual capital within the ANC is able to steer the direction of the country without the ridiculous confusion we find ourselves in today. Case in point: how absurd is it that one wing of the ruling party goes up against another wing in court?

The problem is that we do not have a functional parliament. The running of the country takes place within Luthuli House and parliament simply rubber stamps the decisions taken within the party headquarters.

There is no public airing of debates, no opportunity for engagement. And that means that, at best, we get a smattering of disinformation leaked to crony journalists by opposing interest groups.

The answer, to me, is clear. The ANC does not need to lose the next election, but they do need to drop below 50 percent.

It's the way of functional democracies throughout the world: parties propose bills in parliament, the opposition proposes amendments, a robust debate takes place, the media reports on the debate, a vote is called for, and if a simple majority concurs, the bill becomes law.

We've seen this function effectively in the KZN legislature where the ANC was one seat short of a simple majority and where Amichand Rajbansi through the Minority Front became a dealmaker.

If one tracks the course of the ANC's performance over the last three elections (two municipal, and one national), there is an inexorable shift in this direction. And at the point that the ANC dips below 50 percent, the party will truly shine.

Bring it on!