Message must be understood

Saturday, 12 July 1997

Roelf Meyer's decision to tie the knot with Bantu Holomisa may not have been a good career move

At a recent drunken discussion to solve the problems of the universe, I asked a friend what it would take to turn Roelf Meyer into a real force in politics.

Said friend -- who is of a lighter hue than I, but has crinkly hair and is therefore considered to be more authoritative about such things -- swirled his snifter of brandy gently, and took a contemplative swig.

"He should learn an African language, and learn to speak it well. He'll take the countryside by storm," he replied.

"Just imagine. A mlungu who has proudly embraced Africa. Crowds will flock to see him. They'll be easy pickings after that."

And what about Holomisa?

"He's dead. He'll always be associated with the bantustans. While with the ANC, he may have had some credibility. He may still be a force in the Eastern Cape, but nowhere else."

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I tried to remind him about this conversation the following day, but he could not remember it, although he did point out that the brandy had been rather nice.

I have a similar opinion about Bantu Holomisa. His supposed stand against corruption may well be wholeheartedly supported by most of the people of this country, but pales into insignificance besides the Mandela aura.

Fact: Thabo Mbeki is Madiba's anointed heir to the presidential throne. No credible black leader will be able to muster that sort of support in the run up to the 1999 elections.

Not surprisingly, leaders within the ranks of the ANC -- like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale -- who might on their own steam have posed a challenge to Mbeki, have stepped aside.

Roelf might have been better off trying to forge alliances outside of African politics. The Democratic Party is ripe for takeover, as are the large numbers of coloured and Indian voters who were fooled by swart gevaar into voting Nat in 1994.

But what sort of platform could he adopt? The ANC have proven to be better capitalists than all the opposition thrown together. Privatisation is on track. This year's budget, after allowing for inflation, represents a real decrease in government spending.

That leaves crime, but I have every reason to believe the South African Police Services will be firmly under control by 1999.

So, what's left for Meyer?

The answer, in a nutshell, is jobs. The formal sector lost 70 000 jobs last year while the economy continues to grow. This is a time bomb that could bring down the country.

Organised labour is dying. They continue to price their jobs out of existence by demanding first world wages in a third world country.

This week's fall in the price of gold will exacerbate this situation. South Africa's gold reserves are low-grade ore with high extraction costs. Some 100000 union jobs may be lost as mines become unprofitable and shut down.

Would those 100000 workers rather have no jobs or lower wages? Lower wages might well keep those mines from closing, and re-open others.

The Russians once proclaimed, "The Industrial Proletariat is the Vanguard of the Revolution." Mao TseTung disagreed, saying "Whoever wins the peasants will win China."

Mao was proven right. The same may hold true for South Africa. Our "sleeping giant" is the majority of us who do not have jobs. They might well have jobs were minimum wages not at the current unaffordable levels .

If Roelf doesn't speak their language, he'll never get that message across. Holomisa can't do it for him.