DOUBLE-SPEAK PARALYSES SOCIETY AND ECONOMY

THE lack of honesty in South Africa's political, economic and social debates is becoming so severe that it is undermining effective service delivery, economic prosperity and the consolidation of democracy itself.

THE lack of honesty in South Africa's political, economic and social debates is becoming so severe that it is undermining effective service delivery, economic prosperity and the consolidation of democracy itself.

If one listens to public statements from senior ANC tripartite alliance leaders, double-speak, rhetoric and talking in code has now, sadly, become the dominant political culture.

Leaders will say one thing but do the opposite. Some leaders say they are pro-poor, but they drive R1,2million cars paid for by scarce public money.

Others call for strong measures against corruption, but behave dodgily themselves.

Yet others defend gender equality while making outrageously outdated sexist statements. Some argue for nationalisation of mines, saying this is meant to redistribute resources to the disadvantaged.

If only this were the real reason. In reality, they want to bail out struggling black economic empowerment tycoons or put their friends in charge of the proposed nationalised companies - and so extend their web of patronage.

Others defend our democratic institutions, but in their actions undermine it.

Leaders "talk left but act right". Some say they are communists, but their actions indicate they are not. In public ANC leaders say everything is hunky-dory, but in private they fight viciously among themselves.

Nobody knows anymore what the genuine policies of leaders and organisations within the ANC family are. It has become difficult to distinguish between fact and fantasy. It is a circus. If the consequences to ordinary citizens were not so tragic, it would be a joke.

First, the policy confusion, the double-talk, rhetoric and talking in code means that those who devise or implement policies either do not have adequate information, or have the wrong information, to be effective.

The same goes for those who want to make new investments. They cannot do so because they do not know the real policy position of the government.

Confused information from politicians will make it difficult even for government planners to allocate resources efficiently. In fact, government officials are forced to second-guess what the real policies are.

It also causes implementation paralysis. Senior civil servants will be reluctant to implement policies they are uncertain about. It could be career-ending.

Double-talk also opens the door for corruption. Since there is no certainty about policies, those with money can pay to have policies that favour their interests implemented.

Government leaders make outrageous promises, even if they know the resources or plans to make them possible do not exist. Such promises raise expectations among citizens.

The lack of information also means that ordinary people are totally confused. No wonder communities vent their frustration in angry outbursts, burning down municipal buildings and the homes of elected representatives.

There should be total honesty about policies and the reasons for them. Proposals can be debated on their merits. We can decide on our core priorities. If only for selfish reasons, the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP must stop the double-speak, since it erodes the trust their members and supporters have in them.

Without that trust, their membership will lose confidence. Ordinary citizens will become more cynical about politics, withdraw from politics altogether, or express their preferences increasingly violently.

lThe writer is co-editor (with Leslie Dikeni) of the newly released The Poverty of Ideas

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