ANC conference won't deliver a leader with the bold vision we need

01 December 2017 - 07:26
By Nompumelelo Runji
The plight of the poor trying to survive in a rapidly deteriorating economy is unlikely to be a major issue during  deliberations on policy at the ANC elective conference next month, says the writer.
Image: HALDEN KROG The plight of the poor trying to survive in a rapidly deteriorating economy is unlikely to be a major issue during deliberations on policy at the ANC elective conference next month, says the writer.

South Africa is a nation in crisis. The end of 2017 portends a less than prosperous new year in 2018.

In the governing party, the ANC's analysis is that South Africa's crisis is the "triple challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty".

You'll find this phrase interspersed in the party's own documents and that of government departments.

Thus, the ANC government is on a quest to arrest this crisis. This, however, is a misdiagnosis.

Yes, inequality, unemployment and poverty are problems that continue to hamstring the country's developmental progress, but they are symptomatic of a more serious and endemic crisis.

SA's biggest crisis is that of leadership. The ratings agencies have been flagging this core problem for some years now, but their counsel has fallen on deaf ears.

When S&P Global downgraded the country's credit rating to full junk status last week, it cited the impact of politics on South Africa's inability to get out of its deepening economic rut.

Politics is a reference to leadership.

A reflection of SA's worsening trajectory on many scores - including education, creating employment, transforming the economy, reducing inequality, curbing poverty, combating maladministration and corruption, improving service delivery and government efficiencies - are all owing to a failure of leadership.

While Fitch downgraded the country the day before S&P, Moody's has yet to confirm the same, but it has placed the country on review for a downgrade to junk.

This spells disaster for a country that has increasingly relied on borrowing to keep itself running.

It has become a norm for ratings agencies to hinge their decisions on South Africa's rating on their perceptions of and reflections on political stability.

This time around, the perception of political stability will either be affirmed or negated by the conduct and outcome of the ANC's upcoming elective conference, which takes place from December 16-20.

When news of the downgrade made the rounds late last week, there were rumblings from the presidency about the need for urgent action to lift the economy.

It is not at the exact moment when Fitch and S&P announce downgrades that the presidency should make such a call. Conscientious leadership would have foreseen and abated such a situation by setting the right political tone and policy agenda.

Today, our public discourse is saturated by unhelpful sloganeering and an obsession with rhetorical devices that distract from addressing the basic problems that people and communities face.

Some shout "white monopoly capital"; others "radical economic transformation". "Nationalise the banks and mines", others say; "give us free higher education", still others demand.

It is politicians and leaders in government who determine policy. Not only that - they drive the implementation of that policy. It is leaders who are supposed to lead society towards a common vision.

The ANC inherited a treasure trove of vision statements embodied in the Freedom Charter and the inspirational writings of its own leaders including OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela.

The abandonment of that ethical and moral code has left SA to descend into a free-for-all of radicalism and parochialism and increasingly audacious racists.

What we lack is courageous leadership. Such courage relies on the currency of integrity, which seems to be in short supply in the country's politics.

Measured in this standard, the ANC elective conference unfortunately does not promise to deliver anything better.